Making Sense of the Tournament's First Weekend

The early reviews of the tournament field after Selection Sunday stated that the field was right, but the seedings were all wrong. The first weekend of the tournament gave support to that notion:

  • Villanova as a 2-seed? The Wildcats lost six of 10 to close out the season, and the malaise continued in the tournament where they needed overtime to beat Robert Morris before falling to St. Mary's. 
  • Georgetown as a 3-seed? The Hoyas finished eighth the the Big East standings. Granted, regular season conference standings aren't the end-all-be-all, but that seems a bit odd, no?
  • Vanderbilt as a 4-seed? The Commodores' best non-conference wins were over a pair of eventual 10-seeds (St. Mary's and Mizzou), and they lost to Illinois and Western Kentucky out of conference too. Vandy had a fine SEC season, but it lost to both Georgia and South Carolina and didn't beat Kentucky. That's stretching it a bit for a 4-seed.
  • Notre Dame as a 6-seed? The Irish had no non-conference wins of note, but they did lose to Northwestern. They went 10-8 in the Big East, but for each step forward (wins over Pitt and G'town), there were two steps back (losses to UConn, Cincy, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John's).

Here's the problem though: if you move them down, who was in line to move up? Why, that would be teams like 3-seed New Mexico (lost to 11-seed Washington) and 4-seed Wisconsin (lost to 12-seed Cornell). Even righting some of the wrongs wouldn't fix everything, since flawed teams fill this entire thing.

The one thing that could not have been predicted by any model was Kansas' loss to Northern Iowa. Kansas did more against a tougher schedule. It has the better players. Its coach has a great track record. Its stats were almost off the charts. About the only thing that could base a bet against Kansas on is the thing the ancient Greeks thought brought down all those on pedestals: hubris. A team with guys who had won it all before and had been told incessantly that they're the best team in the country is ripe for getting picked off by a hungrier team. We saw that with Florida in football season, though the analogy gets strained when you compare the relative quality of Northern Iowa versus Alabama's football team.

Only three teams in the Sweet 16 won both of their games by 15+ points: Kentucky, Duke, and Cornell. Tell me who had that one. Syracuse and Kansas State weren't far behind, having won their first games by 20 or more and their second games by 12. No one else breezed through their games. That sets up a very intriguing Kentucky-Cornell matchup in the upcoming round and a potential Syracuse-Kansas State throwdown in the Elite 8.

Kentucky is now easily the favorite to win the whole thing, provided the 'Cats get past Cornell of course. Tennessee, as many of you know, has never made it past the Sweet 16. However if the Vols find a way to beat Ohio State, not much is standing between them and the Final Four. It should be another great weekend upcoming.

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