Some insights into the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament
We've all heard just how rugged the Midwest region is supposed to be, wherein Kansas, the #1 overall seed in the tourney, will be hard-pressed by any number of teams, but that is a flawed idea, a myth, as Kansas will likely breeze through the first three rounds and only face serious competition in their regional final.
While the region boasts some quality teams, the best of them are in the lower half of the bracket, meaning Kansas will only have to play one of the better teams. Tennessee, San Diego State, Georgetown and Ohio Sate are all in the lower half, while the only quality teams in the Kansas draw at the top are Michigan State (5) and Maryland (4). The winner of the Northern Iowa-UNLV game may give Kansas some trouble for the first 15 minutes, but the Jayhawks simply have too much size and experience to imagine that they'd be ousted as early as the second round. Whether Maryland or Michigan State emerges from the other side of the draw, it won't matter. Kansas should handle either of them by ten points at least.
If either Georgetown or Ohio State match up in the regional final against Kansas, that game will provide a true test, though Ohio State has no depth, playing six men at most, and Georgetown, while very good, probably won't be able to keep up with Kansas for a full 40 minutes. That's the big myth this season. Kansas should cruise into the Final Four without breaking a sweat.
As far as bracket-busters are concerned, there are good prospects for upsets in each of the other regions.
#1 seed Syracuse will have its hands full, given they get past Vermont in the opening round. The Orange were upset by the Catamounts in the first round in 2005, though the Orange were a #4 seed that season and Vermont, 13. Figure Syracuse will not allow lightning to strike twice, but after that, it looks like Gonzaga next and then possibly Butler. The Zags haven't exactly knocked over the world this season, though early wins over Wisconsin and Cincinnati and a close loss to Michigan State gave them impetus to cruise through the West Coast conference with a 12-2 mark. A talented team, the Bulldogs are always dangerous, though Syracuse is probably much better.
The other Bulldogs in the draw, Butler, poses different dilemmas for the Orange. A disciplined, well-coached team with tourney experience and a solid bench. Forwards Matt Howard, Gordon Hayward and Willie Veasley are slightly undersized, but match up well with the orange front line. The guard play is solid and Butler won't be intimidated by Syracuse's 2-3 zone. It's easy to see how the Bulldogs could create the first #1 casualty of the tournament.
If Syracuse survives to that point, Kansas State will likely end their Final Four dreams. The Wildcats would be a #1 seed were it not for the potent Jayhawks. K-State can run and score in transition, playing against one of Syracuse's weaknesses. The early games in the lower portion of this region could go any way, with the exception of K-State. Pitt, Minnesota, Vanderbilt or BYU all have solid teams.
Kentucky probably has the easiest draw of any team in the tournament. They will dispose of East Tenn. St. in the opening round, then dust off the winner of the Texas-Wake Forest opener, probably the worst 8-9 match-up in the pool. After that, Temple, Cornell or Wisconsin all have equal opportunity to become the Wildcats' regional semi-final victim. Trouble looms in the regional final, where Marquette, West Virginia or New Mexico could emerge, though the Mountaineers seem to be the only realistic challenge to Kentucky. If West Virginia reached the regional final, their game with Kentucky could produce the national champion.
There's been some expression of a belief that Duke caught a break by getting into this regional draw, but there are minefields throughout what shapes up to be the most busted-up bracket of them all. Will the Blue Devils face Cal or Louisville in the second round? If the Golden Bears step up and beat the Cardinals, they could be the surprise of the tournament, as only two teams came out of the PAC-10. However, if Louisville plays to their potential, there aren't many teams they can't beat. Duke could be an early out.
Other sleepers in the top half of the draw include Sienna and Utah State, both of which are widely unknown, though Sienna has a history of knocking off higher-seeded opponents with regularity. They face Purdue in the opening round, and without Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers are already vulnerable. Sienna could cause a quick exit.
Even if Duke survives the first two rounds, a win over either Utah State or Sienna cannot be taken for granted.
The bottom of the bracket also features the weakest #2 in the tournament, Villanova, which proved in the latter part of the season to be somewhat overrated. They haven't got the size or the shooters to go deep this year and their draw is loaded. Notre Dame, Old Dominion, St. Mary's, Richmond or Baylor are all teams capable of high levels of play. Villanova is unlikely to last three rounds, maybe not even two.
Baylor or St. Mary's could emerge as a regional finalist and either could reach the Final Four, though Notre Dame and Old Dominion's chances are not bad either. In any case, Villanova is doomed and Duke will be thoroughly tested.