Joe Lunardi's first bracket of the regular season was published Tuesday, the only Bracketology until the start of its regular rotation in January. After taking a look at the selections, our six staff writers fielded some bracket-related questions.
Which of the 1-seeds in Tuesday’s bracket is least likely to be a 1 on Selection Sunday?
Dana O’Neil: In my opinion, the team that misses out is Florida, but it’s really not the Gators’ fault. Blame the SEC. The league that annually gives us the best football product gives us a heap of "eh" come basketball season and that will diminish Florida’s 1-seed résumé. Aside from Missouri and Kentucky, there is simply not much to build a credible profile for Florida among the teams it plays twice (Georgia, Mississippi State and Arkansas are the others). Florida has an OK nonconference résumé, with blowouts of Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State and a big game at Arizona this weekend. But that just isn’t enough to cancel out the average SEC (yes, that cancelled aircraft carrier game against Georgetown works against the Gators, too). Nor is it enough to compare to the other candidates, not while Indiana and Michigan are battling in the stacked Big Ten, and while Duke already has its hefty nonconference slate in the bag. Count on a Big East team -- Syracuse or Louisville the most likely, with Cincinnati and Georgetown lurking as potential outliers -- to steal that last top seed away from the Gators.
What first-round matchup would you pay to see?
Robbi Pickeral: Forget about the actual basketball between two blue bloods -- who could resist the soap opera storyline of No. 5 North Carolina playing No. 12 UCLA in San Jose? Not only did current Bruins point guard Larry Drew II quit the Tar Heels in the middle of the 2010-11 ACC season (leaving town, without telling his teammates, four games after he was replaced by Kendall Marshall in the starting lineup), but that came roughly eight months after twin forwards David and Travis Wear also opted to leave the program (also allowing their dad to make the call to a shocked UNC coach Roy Williams). They, too, are now at UCLA. Drama, anyone?
If you had seen Tuesday’s bracket a month ago, what would’ve surprised you the most?
Andy Katz: That UCLA and North Carolina would be in a 5-12 game. I’m not sure either team deserves to even be in the field at this juncture anyway. A month ago, I would have assumed these two teams would be much higher seeds and not opposite each other. But at this point, both of these disappointing squads need to produce NCAA-worthy résumés in conference play to earn that at-large berth, let alone be in a 5-12 game.
What team not in Joe’s current bracket has the best chance to grab an at-large bid?
Myron Medcalf: Given its history, it’s only fitting that Joe’s first bracket of the year lists Virginia Tech as the first team out. But Virginia Tech could certainly crack the field in March. The Hokies suffered their first loss of the season Saturday at West Virginia. That one-point loss exposed Tech’s defensive issues (10th in the ACC in efficiency per KenPom.com), as the Mountaineers connected on 10 3-pointers. But until that loss, the Hokies had won their first seven games, a stretch that included victories over Iowa and Oklahoma State. Erick Green (24.6 ppg) leads an offense that’s ranked 25th in offensive efficiency. That’s going to be Virginia Tech’s ticket in ACC play. Duke is clearly the best team in that league. But NC State, North Carolina, Florida State, Miami and Maryland aren’t juggernauts. There’s a lot of parity in that conference. The Hokies can finish in the middle of that mix and earn enough solid wins to impress the selection committee along the way.
What’s one team that will take a big jump in seeding come March and one that will go the other direction?
Eamonn Brennan: Notre Dame is already fairly well-positioned at No. 6, but if you see the Irish as a Big East title contender -- and I do -- I find it hard to believe they could get through that kind of conference season and not earn a top-4 seed, and probably higher. (We can also assume that win over Kentucky will look better and better as the season goes along.) The same goes for Pittsburgh. The Panthers' nonconference schedule hasn't been good, but it is typically RPI-friendly, and when Pitt begins to rack up conference wins befitting its talent level and per-possession performance to date, the Panthers will coast past their current No. 8 placement.
Much as I'm willing to give a team with Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo the benefit of the doubt, if North Carolina's season turns south in January and February, a No. 5 seed will seem optimistic. And I wonder if No. 7 Colorado won't be able to help being dragged down by a mediocre Pac-12, much like an A-10 favorite could be dragged down by the occasional home loss to George Washington.
We’ll leave the toughest for last. From this bracket, who is your Final Four if the tourney started tomorrow?
Jason King: I'll go with Louisville, Kansas, Duke and Florida. Beating an Indiana squad currently ranked No. 1 in the AP poll would be a monumental feat, but Louisville is one of the few teams that can pull it off because of its defense. Kansas touts the country's top defensive presence in center Jeff Withey, one of the top freshmen in Ben McLemore and arguably the top coach in Bill Self. An Elite Eight game against Michigan would be an interesting matchup. Duke has already defeated Ohio State, Kentucky, Louisville, Minnesota, VCU and Temple. There's no reason to think the Blue Devils won't continue to roll. Florida has been crushing teams. The Gators have played in the Elite Eight the past two seasons. This is the season they break through.