With the NCAA Tournament field set yesterday the debate in workplaces all over the United States begins today on a variety of topics. They range from which teams got snubbed (Colorado) to which conferences got no respect (Big 12).
I am going to focus on one subject and that is which #1 seed has, in my opinion, the easiest path to the Final Four in Houston. Just to refresh everyone the four #1 seeds in no particular order are: Ohio State Buckeyes, Duke Blue Devils, Kansas Jayhawks and Pittsburgh Panthers.
My pick is none other than the Big 12's own Kansas Jayhawks. My reasoning for this pick goes as follows.
Once Kansas gets done with their scrimmage against Boston University in the 1st round they will play the winner of the UNLV vs Illinois matchup. Yes the Runnin Rebels have a 24-8 record but they finished fourth in the Mountain West and Illinois went 19-13 this year and somehow snuck into the tournament.
The Runnin Rebels are a guard oriented team with only two players on their roster listed taller than 6'8", you don't think that Marcus and Markieff Morris along with Thomas Robinson wouldn't be licking their chops for that matchup. The Rebels best win is probably against Kansas State on a neutral floor where they won by four points, this is also the first game where Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly did not play due to suspension.
Illinois enters as a team that did not even make it to 20 wins and has been overrated all year long due to high expectations and the fact they play in the Big 10 conference. On paper the second round looks like a cakewalk for the Jayhawks.
The other #1 seeds have, in my opinion, tougher possible second round matchups. Pittsburgh faces the possibility of seeing last year's national runner up in Butler. Ohio State could see either George Mason or a dangerous Villanova squad. Duke has the chance of facing Tennessee who earlier this year beat #1 seeded Pittsburgh in a game at Pittsburgh.
The #4 and #5 seeds in each bracket are most likely whom the #1 seeds will play in the Sweet Sixteen round, that is assuming no major upsets. This is the round where I think a distinct edge goes in Kansas favor with Pittsburgh probably a close second behind the Jayhawks.
The #4 and #5 seeds in KU's bracket are Vanderbilt and Louisville. Both are formidable teams from power conferences but neither is going to really scare a top seed. Vanderbilt is a solid team with some quality wins but only finished at 9-7 in a somewhat watered down SEC Conference. Louisville is well coached under Rick Pitino but does not possess the star power they did just a few years ago.
Pittsburgh meanwhile has the Wisconsin Badgers and K-State Wildcats as their #4 & #5 seeds respectively. While the Badgers also won't scare anyone they have a great coach in Bo Ryan and a dynamic scoring point guard in Jordan Taylor. The Wildcats were playing as well as anyone in the country entering the tournament and are led by a senior with tournament experience in Jacob Pullen.
In the other two brackets the Duke Blue Devils drew arguably the toughest #4 & #5 seeds in Texas and Arizona. Can't imagine a possible matchup of one of those two teams makes the Blue Devils very happy.
Meanwhile the overall #1 seed Ohio State Buckeyes get Kentucky and West Virginia as their #4 & #5 seeds. While West Virginia is probably not a Final Four team like last season they are still a hard nosed basketball team under Bob Huggins and Kentucky has a great athletic freshman class with Brandon Knight, Terrence Jones & Doron Lamb.
The round where Kansas maybe does not have the best matchup if the chalk holds all the way through could be in the Elite 8 but that is also debatable.
The Jayhawks would have to face a possible opponent of either #2 Notre Dame or #3 Purdue. The Fighting Irish finished a strong 26-6 in the Big East which got 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament whether it deserved it or not. A look at Notre Dame's losses though are telling as in five of their losses they were beat by double digits. The Irish are an outside shooting club led by Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis but they do not possess an above average inside game. This matchup would greatly favor Kansas.
Purdue on the other hand could represent a challenge as they have two stars on their team in 6'10" forward JaJuan Johnson and 6'4" guard E'Twaun Moore. The Boilermakers though limp into the tournament coming off bad losses against Michigan State and the lowly Iowa Hawkeyes. This late season performance doesn't bode well for Purdue.
The Pitt Panthers might have an easier draw with their #2 & #3 seeds with Florida and BYU but then again does anyone want to have the possibility of facing Jimmer Fredette who could single handily win a game for his team.
Not to sound like a Duke apologist but if they can get to the Elite 8 they face strong competition from #2 San Diego State or #3 UConn. Much like Jimmer Fredette for BYU, Kemba Walker could take over a game and win it for his team. The Aztecs are a bit of an unknown with how well they will do but they do have an athletic frontcourt with Kawhi Leonard and Billy White.
Ohio State also has a tough draw with ACC regular season champion North Carolina as the #2 seed. The Tar Heels have been playing strong ball late in the year and have a championship coach and an emerging star in Harrison Barnes. The #3 seed is Syracuse who continue to frustrate opponents with their zone and they too are led by a championship coach in Jim Boeheim.
Coaching will be key in the NCAA Tournament and this is another area where I think the Jayhawks benefit. Obviously KU is led by Bill Self who is one of the best in the business. A look at their bracket shows only one other head coach who has won a national championship and that is Rick Pitino of Louisville. The Panthers of Pittsburgh also would only have to possibly face one other national title winning coach in Billy Donovan of Florida.
Meanwhile Duke & Ohio State each have two teams in their brackets who have national title winning coaches at the helm. Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim are in the Buckeyes bracket and Steve Fisher and Jim Calhoun are in Duke's side.
So when it comes down to it my initial thinking is that Kansas due to coaching and possible matchups have the easiest path to Houston. Naturally I am sure some Jayhawk fans will object to that reasoning but that is natural as all fans think their teams get the short end of the stick.
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