Here are some initial thoughts on the selection process. Bracket breakdowns will be provided Monday and Tuesday, with a Final Four prediction Wednesday.
Link to ESPN.com bracket diagram
I'm not sure if this has ever happened before in the history of the tournament: Three teams from the same conference - the Big East's Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Louisville - getting #1 seeds. It's fairly unprecedented, but in a year in which only four teams from non-power conferences received at-large bids, not surprising that the tournament committee would leave Memphis out of the #1 seed mix, including North Carolina instead.
This judgement call by the committee seems completely suspect. Connecticut was beaten twice by Pitt, which should have disqualified them. Pitt was knocked out of the Big East tournament in the first round, by West Virginia, which puts some doubt on their prospects of playing on a neutral court. I have no argument with Louisville, since they won the Big East regular season title and the tournament. I'm just not very impressed by them, though I'm not able to put my finger on exactly why. It could be their lack of star power. No individual player stands out, but, then again, isn't that the idea? Team play?
History provides many examples to the contrary, with big name players rising to the occasion and carrying their teams. That's usually how these things are sorted out. One player performs above and beyond to capture the flag. If that's the case, Oklahoma exists as a true sleeper with Blake Griffith arguably one of the best players in the nation.
Overall, Memphis looks like the best team out there, but the best team doesn't always win the tournament. The Tigers play an aggressive defense that not many teams can withstand for 40 minutes.
Getting into the #2s - Duke, Memphis, and Oklahoma look safe through to the regionals, but Michigan State could be toast, especially if USC beats Boston College. The 10-7 matchup is known for upset potential and with USC as the 10, this one looks ripe. Michigan State doesn't have the same athleticism that the kids from the West Coast possess and the Trojans could roll the Spartans on Sunday.
The PAC-10 teams - as per usual - have been given short shrift by fans and the committee alike. The weak links are Cal and UCLA. Washington, USC, are solid, but Arizona St. faces Akron and Arizona has Utah in the opening round. The likelihood of both Arizona schools get past the first round is about 50-50. The Zips and Utes have quality teams.
The SEC sent only 3 teams - LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee - which is difficult to argue against. The entire conference had a down year. The Big Ten sent 7, which is really a reach. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan could all be gone in the blink of an eye. Don't be surprised if only three or four Big Ten teams make it to the first weekend.
More thoughts tomorrow, plus a breakdown of the East and South regions. Tuesday, the Midwest and West. Wednesday, Final Four projections.
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