Rapid-fire reactions to the bracket:
Before we get into this, someone please check on Seth Greenberg. Make sure he is in a safe place. I’m mostly joking, but not completely.
Now, if I’m Ohio State coach Thad Matta, I tell the boss this when he returns to Columbus:
Thanks for nothing.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith was the head of the NCAA tournament selection committee, yet he stuck his own team with what I think is the toughest region in the whole tournament. Earlier Sunday, I wrote that seven teams had the most realistic shot at a national title -- and three of them are in the same region. That would be No. 1 seed Ohio State plus No. 2 seed North Carolina and No. 4 seed Kentucky, all in the East.
Two of the seven are in the Southwest Region: Kansas and Notre Dame. Two are in the West: Duke and San Diego State.
And then there is the Southeast, otherwise known as the Jamie Dixon Backrub Regional. I don’t see a single major national-title threat in that 16-team grouping, which means terminal underachiever Pittsburgh might finally reach its first Final Four since World War II.
So Matta needs to ask his AD one simple question: Why didn’t we get the Pitt treatment?
Instead, here’s what Ohio State got: a likely matchup against a coach with Final Four experience in the rounds of 32, 16 and 8.
After the Buckeyes dispatch a play-in-team-to-be-named-later on Friday in Cleveland, they’ll face either George Mason or Villanova. Jim Larranaga took the Patriots on one of the all-time Cinderella Final Four runs in 2006, and Jay Wright got the Wildcats there in ’09.
In the Sweet 16, Ohio State could face any of three coaches who have been to Final Fours in the past decade: Bob Huggins (West Virginia last year, plus Cincinnati in 1992); Mike Davis (Indiana 2002); or John Calipari (Massachusetts 1996 and Memphis 2008).
And a potential regional final showdown looms with either North Carolina and Roy Williams (six Final Fours, two national titles) or Syracuse and Jim Boeheim (three Final Fours, one national title).
That is not an easy road to Houston.
The committee apparently saved all its mollycoddling for Florida, which drew a mystifying No. 2 seed in the Southeast. Apparently, friends, losing to Jacksonville and Central Florida will actually help your seeding as opposed to hurting it. Oh, and a home loss to South Carolina (last in the SEC East) must not hurt the profile either.
The Gators are a good team. The Gators are fully capable of winning that region. But the Gators should be doing it as a No. 4 or 5 seed, in my estimation.
In fact, I think three of the No. 4 seeds (Louisville, Kentucky and Texas) all are more accomplished to date than Florida.
So I’d nominate the Southeast as the section of the bracket most likely to be busted. Pitt and No. 4 seed Wisconsin have a history of great regular seasons and not-so-great NCAA tournaments. Third-seeded BYU looks highly vulnerable after going 3-2 since losing leading rebounder and third-leading scorer Brandon Davies.
(Quick aside: All conjecture to the contrary, losing a player for the tournament apparently didn’t matter much after all. BYU still got a No. 3. Georgetown, winless in four games since the broken hand suffered by guard Chris Wright, still got a No. 6. Florida State, 3-3 since the loss of leading scorer/rebounder/stealer Chris Singleton to a broken foot, still got a No. 10. I believe all three could have been justifiably bumped down at least one more seed line.)
In the Southwest, a potential Kansas-Louisville matchup in San Antonio could be a great one. The Jayhawks are really good -- but check Rick Pitino’s record in Sweet 16 games. He’s 9-0. But both the Jayhawks and Cardinals have to win two games first to make that matchup happen.
On the other side of that region, I love Notre Dame’s chances of reaching a regional final for the first time since 1980 -- although Purdue looms as a potential Indiana battle removed to San Antonio in the Sweet 16.
And in the West, I could see chalk holding to a Duke-San Diego State regional final -- if the Aztecs can finally get around to winning the first NCAA tournament game in school history. There could be some very good regional semifinals there: Duke-Texas and San Diego State taking on a Big East school, be it Connecticut or Cincinnati.
At this moment, give me Ohio State, Duke, Notre Dame and Kansas State to reach the Final Four, with the Fighting Irish winning it all.
And I can’t believe I just typed that sentence.
But I’ll stick with it at least until tomorrow morning.
Some other random ruminations:
Seeded too high: Florida, BYU, Georgetown, UCLA.
Seeded too low: Oakland, Utah State, Xavier, Gonzaga.
Most intriguing first-round games: UCLA-Michigan State; Oakland-Texas; Butler-Old Dominion; BYU-Wofford.
Individual star-watch games: Texas shot-blocking freshman Tristan Thompson against Oakland shot-blocking senior Keith Benson; BYU scoring machine Jimmer Fredette against Wofford 20-point-a-game guy Noah Dahlman; UCLA forward Reeves Nelson against Michigan State forward Draymond Green; versatile Darius Morris of Michigan against versatile Scotty Hopson of Tennessee.
Next up: Hot anticipation for game times Thursday and Friday, so we can plan our hooky accordingly.