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.
#12 Wofford. Am I picking on the little guy? You bet I am, because Wofford did just that all year. They somehow beat NC State on a neutral floor in December. After that, their best win is... Sam Houston State? Iona? Three of their 28 wins came against teams in the top 150 of the KenPom rankings. They lost to The Citadel - THE CITADEL! - more recently than they beat anyone in the top half of the KenPom rankings. They needed a one-possession win against an 11-22 Furman team to make the tournament. Don't buy the talking heads who tell you this team is for real; look elsewhere for that 12-over-5 upset we know you're going to pick.
There isn't one. Everyone in this region is either fairly or generously seeded. #10 OSU and #2 Arizona both have KenPom rankings that outpace their seeds, but OSU lacks a retinue of good wins and Arizona has more bad losses than any of the one seeds. Nobody in the West should be wasting too much time bellyaching about their seed line.
Easy to Like:
#8 Oregon. The Ducks kind of play defense, but mostly they just run up and down the court scoring as quickly as possible. With the 16th-ranked offense playing at the 34th-fastest pace, this team is a lot of fun to watch. Throw in G Joseph Young and his Pac-12 Player of the Year award and five guys shooting 34.8% or better from deep and you've got an entertaining team. Sure, they were overseeded. Sure, they lost three times to Arizona by a total of 82 points. Sure, they'll play no more than two games. None of that matters when you're watching them run up and down getting buckets.
Fun to Watch:
#1 Wisconsin. Some people confuse long possessions for boring basketball, but you're too smart for that, right? Sure, Wisconsin loves having the ball, but they're not exactly dribbling down the clock at the half line. With a perpetual motion offense, the best player in the country, and five guys who can hurt you from behind the arc, Wisconsin gives defenses too many decisions to make correctly for 35 seconds every time down the floor. They're the exact opposite of Oregon, but watching them is fun in the same way that watching Tiger in his prime decimate the PGA was fun.
Easy to Hate:
#10 Ohio State. They stole our coach, then the Oden game happened. For the neutral fan, consider that this team has somehow gone 23-10 (11-7) in a pretty good league and somehow only beaten one team in the KenPom top 50. Consider also that they rise and fall almost entirely on the contributions of blue-chip guard D'Angelo Russell. Perhaps the most compelling piece of evidence against this team is that their own fans hate them. I live in Columbus, and I'm treated to a daily barrage of complaints about how the Buckeyes are talented, lazy, underachieving, and joyless to watch. I'll pass, thanks.
#3 Baylor. The Bears' offense is basically predicated on either hitting a three or using a missed shot as an entry pass. They're 2nd in the nation in OReb% (41.8%), right there between Quinnipiac and Towson. A large part of that is down to the work of 6'8", 280-pound wall of muscle Rico Gathers, who looks like he was designed for the task. They don't shoot that well, but they defend hard and have wins against Oklahoma, Iowa St. (x2), and WVa. (x2). Teams don't often come up against a crew that hits the glass like Baylor does; having a singular, unique skill like that is the kind of thing that a team can ride through a series of opponents who haven't had long to prepare for it.
#7 VCU v. #10 Ohio State. You've probably heard about "havoc," VCU's revolutionary defensive strategy of fouling ballhandlers so aggressively all up and down the court that officials can't possibly call them all. OSU counters that by being extremely reliant on their guards, especially freshman sensation D'Angelo Russell. If the Buckeyes can hold onto the ball, they've got a good chance to knock off Virginia Commonwealth. If they succumb to the pressure, this will be a runaway win for VCU. Either way, it's an intriguing strength-against-strength matchup. And, of course
Player to Watch:
Bobby Portis, Arkansas. The 6'11", 242-pound forward is a scoring machine around the bucket and an elite rebounder on both ends of the floor. He average 14 and 5 in two games against UK this year despite being the focal point of their defensive efforts. Portis is the kind of guy who could explode for 25 and 12 in back-to-back games to put himself on the national map, and the thought of going against UNC's 6'9", 290 Kennedy Meeks for a chance to take on Frank Kaminsky in the Sweet 16 is a tantalizing one.