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. For more information on Xavier's pod, click here.
The South Region is of obvious interest to Xavier fans, but put that aside for a second. The South boasts the most talented team in the tournament in the Kentucky Wildcats, who it seems can only be stopped by foul trouble. Duke has a high-octane but fallible offense that is dependent on the outside shot; the Blue Devils have the potential to go on a tear or wash out in the first weekend. Baylor has the talent to go deep but has been too inconsistent this year to make quite as much of it as they could have. Still, they care a threat to reel off six straight wins as much as any team in the bracket. The region also has one of the two teams to beat UK (Indiana) and two Final Four teams from last year (VCU and UConn).
Easy chalk: Duke is going to beat Lehigh, despite what you may have heard, and UK has a better chance of winning it all than falling in the first weekend. South Dakota State, however, poses an interesting matchup for Baylor. The Jackrabbits shoot better than 39% from deep, never turn the ball over, and chuck it from the cheap seats with no compunction. Baylor's three-point defense in terms of both percentage and supressing attempts is below average. If SDSU gets hot - and lead guard Nate Wolters does better than his 5-22 performance in the conference tournament final - they can give the Bears trouble. It's not highly likely, but then, if it was, it wouldn't be an upset.
Best first round game: #8 Iowa State v. #9 UConn. I know it's kind of a cop-out to pick an 8/9 game as the best in the first round, but I'm really looking forward to this game a whole bunch. Iowa State has real trouble containing athletic guards, and UConn has a couple of them in Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb. On the other end, Royce White is one of the most interesting players in the nation, a 6'8" 270 lb player whose position is difficult to nail down. He leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and steals, and the offense runs through him on the high post. Iowa State loves to chuck the three, and UConn has had trouble stopping teams that do so. This is going to be a game of contrasting offensive styles against two pretty good defenses; whoever finds a way to put the biscuit in the basket will come away with a hard-earned win here.
Sleeper: #5 Wichita State. Like Memphis in the West, Wichita State's seed doesn't reflect the love they get from some advanced statistical sources. Ken Pomeroy has them in the top 10 in the nation. The Shockers are stingy on defense and explosive on offense, rating in the top 20 in adjusted efficiency on both ends of the court. Their team shooting line of .485/.373/.751 speaks to how talented they are, and their ability to lock teams down on the defensive glass (6th in the nation in opponents' offensive rebound percentage) is just one of the stats that hints at their effort and intensity. Don't be surprised to see Wichita State hanging around after a good number of high-majors have gone home for the year.
Weakest high seed: #6 UNLV. I know a #6 barely qualifies as a high seed, but there is a lot of potential in the top five teams of this region. Less so for UNLV, who staggered to a 5-5 finish to the season and then were bounced in their conference tournament by New Mexico. UNLV likes to get out and run, but a team that can control the tempo will shut down this squad.
Team to hate: #7 Notre Dame. Not just because they are going up against the Musketeers but also because their "burn offense" - unlike the low tempo approach of Wisconsin - doesn't really accomplish anything while waiting for the shot clock to run down. If you like to watch a team grind around the perimeter before relying on jump shooting or Jack Cooley, I guess this is your kind of squad. If you like basketball, keep moving.
Team to love: #8 Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg's rag-tag gang of transfer students has come together better than most prognosticators would have imagined, and Royce White is a singular player on the NCAA landscape. For the novelty of a point center and the great story of a group of kids getting a second chance under a tallow coach, pull for the Cyclones.
Best potential game: #1 Kentucky v. #3 Baylor. The Bears are one of the few teams in the country that have the talent to hang with Kentucky, with quicksilver Pierre Jackson at the point and shooter Brady Heslip at the two and talented forwards in Quincy Miller, Perry Jones III, and Quincy Acy. Whether or not the team can get as much out of their talent as they should has been a question all year, but I'd love to see them try against UK with a Final Four berth on the line.