This region has four close games and four lopsided games in the Round of 64 according to the KenPom ratings. Just two ranks separate No. 47 9-seed Providence and No. 49 8-seed USC. Only 13 spots separate No. 32 7-seed Wisconsin and No. 45 10-seed Pitt. One more spot that that keeps No. 41 6-seed Notre Dame and No. 55 11-seed Michigan apart. Finally, 3/14 game is easily the closest with 27 spots between No. 6 West Virginia and No. 33 Stephen F. Austin.
After those, the next closest game is one with 85 spots of separation between No. 8 4-seed Kentucky and No. 93 13-seed Stony Brook.
Who You Gonna Trust?
Roy Williams of 1-seed North Carolina has failed to make it past the first weekend as a 1-seed just twice: 1992 and 1998. He's six-for-six since then. He made at least the Elite Eight in all six of those tries, too.
Chris Mack of 2-seed Xavier has been pretty good so far. He's made the Sweet 16 in three of his five tournament appearances, although it's been in an alternating pattern with earlier exits. This year's seed is easily his best yet, as his next best has been a 6-seed three times.
3-seed West Virginia's Bob Huggins is no stranger to the tournament, with this being his 22nd appearance. This is only his second seed better than a 4 since 2002, with the other coming in 2010 when he went to the Final Four. He might be a danger to go out early. In 13 tournaments without a conference tournament win, he's made at least the Sweet 16 just two times.
4-seed Kentucky is in good hands with John Calipari. The last time Cal made the tournament but failed to get past the first weekend was 2004. In the nine tournaments since, he's made the Elite Eight eight times and the Final Four five times. In fact, he's made the Final Four in each of his last four tournament appearances.
It's probably a good bet that we'll see a UNC-UK Sweet 16 game that will be as good as any we'll see in the whole tournament. Mack has been solid, but we'll see what he does with his best team. Huggins has had some deep runs, but he may have an early exit, too.
Further down the bracket, Tom Crean of 5-seed Indiana is three-for-three at making the Sweet 16 with a 4-seed or better but oh-for-five with a 5-seed or worse. Mike Brey of 6-seed Notre Dame hasn't made it out of the first weekend with worse than a 5-seed and has done it only twice in 12 past tourneys. 10-seed Pitt's Jamie Dixon is reliably unreliable, as he's had a first weekend exit in seven of his ten tournaments. John Beilein of 11-seed Michigan has had some deep runs, but never as a double-digit seed.
Best and Worst Draws
The best draw in the region is pretty clearly Kentucky. The 4-seed Wildcats are one of two best teams on their seed lines according to the KenPom ratings in their half of the region, but the other is 16-seed FGCU. Indiana may be the second best of the 5s, but Calipari can coach circles around Crean. Beyond that, the other teams in the top half of the East bracket are either the third best (including 1-seed UNC) or fourth best on their lines. No other 4-seed has it so good.
2-seed Xavier did not get a good draw. It's the weakest of the 2s, but it's paired with the best of the 3-seeds and the second best of the 7-seeds. It's possible that the only team a deep running Musketeers team that is worse than second best on its seed line is in the opener against 15-seed Weber State (fourth best).
A Plausible Outcome
UNC and Xavier have little trouble in advancing, but 14-seed Stephen F. Austin shocks 3-seed West Virginia. 4-seed Kentucky rolls in the second half over Stony Brook, while 5-seed Indiana barely escapes Chattanooga. A couple more double digit seeds advance as 11-seed Michigan beats 6-seed Notre Dame and 10-seed Pitt upsets 7-seed Wisconsin. 8-seed USC powers past 9-seed Providence to wrap up the round.
The Tar Heels hold serve over Providence, while Xavier prospers from Dixon making his customary first weekend exit. In a game marked by old highlights of lots of white guys playing, Kentucky blows out Indiana. SFA takes advantage of a shorthanded Michigan team to make a surprise Sweet 16 visit.
Kentucky rides its young guards past UNC's veteran guards to get to the Elite Eight, while Xavier finally puts down the Austin rebellion. From there, the Wildcats knock off Xavier to go to the Final Four.