So the screaming about snubs has ceased, the play-in game has been played in and Niagara now gets the pleasure of having Kansas beat the ever living daylights out of them on Friday. So what are perplexing queries heading into the 2007 version of the Big Dance.
1. Can Florida repeat as national champions?
Returning starters...check. Plenty of talent..check. Fairly easy bracket...check.
Florida has a great setup to run all the way to Atlanta and once you get into that four team tournament you can piece together two wins. The question is what can possibly stand in the way of a team loaded up and experienced like the Gators? Any number of things just ask 1991 UNLV, 1994 UNC, 1995 Arkansas, and 1997 Kentucky. These are schools that returned formidable lineups from the championship season and failed to get it done. In all but one case(UNC) each team actually made the Final Four which leads me to believe that if Florida falls it will be in Atlanta and not along the way. So the short answer is no, I do not think the Gators can repeat. I think they can make it to Atlanta but I also think Wisconsin or even Arizona could do something to disrupt that along the way.
2. Can Texas' Kevin Durant pull a "Danny Manning?"
The most humorous aspect of the whole Kevin Durant-is-the-second-coming-of-Danny-Manning thing is I am fairly certain no one was saying that Danny Manning was going to lead Kansas to the title prior to the 1988 NCAA Tournament. The issue with saying Kevin Durant will lead Texas to the title is you are pretty much guaranteeing it is not going to happen by throwing the expectation out there. Granted I have no hard evidence to back that up, it just seems to be the way things work out in the NCAA Tournament. The second reason I think Texas is not going to go on some sort of Kansas-like run is there is a vast ocean wide gap between Larry Brown who was coaching Kansas in 1988 and Texas' Rick Barnes. And I do not mean that in a good way where Barnes is concerned. Barnes does not strike me as a good game coach. I have seen way too many Texas games where it is obvious there is not a whole lot of smart coaching being espoused from the Longhorn bench. Also, I am still holding a grudge against Barnes for trying to attack Dean Smith in the ACC Tournament.
3. Will there be another George Mason?
By the way, I consider our vengeance has been appeased with the loss of George Mason in the CAA Championship and their subsequent failure to make the NCAA Tournament. But I digress. The same principle that applied to Texas also applies here. The quest for the next George Mason almost automatically nullifies the possibility you will have the next George Mason. These things are surprises, that is what makes them stories and the fact you would be able to identify a team that could make a run to the Final Four also nullifies it being the next George Mason because such a selection would be based on the conventional rules of evaluating a team. George Mason fit zero of the criteria one would use to determine which team could make the Final Four. In fact George Mason had a horrible path to the Final Four and most everyone probably assume that if Michigan State did not handle them certainly North Carolina would. And beyond that UConn should have easily handled them but did not. I also think every high seed will be on guard against seeds in the 10-13 range meaning they might upset 1-2 teams but the road will likely end there.
Having said all of that if I had to choose one team seeded 10-13 I thought could make a serious run it would be Winthrop but even the Eagles would not be considered that big of a Cinderella seeing that they are 28-4 and led UNC at halftime back in November.
4. Which regional is the toughest?
The automatic perception is that the East is the toughest regional because Texas is the #4 seed and Georgetown is being treated as a #1 seed. What do the actual numbers say? Let's take a look at Ken Pomeroy's RPI and see which regional's top eight seeds average out the highest.
1. West: 14.375
2. Midwest: 16.125
3. South: 21.375
4. East: 25.5
So if you average the RPI rankings for the top eight teams in each region the East comes out to be the weakest set of teams with the West having the highest rated teams on average. As far as the path the #1 seed would face, if you average the RPI of the #8, #4, and #2 seeds in each regional the West #1 seed Kansas has the toughest path facing the 13th, 7th, and 2nd ranked teams in the RPI should seeding hold true. The second toughest path belongs to Florida who could face the 14th, 16th, and 4th ranked teams in the RPI. UNC would face the weakest of the #8 seeds at 22nd, the second easiest #4 at 25th, and the worst of the #2 seeds at 9th. Ohio State would have the easiest path according to the RPI average based in large part on the fact Virginia has a horrendous RPI number at 55. The Buckeyes would face the second easiest #4 and #2 should the bracket go according to plan.
What does all of this mean? Nothing really though I think it is interesting the numbers tell a different story than the general media perception. Texas, who everyone is convinced will knock off UNC, is actually behind the #8 and #9 seeds in the region according to the RPI. Georgetown who is widely considered to be the best of the #2 seeds is actually ranked the lowest of the #2 seeds at 9th in the RPI. Of course numbers do not tell the story of how a team is playing right now or on any given night. It also should be noted that media analysts cannot tell you that either.
5. How will the ACC do during the first weekend?
There is a good chance the ACC could look very bad by the time the field shrinks to 16 simply because the committee did not give ACC schools favorable seedings across the board. Maryland got stuck with Davidson in the first round, UVa is a #4 seed and will see Tennessee in the 2nd round should the Cavs survive. Boston College is a #7 and assuming Bobby Knight does not eat Al Skinner for lunch they would end up playing Georgetown. Virginia Tech got stuck with Illinois and then could end up playing Southern Illinois which all sounds very bad for the Hokies. Duke has VCU who is a very good mid-major and then would end up playing Pittsburgh who probably has some axe to grind. Georgia Tech is a #10 seed which is never good considering UNLV is the #7 and Wisconsin would be on deck after that. That leaves only UNC who would have to deal with the Marquette-Michigan State winner which is no picnic. In other words there is not one scenario I can find which says any of the ACC teams should cruise on through to the Sweet Sixteen. UNC comes the closest by virtue of their depth and the fact they should cruise in the 1st round. So for a conference that got the most in, they also stand to lose the most should a decent majority of them play badly on the first weekend.
Bonus Question: Which teams do you want to lose right away?
In no particular order and my reasons why:
Florida-They are a football school.
Georgetown-Because everyone thinks they are the hotness
UCLA-Because UCLA fans attacked this blog last year and I have never liked UCLA
Memphis-John Calipari is a sleazy coach...there I said it.