The NCAA Tournament Committee appears to be trying its best to sabotage the best story in an otherwise pedestrian year for college basketball.
When the committee, allegedly comprised of smart people, released the 68-team bracket on Sunday, the national darling Wichita State Shockers were sentenced to, without question, the toughest of the four regionals.
I’m sure the committee is saying, “you’re 34-0, but your schedule is suspect. Prove to us you deserve a No. 1 seed.”
Have they forgotten that Wichita State made the Final Four last year and returns several key components from a team that nearly shocked eventual champion Louisville?
Once the Shockers win their opener for their 35th straight win, they begin what resembles a Bataan Death March.
The Shockers play the winner of Kentucky and Kansas State, which also didn’t receive any favors from the committee. Kentucky an 8 seed? A team that took overall No. 1 Florida right down to the final seconds in the SEC championship game this weekend and loaded with McDonald's All-Americans? That's laughable. Granted, the Wildcats are 24-10, but given their schedule and blueblood pedigree, they deserved to be much higher.
Louisville is also on the Shockers' half of the draw, and a rematch of last year's Final Four is possible in the Sweet 16. That's crazy insane.
The bottom half of the bracket is also difficult. Duke and Michigan are longtime heavyweights, yet could play in the Sweet 16.
Duke is Duke, while Michigan played Louisville in the national championship game last year. I know pairings are to be based on this year and not past history, but this was going overboard. Three of last year's Final Four are in this 16-team Midwest bracket.
I’ll be honest, Wichita State will not advance out of this regional. It has been a wonderful story, but this is like a heavyweight boxer being asked to fight three fights without time off to recover. The Shockers certainly deserved better, especially in a year that was void of high-profile storylines.
At least the committee didn’t put all three of the Sunflower State schools in the same regional, which was a possibility.
Kansas was the last of the No. 2 seeds because it’s in the same regional with the overall No. 1, Florida. I really thought at midseason the Jayhawks were a Final Four team, but the back issues of Joel Embiid and the alarming recent ineffectiveness of Naadir Tharpe has reduced this team to the Sweet 16 and no farther.
I was amazed last night when watching the ESPN talking heads giving their picks. Michigan State, a No. 4 seed in the East, was the unanimous pick to win it all and that was by some high-profile guys. That’s high praise for a team that is 26-8, but Tom Izzo has the golden touch when it comes to the NCAAs and his team is finally healthy for the first time all year. Remember, this team was No. 1 earlier this season.
Here’s how I see things breaking down:
• EAST •
I hate to agree with the ESPN guys, but they’re right. Michigan State is going to get past Virginia in the Sweet 16, then dispatch tourney surprise North Carolina in the finals. Not exactly a tough road. A sleeper, though, could be Iowa State.
• SOUTH •
I’m a big believer in Florida, because it’s so physical, has a lot of experience and a quality point guard, which is one of the main keys to winning it all. I believe the Gators will get past Syracuse in the finals. I know the Orangemen slumped terribly at the end, but Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone will confound KU in the Sweet 16, as the Jayhawks aren’t a great-shooting team.
• MIDWEST •
I’ve already well-documented Wichita State’s plight. Louisville will beat Kentucky in a wildly entertaining Sweet 16 game, while Duke blows by Michigan. I’m going with Duke to beat Louisville as Duke freshman phenom Jabari Parker wants to give fans something to remember him by in his one and only year.
• WEST •
Arizona hasn’t gotten a lot of national TV play this year because it’s out West, but this team can play. It has all the ingredients to win a national championship and freshman Aaron Gordon is in the class of Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.
Arizona has the easiest road to travel. San Diego State doesn’t have enough offense in the Sweet 16, while I don’t like the bottom half of the bracket at all. I guess it will be Wisconsin making the Elite Eight, but I’m lukewarm about the Badgers, though their style of play can be frustrating. Arizona, though, is the pick.
• FINAL FOUR •
Florida and Michigan State will not be for the faint of heart. This will be the ultimate grinder, but I’ve been on the Florida bandwagon all year. It will face Duke in the finals, as the Blue Devils’ brutal schedule has prepared them well.
• FINALS •
Seniors, outstanding point guard and amazing athletes. Billy Donovan wins his third national title at Florida.
• TOURNAMENT SLEEPERS •
East — I mentioned earlier, North Carolin. Ol' Roy has been here before.
South — Ohio State. Great point guard play from Aaron Craft.
Midwest — Kentucky. What a collection of athletes.
West — Oklahoma State. Marcus Smart may flop his team into the Elite Eight.