Hoge: 68 Thoughts On The NCAA Tournament Field
By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) The 2013 NCAA Tournament officially tips off in Dayton, Ohio tonight and I’ve spent the better part of the last 42 hours breaking down the bracket and digging up answers to those bracketing questions you have.
With 68 teams in the field, I figured I should provide 68 thoughts on the field. So here we go (click on the image above to see my predictions):
1. An interesting note on Illinois‘ opponent: Colorado was actually supposed to be a 9-seed. The Buffaloes were No. 36 on the official seeding list, which means they were on the 9-line. Bracketing rules/conflicts/problems sometimes push teams back though, and that’s what happened to Colorado to end up with a 10-seed. Villanova, originally on the 10-line, benefited by getting bumped up to a 9-seed.
2. The same thing happened to Oregon and California, which were both on the 11-line, but were given 12-seeds because of bracketing conflicts. So that’s three Pac-12 teams who were seeded a spot lower than they should have been. I talked to David Worlock, associate director of championships and alliances, who was in the selection committee room and called it “a complete and unfortunate coincidence” that three teams from the same conference took the hit. You’ll notice though that Oregon and Cal both get to play in San Jose, while Colorado has a relatively short flight to Austin. That’s usually the concession for getting moved down a spot.
3. There was also a seeding issue with the final four at-large teams to make the field. On the official seeding list released by the NCAA Selection Committee, Boise State was No. 45, St. Mary’s was No. 46, La Salle was No. 49 and Middle Tennessee was No. 50. So why is Boise State playing for the No. 13 seed and Middle Tennessee playing for the No. 11 seed? Well, it’s complicated, but according to Worlock, there were two major conflicts working together: conference restrictions and traveling accommodations. With the high amount of Mountain West and Atlantic-10 teams that made the field, both Boise State and La Salle were limited on where they could end up in the bracket. St. Mary’s also couldn’t be in Gonzaga’s region and even Middle Tennessee had a problem because they couldn’t be in 16th-seeded Western Kentucky’s region. See how complicated the bracketing gets? And with only a day in between games, the committee also didn’t want Boise State and St. Mary’s flying all the way back west to San Jose after their first round game in Dayton, should either of those teams win. “Even Kansas City wasn’t ideal,” Worlock said, referring to where Boise State will travel if they beat La Salle.
4. Worlock added that the committee is looking at ways to adjust the bracketing rules next year to avoid such conflicts. The end result will be more teams staying on their true seed-line, which is a good thing.
5. As I examined the bracket, it became obvious that the biggest bracketing snag happened with California, which not only was moved down a seed, but also ended up with a rematch against UNLV. “Without a doubt,” Worlock confirmed. The committee tries to avoid rematches from the regular season when possible, but it’s a secondary consideration and in this case, they couldn’t avoid it.
6. The Rebels can’t be happy about playing Cal in the Bay Area again, but UNLV won in Berkley earlier this year so San Jose shouldn’t be a huge problem. That said, UNLV’s only big win away from home this season was that win at California. All their damage was done at home. I wouldn’t advance the Rebels too far in your bracket if I were you.
7. With Oregon and Cal receiving 12-seeds, Bucknell was the other team that benefited. Originally on the 12-line, the Bison were given an 11-seed.
8. As for the first round games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see two Round 1 winners make it to the Round of 32. Boise State is particularly dangerous against Kansas State.
9. For that matter, all the Mountain West teams are dangerous. It was probably the third-best conference behind the Big Ten and Big East this season.
10. Speaking of Boise State, you have to wonder if the success of their football program is starting to spill over to basketball.
11. I liked New Mexico to make a run to the Elite Eight until the bracket was unveiled. They caught a tough break with a possible matchup against 6th-seeded Arizona on Saturday. The Wildcats are flaky, but could make a deep run.
12. That run will likely be stopped by Ohio State in the Sweet 16, however. My preseason pick to win the Big Ten has won eight games in a row since being clobbered in Madison Feb. 17. The Buckeyes will frustrate teams with their defense and I have them in the Final Four.
13. Time for my yearly NCAA rule on Wisconsin: Bo Ryan always wins his first game in the Tournament, but never makes the Final Four. He’s 10-1 in the first game, with the only loss coming in an 8/9 matchup against Arizona in 2006. Meanwhile, his teams just aren’t built for a deep Tourney run because of the frequent field goal droughts. For example: Not converting a field goal in the final seven minutes of the Big Ten Tournament Finals.
14. That said, I see the Badgers upsetting Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. Mark Few has a really good squad this year, but I just don’t think they are battle-tested enough. For instance, either Pittsburgh or Wichita State will be the toughest team Gonzaga has seen since losing at Butler Jan. 19. The Zags will survive in the third round, but they don’t matchup well against Wisconsin.
15. Miami fans may be upset that the Hurricanes aren’t a 1-seed, but it’s often much better to be the first 2-seed than the last 1-seed. Otherwise, Miami would have had to fly across the country to Los Angeles for the Sweet 16. I don’t think they’ll have a problem with either Illinois or Colorado en route to Washington D.C.
16. Speaking of the Illini, I think they’re a better team than Colorado, but Andre Roberson is a major matchup problem down low. Unless Nnanna Egwu’s game matures greatly in the next few days, the Illini are going to have problems rebounding and that will likely cost them.
17. And if Illinois loses its first game, Illini fans better not complain. John Groce has done an even better job with this group than he’s getting credit for. He took a senior class that had a habit of tuning out its old head coach and got their attention immediately. Things bode well for Illinois once Groce has a roster full of his guys.
18. Meanwhile, Buzz Williams did an amazing job with Marquette this season. I know you’re not supposed to doubt Butler, but I have the Golden Eagles penciled into the Sweet 16.
19. Syracuse is the kind of team that could make a deep run, but Jim Boeheim’s record says Indiana will stop them in the Sweet 16.
20. The Hoosiers are going to benefit from getting out of Big Ten play. Their style is more conducive to playing against teams like Syracuse. A problem could be Temple in the third round though because if the Owls can slow down the Hoosiers, we may have a major upset on our hands.
21. By the way, how is Fran Dunphy still at Temple?
22. Moving South, I don’t trust Kansas at all, yet when I filled out my bracket, the Jayhawks ended up in my Final Four.
23. Here’s why: Most seem to believe the West is the weakest region, but I think it’s the South. The South is full of teams you can’t trust, which is probably why I chose to ride with the most talented team: the Jayhawks.
24. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Kansas lost to either North Carolina or Villanova. Like I said, you can’t trust ’em.
25. Michigan is another team you can’t trust, but they have the one guy who could get hot and carry a team to the Final Four: Trey Burke. Think: Kemba Walker two years ago.
26. The bad news for the Wolverines is that they drew another tricky first round matchup. After losing to Ohio last year, Michigan fans have to be worried about South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits are good and may even be under-seeded.
27. And speaking of that game, there might not be a better matchup of guards in the entire tournament. Trey Burke vs. Nate Wolters is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
28. Akron managed to win the MAC Tournament without point guard Alex Abreu (suspended on drug charges) but they’ll miss him against VCU. That’s the wrong team to play against without your point guard.
29. Why does everyone love Florida? Even Nate Silver loves Florida.
30. If you told me Minnesota would get an 11-seed, I would have told you there would be no way I’d have them advancing past their first game unless they were playing one team: UCLA.
31. Without Jordan Adams, UCLA is way overseeded at No. 6 and I think Andre and Austin Hollins will carry the Gophers to the Round of 32.
32. Florida will get past Minnesota, but they don’t matchup well against Georgetown because the Hoyas can slow down the Gators’ offense.
33. And if Florida and Georgetown meet in the Sweet 16, they can finally finish that game they started on the USS Bataan in November.
34. I don’t think the Hoyas can beat Kansas though. Thinking back to Georgetown’s game against Indiana in November, they were competitive, but just didn’t have the offense to keep up with an elite team.
35. Is it possible that Louisville has become that team we’ve been saying doesn’t exist this season? You know, the team that has separated itself from the rest of the country like Kentucky did a year ago?
36. I’ve heard a lot of people say Indiana is still the most talented team in the country. Louisville’s play in the last month says otherwise.
37. That said, Peyton Siva is hard to trust. Russ Smith needs to put the Cardinals on his back.
38. Although, I’m pretty sure Russ Smith just missed another game-winner against Notre Dame in overtime.
39. As good as Louisville looks right now, it could have the toughest test among 1-seeds in the third round with a potential matchup against Colorado State. I’m warning you about the Mountain West.
40. And yes, Larry Eustachy is Colorado State’s head coach. And they’re worried he’s going to leave for a bigger job.
41. I mentioned that Oregon gets to play closer to home in San Jose as a result of being given a 12-seed and all things considered, I think the Ducks actually have a pretty decent draw.
42. Oklahoma State freshman Marcus Smart is a phenomenal player, but I’m not convinced the Cowboys are all that good. I like Oregon pulling off what will be a popular 12/5 upset pick.
43. Saint Louis has been one of the better stories in sports this year after the death of Rick Majerus. Jim Crews has done a great job keeping that team together and I think the Billikens are good enough to make the Sweet 16 and give Louisville a ton of trouble.
44. I mentioned Boise State over Kansas State, but don’t be surprised if Middle Tennessee takes out an overrated Memphis team.
45. Can Tom Izzo do it again? If I’m looking for a safe team to ride to at least the Elite Eight, I’d go with Michigan State.
46. Did you see that dunk Keith Appling dropped on Iowa? There’s another guy who could get hot.
47. Doug McDermott has all the makings of a great March story. Unfortunately, Creighton has some inexcusable losses this season and I could see them falling to a tough Cincinnati team in their first game.
48. By the way, how is Mick Cronin still at Cincinnati?
49. When I first filled out my bracket, I had Cincinnati upsetting Duke in the third round. Upon further review, however, the Bearcats don’t have a win like that all season and I think the Blue Devils will safely make the Sweet 16 this year.
50. That would set up a great game between Duke and Michigan State. Overall, Duke probably has more talent, but I think the Spartans’ physicality would bother Ryan Kelly/Mason Plumlee and put MSU in the Elite Eight.
51. Moving back to the West, Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson is doing everything he can to get noticed. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to care how he gets noticed. Sunday night, he was tweeting about how many games of Beer Pong he won in a row. The kid can ball and should just let his game speak for itself.
52. Henderson has the kind of game to knock Wisconsin out in the second round. The Badgers have fallen victim to a star before (see: Steph Curry in 2008), but ultimately it’s too hard to ignore Bo Ryan’s track record in the first game of the Tournament. 10-1 speaks for itself.
53. Is this the year Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey finally makes a run in the NCAA Tournament? Probably not, although this year he shouldn’t get too much criticism for it. The job he has done since Scott Martin was lost for the season has been remarkable. The Irish refined their game mid-season and are playing better team basketball.
54. The short bus ride to Dayton is nice for the Irish, but it won’t be so nice if they are met by Ohio State in the third round. That is essentially a home game for the Buckeyes and could be an even an even better atmosphere than Value City Arena in Columbus.
55. Is there a more underrated head coach in the country than Thad Matta? I know he hasn’t been able to win it all, but he’s been to two National Championship Games and his track record in March is fantastic. The guy can coach.
56. Aaron Craft: Love him or hate him? He seems to be the most polarizing player in the Big Ten. I love his game, but opposing fans can’t stand him. Ultimately, that’s probably a compliment.
57. How long will Tommy Amaker stay at Harvard? If he’s really been humbled (as people claim) then I think he’s worth a look at Northwestern. Still risky though.
58. Speaking of former Big Ten coaches, Steve Alford has done a really impressive job at New Mexico, but doesn’t he look out of shape?
59. I just realized I have six of the seven Big Ten teams advancing beyond their first game, five in the Sweet 16, four in the Elite Eight, two in the Final Four, one in the National Championship and none winning it all.
60. That would be a pretty good run for the Big Ten, but the “none winning it all” thing is a problem. It might be a great basketball conference, but the Big Ten doesn’t have a National Champion since Michigan State in 2000.
61. And speaking of that, I had one Big Ten fan tell me over the weekend that Big Ten basketball is the equivalent of SEC football. The SEC has seven BCS National Championships in the last seven years. The Big Ten has one basketball National Championship in the last 24 years. Give me a break.
62. Bryce Drew is probably happy his team is headed to Auburn Hills, Mich. where Valparaiso fans can easily drive. Unfortunately, it will basically be a road game as the Crusaders drew Michigan State.
63. I asked Drew Sunday night on 670 The Score if he would be interested in any potential job openings (specifically the Northwestern job). He gave the answer you would expect: He loves his alma mater and is more worried about the NCAA Tournament. In other words, he didn’t say no.
64. By the way, on Friday, don’t be fooled by the purple jerseys that say Northwestern. That’s Northwestern State, which will play Florida. And if you are one of those people who wonders why Northwestern is called Northwestern when it’s clearly not in the Northwest, then you’ll be really confused to learn that Northwestern State is located in Louisiana.
65. If you’re looking for another 15/2 upset this year, then keep in mind that Florida Gulf Coast beat Miami this year. The Eagles drew Georgetown, which always seems to be upset-prone in the NCAA Tournament.
66. And if you’re in a survival pool where you take one team in each round, I’d go with either Wisconsin or Gonzaga with your first pick. I usually always ride the Badgers early because of that Bo Ryan rule I mentioned, but I’m not sure I trust Gonzaga in any game after it plays Southern University, so that’s a 1-seed you can get away with using early.
67. The highest-seeded team I have advancing the furthest? No. 6 Arizona in the Sweet 16. Yes, in a year full of parity, I’m going with mostly chalk. Go figure.
68. In fact, I just realized that in three of the four regions, I have the top four seeds advancing to the Sweet 16. That is guaranteed to be wrong. But guess what? Your Sweet 16 is going to be wrong too. That’s how it works. Let’s all get ready to be wrong.
So, there it is. Enjoy tonight, as it’s the only time you’ll ever watch North Carolina A&T play Liberty.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.