Duke dominates a top heavy yet mediocre South Regional, with little more than a couple of dark horse challengers en route to a fairly likely trip to the Final Four.
Notre Dame: The Irish weren't exactly on the bubble (they hung firmly in the 35-40 range for most of the season), but they weren't exactly #6 seed material either, as a gruesome midseason 3-7 Big East conference stretch showed with losses to NIT-worthy Cincinnati, St John's and Seton Hall as well as to lowly Rutgers. Despite the Conference's alleged overlooking of a team's last 12 games, the only real indication of quality was a six game winning streak that bookended Notre Dame's season before falling to West Virginia in the Big East Tournament. Now they get a matchup with a #11 Old Dominion team that could well beat them.
Richmond: This is not to say that the Spiders don't deserve some credit for one of their best seasons in a long time. But the Spiders have only three top 25 wins, can't rebound on the offensive end to save their lives and, aside from their ball control, the only element of their game that can be considered "good" is their ability to contest shots on the defensive end and generate steals. Defense wins championships, sure, but this isn't the A-10, and Richmond is not a #7 seed. They probably should switch seeds with another team that....
Got the Shaft:
St Mary's (CA): Like Richmond, the #10 Gaels had a fine season, in their case despite the loss of star guard Paddy Mills, showing that they were not a one man show and that they had the shooting accuracy and perimeter game to play big time basketball en route to the WCC title. A #10 beating a #7 isn't much of an upset, as like the #8 vs #9 matchup it's considered more of a matchup of equals, but the Gaels are probably the favorite against Richmond, and #2 Villanova is no lock to walk over them en route to the Sweet 16. But the Gaels probably should have been a #7 or #8, not a #10.
Utah State: Okay, jobbing in your conference title game to New Mexico State is never a good move, but the Aggies were one of best outside shooting and ball control teams in the country, and a strong rebounding team as well. That should be worth at least a #10, especially if you were going to reward lucky shot New Mexico State (who may not even be a top 100 team) with a #12 seed. Giving Utah State a #12 and a first round date with #5 Texas A&M only makes sense if you're sowing the seeds for a classic 5-12 upset, as A&M has a problem with hitting free throws, getting stuffed inside and... guess what... defending three point shooting teams. Uh ohs.
And yes, that's one of your two upset picks. The other as mentioned is #11 Old Dominion, who was seeded right but is facing a weak #6 in Notre Dame. ODU has one of the best defenses in the country and is the best offensive rebounding team in the country according to Pomeroy, which can neutralize the Irish's effective offense.
Contrary to Popular Belief:
Villanova belongs at #2 and Baylor's a legit #3. People look at Nova's six late season losses in ten games, hold their nose and insist Nova is #2 in a different sense than the 2nd South Regional seed. But three of those losses came to top 15 powerhouses (Georgetown, Syracuse and West Virginia), a 4th came to top 20 Pittsburgh, and a 5th came to down but still competitive Connecticut. The 6th was a four point loss in their opening Big East Tournament game against top 30 Marquette. And during that stretch, they lost by double digits only twice (Georgetown and Syracuse) and beat West Virginia in another matchup. Finally, keep in mind... with eight legitimate bids, the Big East is probably the best conference in college basketball this year. 4-6 to close the season looks a lot worse in Conference USA than it does in an eight-bid Big East.
As for Baylor, I have no idea other than bias towards historical reputation why people are down on Baylor being a #3. They closed the regular season on a 9-2 run that included two wins against Texas (and they picked up a 3rd win over Texas in their first Big 12 Tournament game), another against a decent Texas A&M squad and another against a top 25 Missouri squad. Their eventual Big 12 tourney exit came against a top 10 Kansas State squad. Perhaps a loss to iffy Oklahoma State and a midseason job to lowly Colorado looked a bit poor, but Baylor's had one of the most consistent performances in a year full of inconsistent seasons. They have one of the top all-around offensive squads in the nation and can definitely hang with the top 10-15 teams in the country.
Not a prayer:
The Play-In Game is a joke, meant to a) protect all 34 at-large bids and b) siphon out one of two somewhat embarrassing 16 seeds, basically the lowest of the bunch, two automatic bid teams that, if the Committee had any say in the matter, would be left out of the dance.
It ultimately accomplishes little: The winner typically has little to no chance against the #1 seed two days later. Amidst the 96 team expansion proposal is an alternate proposal to expand the tournament to a more modest 68 teams and have four 16-seed play-in games. This would at least make some sense as it would give every 16 seed a chance to win one NCAA Tournament game before getting fed to the lions.
Meanwhile, this year's participants: Winthrop, the small South Carolina school from the Big South Conference that has made eight previous appearances and even scored a 1st round upset over Notre Dame as a #11 seed in 2007. They are definitely not that good this year, relying on their solid defense and ball control with a slow-ish tempo to disguise their gag-worthy lack of accurate shooting. The other foil: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, who began their season with a rigorous non-conference gang beating ERRRRRR schedule of mid-major and power conference foes that left them 0-11 going into conference play... where they channeled the hard lessons of that non-conference slate and unloaded on the lowly Southwestern Athletic Conference to the tune of a 14-4 conference record, before running the table in the SWAC Tournament to pick up the bid and a trip to Dayton to try and put some shine on their ugly 17-15 record.
The chances for a 16 seed making the Final Four are already long, since after all no #16 has ever beaten a #1 in the 1st round in 100 tries, so winning four games is kind of hard if you can't win the 1st. But the play-in game helps send the astronomical odds of these two teams into the next galaxy, as they each stand a competitive chance of beating the other (Winthrop currently is a 54.5% favorite to beat Pine Bluff) which virtually doubles each team's longshot odds.
Their chances look like the odds of winning a state lottery. Winthrop is a 1835 to 1 longshot just to make the Sweet 16. Their odds of making the Final Four?
889,564 to 1.
And guess what? Those are better odds than Arkansas Pine Bluff's. Is Pine Bluff a one in a million shot? Actually, being a one in a million shot would give them a slightly better chance of making the Final Four. Their odds stand at 1,065,522 to 1.
Makes #15 Robert Morris seem like a good shot at 53,834 to 1, doesn't it?
Don't expect any Cinderellas:
The top 4 seeds are comfortable favorites to make the Sweet 16, and chances aren't likely that Duke's rivals will knock them off en route to the Final Four. The road to Indianapolis is clear for Coach K and the Blue Devils.
1. Duke. Sweet 16: 76.9%. Final Four: 6 to 5 (46.6%)
2. Villanova. Sweet 16: 62.5%. Final Four: 13 to 2
3. Baylor. Sweet 16: 55.6%. Final Four: 15 to 2
4. Purdue. Sweet 16: 42.7%. Final Four: 12.1 to 1
5. Texas A&M. Sweet 16: 24.8%. Final Four: 31.3 to 1
6. Notre Dame. Sweet 16: 18.0%. Final Four: 58.1 to 1
7. Richmond. Sweet 16: 14.2%. Final Four: 86.3 to 1
8. California. Sweet 16: 15.6%. Final Four: 20.8 to 1
9. Louisville. Sweet 16: 13 to 1. Final Four: 69.3 to 1
10. St Mary's CA. Sweet 16: 22.7%. Final Four: 36.6 to 1
11. Old Dominion. Sweet 16: 22.8%. Final Four: 37.2 to 1
12. Utah State. Sweet 16: 23.4%. Final Four: 35.0 to 1
13. Siena. Sweet 16: 10 to 1. Final Four: 219.3 to 1
14. Sam Houston State. Sweet 16: 27 to 1. Final Four: 1393.9 to 1
15. Robert Morris. Sweet 16: 166 to 1. Final Four: 53834.2 to 1
16a. Winthrop. Sweet 16: 1834 to 1. Final Four: 889563.7 to 1
16b. Arkansas Pine Bluff. Sweet 16: 2197 to 1. Final Four: 1065521.6 to 1