March Madness Rapid Reactions: Seeds, nudges, selection Sunday
Welcome to the chaos.
The NCAA announced its 68-team basketball tournament field Sunday, with Alabama claiming No. 1 overall and joining Houston, Kansas and Purdue on the top line. Neither of those finishes came as a surprise, as the Boilermakers added a bit of drama just before the brackets were unveiled by stopping Penn State from winning the Big Ten tournament.
In addition to the weight of being No. 1, the Crimson Tide must also contend with heightened national media scrutiny surrounding newcomer star Brandon Miller and his alleged role in a fatal shooting that led to the indictment of former teammate Darius Miles. Miller, a likely lottery pick for the NBA draft, has not been banned from games by coach Nate Oats since the incident became public and averaged 20.3 points and 11 rebounds to lead Alabama to the SEC tournament title.
There weren’t many surprises when it came to the final selection at large, although one can always argue. Want North Carolina’s cache, warts and all from a volatile season, in the First Four or a Nevada team that had a disastrous end? does it matter? Does any of these No. 11 seeds look capable of catching lightning in a bottle to make the Final Four like VCU did in 2011 and UCLA two years ago?
There’s plenty of first-round matchups with subplots (hello, UConn vs. Iona as Rick Pitino contemplates a move across town to St. John’s and back to the Big East); potential four-team sub-regions of Chaos (facing you, east, and south regions); understaffed teams (Texas A&M); overstaffed teams (Tennessee); and some home cooking (that’s a nice 60-mile bus ride from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham for the Crimson Tide first and second round games). There will be lesser crewed train cars (your office work partner will know more about Oral Roberts’ Max Abmas than his/her life partner by Wednesday) and the annual mascot question (what is a paladin?).
Teams that could be called Final Four sleepers have now defined routes to Houston, with the severity of obstacles changing based on seedings and opponents, as well as locations. So let’s race through the field with some steaming hot takes and potential picks that will no doubt be ridiculed again.
The hardest path for a #1 seed
Kansas (+900 to win the NCAA tournament at FanDuel) has the toughest road to H-Town, and it’s nowhere near. Even with a bazillion Quad 1 wins, the Jayhawks were the third No. 1 according to the committee. To add insult to hurt pride at being smoked by Texas (+2000 at BetMGM) in the Big 12 title game, Kansas was moved to the western region staggered, which means that if it comes to that, its regional games will be held in Las Vegas, rather than in nearby Kansas City.
Already in the second round the Jayhawks could be challenged hard. Arkansas was an AP top-10 team preseason and is now a dangerous No. 9 seed playing against an Illinois team that defeated both UCLA and Texas but then failed to solve Penn State three times. If the Razorbacks can show form from their 11-1 start or early February when they beat Texas A&M and Kentucky, they could give the Jayhawks problems.
The Regionals in Sin City also feature big obstacles, starting with #4 in Connecticut (+1750 at Hard Rock). The Huskies have nailed their 14-0 form outside of the conference and have both the talent and depth to match Kansas body for body. The bottom half of the draw will likely produce No. 2 UCLA (+1400 at BetRivers, Barstool Sportsbook, FanDuel) or No. 3 Gonzaga (+1800 at FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Betway) while the Bruins are without Jaylen Clark, they are an experienced team of “grown men” who play in defense. The ‘Zags, a tournament game, will be on a mission led by moustachioed superstar Drew Timme.
Pound this line/grab this totally
No. 13 Louisiana (+10.5 at DraftKings, BetMGM, PointsBet, Hard Rock) vs. No. 4 Tennessee
This line has already fallen into the single digits at FanDuel. It’s less of a disparagement to the volunteers and more of an acknowledgment in the sportsbook that the selection committee has rewarded them for all the work of the season as they are without injured starting point guard Zakai Zeigler. The Ragin’ Cajuns are nowhere near the world champions coming out of the Sun Belt and haven’t played a great schedule outside of conference, but they can negate some of Tennessee’s strengths on the boards and will run an efficient offense.
OVER 152.5 points (BetMGM) #10 Utah State vs. #7 Missouri
BetMGM’s total is currently two points lower than current lists in multiple books elsewhere and both teams can score the ball. The Aggies and Tigers are both offensive in terms of shooting inside and outside the arc, and while Missouri tends to give up second chance points, it will get some live ball turnover for easy points on its side.
Embrace the Chaos, First Round Edition
With a choice of feast or famine, there is a non-zero chance that the East Region could have a No. 12-No. 13 seeded matchup between Oral Roberts and Louisiana in the second round. Yes, it takes guts to choose against an understaffed and top-flight Blue Devils team (+4000 at Caesars, Hard Rock and Betfred) but add that to Oral Roberts with 30 wins and Abmas – a holdover from No. 15 seeded Golden Eagles team in 2021 that made the regional semifinals — it also has 7’5″ Connor Vanover who can at least get Dukes stud newcomer and 7-footer Kyle Filipowski to work for his points.
The South Region also has a chance for 12v13 magic, with Charleston and Furman posting surprises over San Diego State and Virginia respectively. The Cougars, who made a cameo appearance in the AP Top 25 during the season, won 31 games en route to the CAA title and are capable of shooting past the Aztecs. The Paladins have very good offense within the arc — leading the nation in 2-point shooting at 59.1% — and Virginia’s defense, while good, isn’t the Anaconda-like Cavaliers defense of past seasons.
Let the mountain West fade again?
The chatter will spill over into the First Four when Nevada takes on Arizona State in a No. 11 clash, noting that the Mountain West Conference has lost nine straight NCAA tournament games, beginning with the Wolf Pack’s Sweet 16 loss against Loyola of Chicago in 2018. MWC flopped with four teams last year and has four teams in the field again this year, although San Diego State is the only team in the top half of the draw as No. 5 and still has some value a sleeper pick (+10000 at FanDuel and BetMGM).
Despite being seeded 10th, bookmakers have set Utah State and Boise State as slight favorites over Missouri and Northwestern, respectively. The Wolf Pack are minor underdogs to Arizona State, a team making their third appearance in the First Four since 2018. It’s possible that Mountain West’s fortunes could be reversed this year and the conference claim four wins, but it’s also not out of the question that another 0-4 is on offer.
play the disrespect card
Last season, Buzz Willams aired his grievances Festivus-style when Texas A&M was one of the last teams not to make the 68’s paddock as the Aggies’ 12 SEC wins weren’t enough to support a doughy schedule without equalizing conference . Texas A&M chose to avoid drama this season, going 15-3 for second place in conference play and reaching the SEC Tournament finals.
So it came as a bit of a surprise that the Aggies were seeded No. 7 in the Midwest with a first-round date against Penn State (-3/-110 on Caesars, PointsBet and DraftKings) — even more so given that it became a more inconsistent Kentucky team awarded 6th place. Reveille’s howls of indignation can be heard all the way from College Station, although the prospect of a second-round showdown with No. 2 Texas and a win over their former and future conference rivals could go a long way in silencing the doubters bring to.
Several rapid-fire considerations
First #1 seed to be eliminated: Kansas
Most Vulnerable #2 Seeds Based on Potential Matchups: Texas (vs. Texas A&M) and Marquette (vs. USC)
Ugliest First Round Game: #12 VCU vs. #5 Saint Mary’s – first to 55 can win
Most likely 12 vs. 5 upset: See above
First round match everyone would like to be close but don’t want: #4 UConn vs #13 Iona
Greatest Stylistic Contrast First Round Game: #9 Auburn vs. #8 Iowa
Best First Round Rock Match: #9 West Virginia vs. #8 Maryland
Upset we all want to see: No. 12 Oral Roberts vs. No. 5 Duke
Annoyed we will see: No. 14 UC Santa Barbara (+475 at PointsBet) against No. 3 Baylor
Star who will carry his team and avoid an upset in the first round: Trayce Jackson-Davis for No. 4 Indiana (-200 at PointsBet) against No. 13 Kent State
Best Potential Revenge: Bryce Hopkins helps No. 11 Providence (+145 at DraftKings) beat No. 6 Kentucky at the Rick Pitino Memorial
Top Potential NCAA Tournament Champion Darkhorse ranked 5th or lower: Duke (+4000 on Hard Rock and Betfred)
Best Potential Final Four Team, Bottom Half of Bracket: #9 Arkansas (+1200 at DraftKings and Betway)
Eye test Final Four: Alabama (+190 at DraftKings and Betway), Gonzaga (+430 at FanDuel, Betfred), Houston (+140 at BetRivers and Barstool), Purdue (+300 WynnBET)
Heartstrings Final Four: Alabama, Houston, UCLA (+340 on Betfred and FanDuel), Marquette (+700 on Betway)
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