The 2014 NCAA Tournament is set to roll starting on Tuesday night. We’re set for another three-week gala of college hoops, of listening to Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith in the studio (something I’ve come to enjoy as much as the games themselves) and continuing on The Road To Dallas.
TheSportsNotebook will dig into the specifics of all four regional brackets over the next 30 or so hours prior to the beginning of “The First Four” in Dayton. For now, let’s start with nine general thoughts on the overall bracket itself…
*Six teams have separated themselves in the eyes of Las Vegas. Florida is the betting line favorite at 11-2, though Kansas and Arizona are close behind. Wichita is 8-1, with Duke and Michigan State at 10-1. It’s here that the first big drop in the betting odds takes place, as you have to go to 16-1 before picking up with the group of Syracuse, Wisconsin, Louisville, Michigan, Villanova and Virginia that are tightly grouped together and are the dark horses.
*I knew my Final Four picks within seconds of seeing the overall bracket. I was looking strongly at Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin to begin with and when they all went in separate regions it made the choice easy. The pool I’m in—like others—weights the scoring based on a team’s seed, so the fact none of these teams are 1-seeds (while Louisville and Michigan State are shockingly on the 4-line) only enhances the value.
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*I’m less certain on the national championship. If Joel Embid is healthy, Kansas is far and away the most talented team in the country, but Embid will be out this weekend and possibly next. If my Final Four scenario happens (yeah right), Embid would play. But the flip side is that maybe I should hedge my bet. Ultimately it comes down to this—I’m a Wisconsin fan and when I sit down at a friend’s house just outside Jacksonville on that fateful Monday night to watch the NCAA final, and the Badgers are playing, I don’t want any mixed messages on my team and my pool fortunes. I’m going to make sure they align and I’ll pick Bucky.
*The Selection Committee clearly had it in for the American Athletic Conference. SMU was the most notable snub and Louisville dropping to the 4-line was the talk of ESPN’s Selection Show last night. Meanwhile, Virginia, also lacking a tough non-conference schedule, got a 1-seed. The only explanation is the committee valued the ACC much more than the American. That’s an entirely defensible position—the ACC ranks fifth in conference RIP while the American is eighth. The Committee’s job is not to predict future results, but simply to evaluate resumes. I’d have seeded Louisville higher, but I understand why they weren’t.
*I think the talk of Wichita’s draw being stacked against them—Louisville (4), Duke (3) and Michigan (2) are the other high seeds is being overblown. It’s true the Shockers did get a bad break with Louisville. But the mere fact that Duke and Michigan are “brand names” doesn’t make them better basketball teams than other possible opponents in Villanova, Wisconsin, Syracuse. And they aren’t necessarily playing better than 3-seed Iowa State, who just blew through the Big 12 tournament. And the possible second-round game with Kentucky? Maybe I’m missing something, but Kentucky’s dysfunction has been a story all year.
*If you want to travel to a opening weekend site that should be lively, consider Buffalo. They’ll have more nearby teams than any other site. Ohio State-Dayton is a head-to-head game and a reasonable trip. Syracuse will bring a ton of fans, as will UConn, St. Joe’s and Villanova. The latter two could play on Saturday. Nothing like a few friendly people in Philadelphia getting together for a knockout game. Then again I realized I just typed the words “if you want to travel, go to Buffalo.” Forget I brought it up.
*Another site that should be rocking this weekend is San Antonio. Baylor, Nebraska, Creighton and Iowa State are all on hand. The former two go head-to-head on Friday, and the winner likely plays Creighton. Although even Creighton opponent UL-Lafayette isn’t that far of a drive, so the small school should bring its people. And though North Carolina isn’t local or even a vintage Tar Heel team, UNC brings the brand-name power to the venue that’s currently home to the team with the best record in the NBA.
*If we forecast out into the Sweet 16, some potential rematches with historic implications would be the following: Kansas-Syracuse, a rematch of the 2003 NCAA final when Jim Boeheim rode freshmen Carmelo Anthony to his only national title and Roy Williams coached his final game at Kansas. Michigan-Duke, a rematch of the 1992 NCAA final when the Fab Five took the floor as freshmen and Duke became the first team of the post-Wooden era to repeat. And Oklahoma-Arizona, of the 1988 Final Four, when current TNT analyst Steve Kerr played the last game of an epic college career.
*The Committee really blew it in the Milwaukee games, near where I live. Wisconsin was placed there as a 2-seed. But UW-Milwaukee, a #15 seed was sent to Buffalo to play Villanova, while the Badgers play American (based in Washington D.C.). C’mon, just flip those two teams and create a little bit of a local rivalry, Wisconsin-UWM, right here in the Bradley Center. The Milwaukee site is home to our potential silly storyline of the second round—there could be Saturday matchups of Wisconsin-Oregon and Texas-Michigan, both of which are “rematches of thrilling Rose Bowl games that have taken place in the last ten years, following the 2011 and 2004 seasons respectively.
We’re ready to roll into March Madness. This starts a year where Dallas is the epicenter of college sports, as Cowboys Stadium will host the Final Four, as well as the college football national championship game next January. No one can say Jerry Jones isn’t committed to making sure the local fans get to see postseason play.