As the greatest sporting event of they year (suck it, Super Bowl) kicks off, we at Banners HQ will be breaking down, pouring over, and dissecting every region and matchup in the field to give you, our faithful readers, the best source for information in this year's bracket. We also do it because we have too much time to think about basketball, apparently.
Our regional previews are designed to get you the information you need to help with filling out a bracket (of course) but also to highlight a few specific things in each region. We'll have a look at the teams in the wrong seeds, who to watch, who to like, who to hate, a dangerous team, the best matchup, and a player to keep an eye on.
Overseeded: Wichita St.
Yes, the one seed is well overseeded. The Shockers best win was Tennessee, a solid team. Their second best win was Saint Louis, after that is BYU. Then it's the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa. In this calendar year the Shocker best, very best, win was over #94 Northern Iowa. It's isn't a weak resume, and there are, obviously, no bad losses on it. But if not scheduling well cost SMU a spot in the tournament supposedly, how on earth can the committee defend putting a team with a strength of schedule of 125th in a one seed? SMU's? 104.
This is borderline criminal. Actually, I'm going to convene an investigation as to how a team ranked 11th in the KenPom, a team with only two bad losses, and wins over Xavier, Georgia, Arkansas, and Virginia gets an 11 seed. More than that, the Volunteers get stuck in the play-in game against a very dangerous Iowa squad. There is, frankly, no logical explanation for it.
Easy to like: Kansas St.
You know what makes Kansas St one of the very easiest teams in this tournament field to like? They're playing Kentucky. That, really, is all that matters, but the Manhattan version of the Wildcats actually have some charms of their own. Well, I'm sure they do, but I'm not going to bother to look them up. I love KSU because they are playing UK and, seriously, [ed. note: the word that was originally here was typed in a post-Xavier loss malaise of sadness and rage] those guys.
Fun to watch: UMass.
Remember how fast VCU was last year? Remember the complete blur of running and maniacal dashes from one end to the other? UMass is currently playing faster than that. Only 17 teams in the nation have shorter offensive possessions than the Minutemen's 16 seconds. Only 13 teams in the nation have an adjusted tempo higher than UMass' 71.6. What is even more crazy is that UMass almost never lifts from deep, taking only 26.4% (325th in the nation) of their shots from behind the arc. These guys just go endline to endline as fast as they can.
Easy to hate: Kentucky.
There is, with the exception of Xavier's intrastate rivals, no easier team or fanbase to completely loathe than Kentucky's. More entitled than Duke, less knowledgeable on the sport than a hipster from Alaska, and consistently blaming the refs for every single loss, the Kentucky fan is truly a scourge upon the sport. Add to that the fact that UK is, most likely, actually a professional team already and the fact that any wins accrued here will be vacated in a handful of years, and you have the perfect recipe for some good, old fashioned, spirit lifting, hating. I encourage you to let it eat each and every time you see UK.
Danger team: Iowa
The Hawkeyes may lose to Tennessee by 30. That's how I'm introducing the team from this region that I think could destroy some brackets. Iowa slipped to 28th in the KenPom (and, of course, into the play in games) by losing six of their last seven. Before that though, the Hawkeyes beat Xavier, took Nova to OT, beat Nebraska, beat Ohio State, beat Michigan, took Michigan St to OT, and lost twice to Wisconsin by a total of nine points. Of course, BYU had to be in the field, and Colorado surely earned that eight seed, so Iowa has to play their way in after amassing a raft of good wins. This team has serious teeth.
Best matchup: UMass v. Iowa/Tennessee
It's odd to say that the best matchup in the bracket doesn't have a definite participant, but this one will be fun to watch either way. UMass will either get an Iowa team that can crank up the pace and run with the very best of them, or they will get an Tennessee team that is very good and plays very, very slowly. Either it will be a barn burner, or it will be a study in two completely opposite teams trying to outwit one another. Whichever happens should be fun to watch.
Player to watch: Russ Smith, Louisville
Louisville is a four seed because that's where the bingo spinner landed when the committee called their name. Smith leads the team in scoring and, as good as he was last year, he's a lot better this year. His points per game are down (from 18.7 to 18.3) but his shooting is up from 41% to 47%, he made 40% of his threes, his offensive efficiency rating jumped nearly eight points. Russ also likes to vary his game a great deal. In a March 8th win over UConn, Smith took two shots in 30 minutes and dished out 13 assists. Two games later, he dropped 42 and took 22 shots in a win over Houston.
There you have it. Sign up for our bracket challenge and use this information that all the other people definitely didn't also just read.