The very greatest of the American sporting events is finally upon us. With respect to the Super Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, and even the World Series and NBA Finals, this is the premier event in the sporting calendar. Not limited to just one day or even however long it might take to play seven games, the NCAA tournament stretches out for three weeks. No part of those three weeks packs the excitement and visceral impact, though, of the first two frenetic days. To help get you sorted as to what is going on, we've taken the time to break down each bracket.
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.
#5 Northern Iowa: Take a quick guess at how many teams UNI played who had a KenPom ranking over 50. Did you guess four? If so, great job. In those games the Panthers went 3-2 (they played Wichita St twice). The three wins there hardly balance out the 13 this squad got against teams ranked 200th or below. For some comparison, Xavier played exactly two games against teams ranked 200 or below. To say that UNI played nobody is a stretch, but it isn't much of one. This is a classic case of a team running up the record against lesser competition.
#11 Boise St/Dayton: Oregon, Purdue, UCLA, and Indiana all got better luck in their seeding than these two. Perhaps most galling is the nine seed that LSU landed in this very bracket despite landing behind them in RPI, KenPom, BPI, and most other ranking systems you would be inclined to look at. While Dayton can be somewhat assuaged by the thought of a home game, Boise's reward for their season is a chance to fly across the country to a hostile arena and then face a play-in game for the dubious privilege of facing Providence. Michigan State can also make an argument for having landed lower than they may have deserved.
Easy to like/Fun to watch:
#3 Oklahoma: Buddy Hield has a great story and truly enjoys playing the game, Lon Kruger just keeps coaching wherever he can, and they have a dude named Dinjiyl who loves nothing more than shooting the basketball. More importantly, the Sooners play suffocating defense so they can get back to playing offense. Their adjusted tempo is 45th in the nation and their time per offensive possession (16.6 seconds) is 28th. Oklahoma is going to try to score a lot and do it quickly. Oklahoma has hit 85 points on five occasions and 90 twice. They'll be entertaining, if nothing else.
Easy to hate:
#11 Dayton: Not only did Dayton make an absurd run last year, they did it after packing their arena to cheer fervently against Xavier in the play-in game. Now, somehow, the Flyers have been awarded a home game by the committee and will travel all the way to far off and exotic Columbus if they win that one. Dayton could conceivably win play three tournament games and travel a grand total of 72 miles from their wrong side of the tracks campus to do it. All of that simply compounds all the normal reasons that hating Dayton comes so naturally.
#11 Boise St: The Broncos do one thing very well, and they do it very often. 19th in the nation with a 39.1% mark from deep, they launch a 32nd highest in the nation 41.7% of their shots from back there. They don't play quickly, so their ability to score in bunches while limiting opportunities can keep them in games. Dayton at home is a brutal draw, but there aren't many teams that these guys can't throw a scare into.
#6 Providence v. #11 Boise State or Dayton
Providence has two great players in Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton, but they can be had by a team that shoots the ball well from outside. The Friars don't play quickly and don't shoot well (31%) from behind the arc. Getting in a slower game with Boise State could present a real problem if the Broncos get hot, because Providence has struggled to guard the arc since conference play started. Dayton presents an issue both because of the psuedo home game and the fact that they do well at preventing the second chances that the Friars use to kick start their offense.
Player to watch:
Montrezl Harrell- Louisville: For starters, Harrell is an excellent player, going for 15.7/9.5/1.3 this year. He's completely relentless on the glass and averages a steal and block per game for good measure. Harrell also occasionally vanishes, like when he managed only seven points in 39 minutes in a loss to NC State this year. Secondly, it's hard to tell what Harrell might do next. Montrezl was ejected and suspended for a game for punching a player from Western Kentucky and also picked up a technical in a game this year for throwing the ball off an opponent's face.