Part of the thrill of March Madness is the poring over of the games that have very little bearing on your favorite. Actually, for Dayton fans, that's the only thrill of March Madness. This is predominantly a Xavier blog, but our interests obviously expand to the entire tournament. To that end, here is our guide to the tournament. Previously, the South, the West, and the Midwest.
The biggest news coming out of the East Region is that Syracuse has lost starting center Fab Melo for the entirety of the tournament. This is Melo's second suspension of the year, and it comes at the worst possible time for his team. The East is full of teams that could beat an undermanned Syracuse. Cincinnati, the six seed, has already done it, and every team on the seed lines above them and perhaps even Kansas State could also pull it off.
Best first round game: #6 UC vs #11 Texas. The Longhorns are a tremendously talented group of players that hasn't really come together as a team. The Bearcats aren't as talented, but one galvanizing moment (which you may remember) turned them from a team that didn't know what style to play into an excellent four around one squad. KenPom has Texas sitting three spots ahead of UC at 28 and 31 in his rankings, ESPN calls the game a coin flip. This should be a good one.
Sleeper: #14 St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies have one of the most talented big men in the country in Andrew Nicholson and an efficient scorer in Demetrius Conger. If Conger and Matthew Wright shoot well and Nicholson avoids foul trouble, the Bonnies are a handful for anyone. Much will ride on how well Nicholson handles ACC pressure.
Weakest top seed: #5 Vanderbilt. It is tempting to go with the Seminoles of Florida State here, but Vandy has a hard road ahead of them. The Commodores rely on outside shooting, and a lot of it, to win. That spells trouble for any team, let alone one that can be easily neutralized inside. If Harvard can stop John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley, Vandy could go from weak, to out.
Special mention also goes to #1 seed Syracuse, who will be playing without center Fab Melo. Melo was a rare center who could run with the guards of the Orange and also fill the lane on defense. Without him, Syracuse is a vastly different team. Kansas State must be waiting anxiously for their shot.
Team to hate: #7 Gonzaga. Obviously hating the Bearcats is a given. Besides them, the Bulldogs make themselves easy to dislike. For some reason, the media still insists on treating Gonzaga like the Cinderella they were over a decade ago. They aren't anymore. Oh, and they have Robert Sacre, that should be enough.
Team to love: #4 Wisconsin. Notre Dame slows the game down by sucking the very life out of the ball, spectators, and the world at large. Wisconsin slows the game down with a mesmeric offense and flawless execution. Only three teams in the nation are more efficient on defense, only one turns the ball over less. The Badgers are a perfect example of a team playing a team game.
Best potential game: #2 OSU vs #11 Texas. The Longhorns have the talent to play with anyone if J'Covan Brown is playing well. While Ohio State is a great team, they can be beaten by a great individual effort by a player on a lesser team. Brandon Paul of Illinois demonstrated that on the 10th of January, when he carried the Illini past the Buckeyes. Brown has managed 18 games of over 20 points this year, if he can keep doing it, the Longhorns could shock some teams.