There’s nothing better than the NCAA Tournament, though Selection Sunday comes close.
Especially when CBS forces the most drawn-out, poorly planned television show imaginable (no, I don’t mean “Undercover Boss”) on viewers and is rewarded with the humiliation of having its top-secret bracket leaked on Twitter.
It was a strange day, from #leakedbracket to Michigan State’s No. 1 seed snub to CBS studio analysts Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith’s nonsensical ramblings about college basketball teams they clearly haven’t watched.
And it has been a strange season or, if you prefer, not a vintage season. There aren’t a lot of great teams out there. The overall quality of play this season could’ve been better.
But now the Big Dance is set to begin, and that means everything is perfect. Well, not exactly, but I’ll at least save my One Whining Moment for later.
RANKING THE REGIONS
1. Midwest: Top seed Virginia has been near the top of the heap for three years now, without much postseason success to show for it — no team in the tournament will be hungrier.
Michigan State is a No. 2 seed, yet the Spartans probably are as close to an overall favorite as there is in this tournament. No. 3 Utah had a great stretch run and has one of the most physically dominant players in the country in center Jakob Poeltl.
No. 4 Iowa State is capable of shooting down anybody, and anyone who watches the Big Ten knows how large-and-in-charge No. 5 Purdue can be. Deeper seeds Seton Hall, Dayton and Gonzaga all are capable of serious runs.
2. East: There are those who contend that No. 1 seed North Carolina has the best talent in the country this season. I’m not in that camp, but I love point guard Marcus Paige and forward Brice Johnson as a senior tandem. The Tar Heels were scary-good in winning the ACC tournament.
No. 2 seed Xavier has the national coach of the year in Chris Mack and a bunch of rebounders who’ll dominate you if you let them. No. 3 West Virginia is a bear to play, physical and relentless defensively.
But it’s fourth-seeded Kentucky that makes this region daunting. After watching the Wildcats win the SEC tournament, it’s not a reach to think they might be getting ready to peak at the perfect time. That’s what John Calipari’s teams have done in reaching four of the last five Final Fours.
3. South: It probably sounds odd, but you can throw away the seedings in this region and just enjoy the myriad possibilities.
No. 1 Kansas has been at the very top of its game for over well over a month now. The same (almost) can be said for No. 2 Villanova. But the next seeds — in order, Miami, California, Maryland and Arizona — all have talent that, it could easily be argued, eclipses that of the Jayhawks or the Wildcats. Shoot, No. 9 Connecticut probably does, too.
So much could happen here.
4. West: Sure, No. 1 Oregon won the Pac-12 regular-season and tournament titles, but the Pac-12 isn’t as strong a league as the selection committee made it out to be. Who chaired that committee, anyway, Bill Walton?
I like No. 2 Oklahoma a lot, but what has No. 3 Texas A&M ever done at this time of year? And what has No. 4 Duke ever done at this time of … wait, let me start that over. The Blue Devils are defending national champs, but just keep in mind that Mike Krzyzewski’s last five teams that entered the Big Dance with worse than a No. 2 seed combined for a meager three victories.
BIG TEN TALK
• Michigan State is in terrific position to make a run for the Final Four — it would be Tom Izzo’s seventh — and win the whole thing. It’s much harder to look with any such confidence at the path that awaits Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana. Don’t be surprised if Chattanooga gives the East No. 5 seed Hoosiers fits in the first round. If IU wins that one, Kentucky will be lurking in Round 2.
• Purdue was outstanding down the stretch of the regular season and in the Big Ten tournament, showing it’s more than just its pair of seven-foot lugs in the middle. I don’t like that potential second-round matchup with Iowa State for the Boilers, though. Georges Niang and the Cyclones are so explosive offensively, I wonder if Purdue has much chance to keep up.
• Wisconsin, seeded seventh in the East, is nowhere close to the team it was last year and the year before that. This team is much more like former coach Bo Ryan’s first 12 tourney teams, only one of which made it past the Sweet 16. I’ve got the Badgers losing their opening game against Pittsburgh.
NO SHAME, NOTRE DAME
Last time we saw the Irish, they were being beaten to within an inch of their lives by North Carolina in the ACC tournament. Not exactly a repeat of 2015, when Mike Brey’s team won that event.
As you’ll recall, quite an NCAA tourney run followed for that Irish squad, which came within a hair of upsetting Kentucky to reach the Final Four. Am I crazy for predicting that Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, Steve Vasturia et al. can return to the Elite 8 without Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton around to lead them there?
I do like the bracket path, though. Michigan coming off a First Four game in Dayton would be a challenge, but the Irish have fared better in close games. West Virginia after that would be beatable because of the way it sometimes struggles for long stretches on offense. Maybe Xavier in Round 3? Brey would relish the challenge.
HELLO AGAIN, BILL CARMODY
Yes, Carmody made it back to the NCAA Tournament after all. Not with Northwestern, which he coached from 2000-2013, but with Holy Cross, where, in his first season, the Crusaders are only 14-19 but somehow managed to win the Patriot League tourney. Holy Cross faces Southern on Wednesday in a First Four game in Dayton.
ONE WHINING MOMENT
I’m just sayin’ …
• On the whole, the Big Ten was roundly dissed and dismissed by the selection committee. Michigan State a No. 2? No one else better than a No. 5? And in a relatively down year across the country, to boot? Come on, now.
• Don’t you just love a committee that makes both Arizona and Seton Hall No. 6 seeds, but sends the Wildcats to Providence, R.I., and the Pirates to Denver to play? Stuff like that just makes you wonder.
• Why is Tulsa in this tournament? Why is Syracuse? Why is Vanderbilt? None of them should be. For those teams to be in — and the likes of Monmouth, Saint Mary’s and Valparaiso out — just flies in the face of everything people actually enjoy about March Madness.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg