SportsPulse: The madness is finally here. USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick breaks down everything you need to know about this year’s tournament.
Here’s a look at five observations from the selection committee’s seeds and matchups:
1. The ACC was given three No. 1 seeds. It’s the first time a conference has notched three top seeds since 2009 when the former Big East’s UConn, Louisville and Pittsburgh all were top seeds. But it’s questionable whether North Carolina or the final No. 1, Gonzaga, was worthy considering Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan State all had strong cases with solid overall credentials. Had the Volunteers beat Auburn in the SEC conference title, that would’ve made their stock stronger but their win over Kentucky in the semifinals was good enough to solidify a top seed. And the Wildcats had beaten North Carolina in a neutral court game in December and had as many Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-30 neutral, top-75 road) wins (10) on their profile to go with a better NET score (6 compared to UNC’s 7). Michigan State made a late charge for a top seed by winning the Big Ten tournament title over Michigan. The Big Ten was the country’s second best conference in the NET, the NCAA’s new metric replacing the RPI, and Michigan State won both the regular season and tournament titles. Was the ACC that good near the top that the SEC and Big Ten kingpins weren’t in consideration?
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2. Why is Michigan State in the same region as Duke? The Spartans presented 13 Quadrant 1 wins on their resume — more than any team on the entire bracket. MSU’s losses at home to Big Ten bottom-feeder Illinois and a sweep to snubbed team Indiana might have cost them a No. 1 seed, but it’s debatable whether it should’ve pushed the Spartans to the same side of the bracket as the Blue Devils, the tourney’s top overall seed? It logistically makes sense since advancing to the Sweet 16 would put the Spartans in Washington D.C. instead of Anaheim. But is that really an advantage when Michigan, a team MSU beat three times, gets to face a much more vulnerable Gonzaga team (one that lost to No. 11 seed Saint Mary’s in its last game) instead of a Zion Williamson-led national title favorite?
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3. Virginia arguably has an easier region than Duke. The Blue Devils were the top overall seed, but could face more challenges in its respectively weak East region up until the Elite Eight when it could draw Michigan State. The Cavaliers, the second-best No. 1, could face vulnerable No. 4 seed Kansas State (one of its top players, Dean Wade, is questionable) and No. 5 Wisconsin. While Tennessee is in the bottom half of the South Region with UVA, the Volunteers could have the toughest path to the Elite Eight of any team, potentially facing underrated Cincinnati in Columbus and a surging Villanova team in the Sweet 16. That means Virginia might have a cushy path to the Final Four should the Vols get knocked off. Duke, meanwhile, might have tougher matchups with Mississippi State and Virginia Tech to get to the Elite Eight — where they’ll face a title contender in Michigan State.
4. Is home-court advantage fair? Should No. 4-seeded Kansas advance to the Sweet 16 and meet top-seeded North Carolina in the Midwest Regional, the Jayhawks would be playing in nearby Kansas City — giving them a legitimate home-court advantage in a matchup between two blue bloods; KU even plays a few of its home games in Kansas City. While the Tar Heels are clearly the better team in a supposed neutral court matchup and KU isn’t exactly peaking in March, that still doesn’t present a fair opportunity for the bracket’s third best team. And while Cincinnati was ridiculously over-seeded as a No. 7 seed in the South Region, the silver lining is that the Bearcats get to play in nearby Columbus. Yet how is that fair for their first-round opponent, Iowa? Or No. 2 seed Tennessee in a second-round matchup? Any team playing with its fanbase on its side equates to an advantage and removes the neutrality that the tournament is expected to provide.
5. The committee is starting to respect mid-majors. Buffalo was given a No. 6 seed by the committee, Wofford earned a No. 7 seed and Belmont received an at-large bid No. 11 seed to play in Dayton. UNC-Greensboro was left out of the field, but had bid-thieves Oregon and Saint Louis not won the Pac-12 and Atlantic 10 tournaments unexpectedly, the Spartans might’ve made the cut, too. There’s still some inconsistency in this development because while 2019’s field is clearly progress from Selection Sundays of the last half decade — when mid-majors of yesteryear were an afterthought — it’s debatable as to whether Belmont or frankly any of the other bubble teams deserved to be in over UNC-Greensboro team that only lost six games — all to Quad 1 opponents. Remember: Had Loyola-Chicago not secured its automatic bid in the Missouri Valley in last year’s tournament, coach Porter Moser even admitted at the Final Four that he thinks his team would’ve gotten snubbed.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.