A local, national, and minutiae-driven guide to the 2015 NCAA tournament. Happy Madness, everyone.
For the Ohio crowd
No. 6 Xavier, No. 8 Cincinnati, No. 10 Ohio State, and No. 11 Dayton will carry the flag for the great state of Ohio in the NCAA tournament, but with Xavier functioning as the state’s top-seeded squad, not much is expected of the same quartet that represented in last year’s Big Dance. Here’s what you need to know about their tournament draws:
Toughest first game: Cincinnati vs. Purdue
Cincinnati is ranked 289th out of 351 Division-I teams in scoring offense. To make matters worse, clean looks will be rare against the Boilermakers, especially with Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Rapheal Davis making life hell for opposing ball handlers, and seven-foot shot-blockers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas transforming the paint into a no-fly zone. Like the Bearcats, the Boilermakers are no offensive juggernaut, so expect a rock fight. First team to 70 (maybe 60) points wins.
Easiest first game: Dayton vs. Boise State
The fact that the Flyers would’ve been left without an NCAA tournament invite had Connecticut claimed the American Athletic Conference tournament crown is pure poppycock, but Dayton was “rewarded” by receiving a First Four matchup against Boise State. The First Four, of course, is played at University of Dayton Arena, where the Flyers have won 21 games in a row. So the Broncos will travel nearly 2,000 miles for what amounts to a true road game in the NCAA tournament. The hypocrisy of big-time collegiate athletics never ceases to amaze.
Toughest path to Sweet 16: Cincinnati
Undefeated Kentucky will be waiting in the Round of 32 to smash any glass slippers the Bearcats may have stumbled upon.
Easiest path to Sweet 16: Xavier
Provided the Musketeers can outflank No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 3 Baylor will (most likely) be Xavier’s Round of 32 opponent. Though only senior point guard Dee Davis played in the Muskies 75-70 Sweet 16 loss to the Bears in 2012, Xavier coach Chris Mack could certainly dig up tape of that game for motivational purposes. Baylor is a bear (sorry, couldn’t resist) on the glass, ranking seventh in the country in offensive rebounding and eighth in rebounding margin, largely due to the efforts of future Mr. Universe Rico Gathers. However, the Bears don’t shoot well from the field or the foul line, two categories where the Musketeers thrive.
Juicy matchup that has little chance of happening: Xavier vs. Ohio State in the Sweet 16
Just over seven years ago, Sean Miller—whose second-seeded Arizona Wildcats could face Ohio State in their second game this time around—nearly pulled off an upset for the ages against Thad Matta’s Buckeyes, then a No. 1 seed led by Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr., with ninth-seeded Xavier in the Round of 32. (Ron Lewis ultimately intervened on Matta’s behalf.) Matta, of course, was Miller’s former mentor with the Musketeers. Current Musketeers coach Chris Mack was an assistant under Miller for that oh-so-close upset-that-wasn’t, adding another layer of intrigue to the potential matchup.
For the casual college hoops fans
Read up so you can drop some knowledge on your co-workers during a coffee break or impress your buddies at the local watering hole.
Fans of scoring should watch: Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Duke, and Villanova
The top four teams in Kenpom.com’s offensive efficiency rankings combine occasionally breath-taking individual takeovers with fluid team offense. The Badgers (Frank Kaminsky) and Blue Devils (Jahlil Okafor) center their attacks around talented paint prowlers, while the Irish and Wildcats prefer to bomb away from the 3-point arc. Unlike most college hoops teams, these four squads can score at will.
Fans of defense should watch: Kentucky, Virginia, and Arizona
Kentucky coach John Calipari has molded his latest collection of future pros into a historically-effective defense with a penchant for shot-blocking. Virginia—a gang of no-name recruits—plays defense like a basketball phalanx, with its pack-the-paint philosophy sucking the life out of opposing offenses. Arizona is Virginia on steroids; same ideology, but with better athletes.
Best Round of 64 matchup: Wichita State vs. Indiana
As a No. 1 seed last year, Wichita State was jobbed by the selection committee, who placed the Shockers in the Midwest Region from Hell with Michigan, Duke, and Louisville as the No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 seeds, respectively, not to mention Kentucky—ranked No. 1 in the preseason but finishing with 10 regular-season defeats—as a sleeping giant of a No. 8 seed who managed to beat Wichita State in the Round of 32. This year, despite a 28-4 record and a regular-season Missouri Valley Conference championship, the Shockers still got no love and were dealt a No. 7 seed. As for No. 10 Indiana, they were 1-9 in their last 10 tilts against teams that qualified for March Madness, and IU coach Tom Crean’s massive buyout could be the only thing to save the Head Hoosier in the wake of a loss. As for the on-court action, the guard play between Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker, and Tekele Cotton and IU’s Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon Jr., and Robert Johnson will whet the whistle of any small-ball enthusiast.
Four teams (excluding No. 1 or No. 2 seeds) that can’t afford to be one-and-done
–No. 3 Notre Dame: The Irish have bowed out in their first game three times in their last four tournament appearances. Now in his 15th season guiding Notre Dame, coach Mike Brey’s lone trip to the Sweet 16 was in 2003—six Irish tournament bids ago.
–No. 3 Oklahoma: This blurb is actually more directed to Sooners coach Lon Kruger. In Kruger’s past four NCAA tournament games (two at UNLV, two at Oklahoma) his teams have bowed out after a single game. A loss to No. 14 Albany isn’t advised.
–No. 4 Georgetown: The Hoyas have gone one-and-done in three of their last four trips to the Big Dance, including an embarrassing loss to No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast—better known as “Dunk City”—in 2013. Georgetown hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2007.
–No. 11 Texas: Despite an 8-10 mark in Big 12 regular-season play and a 3-12 record vs. the RPI top 50, the Longhorns landed an at-large invitation into the NCAA tournament. (Are we sure Texas coach Rick Barnes and selection committee chair/Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes aren’t related?) Fair or not, Barnes could be coaching for his job in the Longhorns’ first game vs. No. 6 Butler.
For the amateur bracketologists
Some useful (and not-so-useful) odds and ends to remember when filling out your bracket:
-The last 11 national champions have hailed from just five different states: Connecticut, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, and Florida.
-Since the tournament expanded to 68 teams in 2011, a No. 1 seed has failed to reach the Sweet 16 in three out of four seasons.
-A No. 10 seed has beaten a No. 7 seed every year since 2008.
-A No. 11 seed has topped a No. 6 seed every season since 2005, and there have been eight 11-over-6 upsets since 2011.
-A No. 12 seed has conquered a No. 5 seed every year since 2008 and at least twice in the last three seasons.
-Last year’s tournament was the first since 2007 that a No. 13 seed failed to upend a No. 4 seed.
-Thirteen double-digit seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 over the last four years, including a trio of teams in each of the past three tournaments.