The NCAA tournament bracket was unveiled in the last hour -- download your own copy here! (I'm a company man, after all). Here are your big storylines, along with some of my own initial thoughts about the way the bracket is set up, from seedings to potentially intriguing matchups, including teams that should be on upset alert.
Your No. 1 seeds: Kentucky, Villanova, Duke, Wisconsin
The only drama with regards to this one was Wisconsin, which played its way into the top line by beating Michigan State in overtime in the Big Ten championship. That's weird, considering Duke is one of only handful of teams to ever earn a No. 1 seed without winning any kind of conference title. For my money, Arizona was more deserving. But, yanno ... DUKE.
Your annual bubble outrage: UCLA
Oddly, there's not a lot of debate about who got in and who didn't beyond the Bruins, who had a weak resume by the metrics the selection committee says it typically uses to pick it's field. But when asked about it by Doug Gottlieb on CBS, the head of the committee, Utah State AD Scott Barnes, said UCLA passed the "eye test" and was "gaining steam," citing a close loss to Arizona.
Yep, he really pointed to a loss as part of the justification for including UCLA.
In fact, he used the phrase "eye test" a lot whenever he was asked about something controversial:
Teams left out of the field thought to have a strong argument for inclusion over the Bruins: Temple, Colorado State and Richmond. Murray State was your annual "midmajor with a great record that lost in its conference tournament final" snub.
For my money, the bid should have gone to Colorado State. The Rams might have played their way in with another victory in the Mountain West tournament had their best player, J.J. Avila, not sprained his ankle in their quarterfinal game. They went on to lose to tournament team San Diego State.
I think the committee did a pretty decent job with the teams that belong in the field, but the overvaluing of the "eye test" when it comes to major conference teams is infuriating. Texas and UCLA -- with two weak resumes -- weren't even in the last four in, and thus won't have to play in the play-in game. Only one of the last four in (Ole Miss) came from a major conference (BYU, Boise State and Dayton were the others).
Of course major conference teams will look good on the eye test. They have good looking athletes, big powerful people whom committee members can envision winning a game against other teams with similarly good looking athletes. The only problem? You talk yourself into thinking these kinds of results are better than they are:
#gainingSTEAM pic.twitter.com/764JBZZhcb— kubo12 (@vegasWATCH) March 15, 2015
When will Gonzaga flame out?
Come now, this is what you all really want to know. The No. 2 seed Zags were sent to Seattle for one of those "not a home game but totally a home game" games, and will open against North Dakota State on Friday. The No. 15 seed Bison are of roughly the same quality as the Cougs if you believe kenpom.com, so it's unlikely the Zags crash and burn in the opener.
From there, they'll play either Iowa or Davidson. We know the Bulldogs are always susceptible to strong shooting teams -- plus, there are few teams in the country, major conference or otherwise, who can match up with Gonzaga's interior size -- so teams that are exceptional at shooting from distance have a puncher's chance against the Bulldogs.
Enter Davidson, if they can get past Iowa. They shoot a ton of threes (ninth-most nationally) and hit nearly 40 percent of them as a team (17th nationally).
And then there's this minor detail -- it's happened before: Back in 2008, Davidson knocked Gonzaga out of the tournament in the first round by shooting 11-of-22 from 3 as some guy named Steph Curry scored 40.
Congrats Boise State! (Now go play a road game)
Leon Rice was purportedly a candidate for WSU's vacancy a year ago (although one now wonders how true that actually was), and now he's got Boise State back in the tournament again. The Broncos nearly joined Murray State after being dumped from the MWC tournament by eventual MWC tournament champ Wyoming, but they avoided the Racers' fate.
Unfortunately, their reward is a true road game: They'll play Dayton in one of the "First Four" games in the Flyers' home arena.
Road games are nothing new in the NCAA tournament - it seems like Duke plays within a short drive of its campus every year, unfortunate for the poor small major school that draws the behemoth in the first round. But for two presumably evenly matched teams in a national championship tournament to play a game where one of the teams is in its home arena? That's terrible.
Barnes said Dayton's placement in the First Four was in keeping with a decision it made years ago -- essentially, if Dayton belongs in the First Four, we're going to put them there -- but that just compounds one stupid decision (having a "First Four" in the first place) with another one. The policy should be if Dayton is in the field, the Flyers are ineligible for the First Four. The committee routinely moves teams up or down a line to follow its "bracketing principles" anyway. What's the big deal?
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Reacting to the snubs, surprises and more
As is his annual tradition, our resident bracketologist looks at his results and those of the selection committee before moving on to the NCAA Tournament itself.
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If you're looking for a team that might be better than its seed line indicates, take a look at Wichita State (No. 26 on the seed list, No. 14 kenpom.com), Texas (No. 41 seed list, No. 20 kenpom), Ohio State (No. 39 seed list, No. 21 kenpom.com) and Stephen F. Austin (No. 50 seed list, No. 35).
Yes, I'm aware I threw Texas in with UCLA above, but resume and actual team quality aren't always the same thing. The Longhorns have a few good wins, over Iowa, West Virginia and Baylor, and they've also got a number of close losses to good teams such as Iowa State (three times by a total of 14 points), Oklahoma (two points on the road) and Kansas (five points on the road). They're actually rated higher by Pomeroy's laptop than their first round opponent, Butler.
If you're looking for teams who might not be as good as their seed line indicates, take a look at Maryland (No. 14 seed list, No. 33 kenpom.com) and Arkansas (No. 18 seed list, No. 28 kenpom.com).
What about those 5/12 matchups?
If you've spent any amount of time picking NCAA tournament brackets, you know that at least one 12 seed upsets a 5 seed every year. I've already mentioned one great candidate for that pick: Stephen F. Austin over Utah. The interesting thing is that Utah could have easily ended up on that "underseeded" list (No. 17 seed list, No. 8 kenpom.com), but a lot of people are wary of the Utes' underwhelming record away from home.
A pick that will be popular is Wofford over Arkansas. The Terriers are only rated 90th by kenpom.com, but they're one of the slowest teams in the nation -- a huge contrast to the Razorbacks' 40 Minutes of Hell under Mike Anderson. If the Terriers can impose their will in terms of style, they could have a chance.
In terms of kenpom.com's ratings, Buffalo actually has the best chance of an upset with a 1-in-3 shot at West Virginia.
Bold upset prediction!
I'll take No. 13 seed Valparaiso over No. 4 seed Maryland in the first round. Not only are the Terps potentially overseeded, but Valpo is a very good team from a perennially underrated conference in the Horizon League. The Crusaders have got perhaps the best player you've never heard of in Alec Peters. The sophomore forward can beat you inside and outside -- he shot 50 percent on twos and 46 percent on threes, with the shots split roughly 55/45. He's capable of winning a game all by himself.
Bold pick for a Final Four run!
I'll go with Northern Iowa. The Panthers don't appear to have a particularly difficult path the Sweet 16, drawing perhaps the weakest 12 seed before needing to only get through (probably) an offensively challenged Louisville, which actually is rated below UNI by kenpom.com. From there, anything can happen, right?
That's what I noticed. What about you?