Is it that time of year again? Heck yeah it is. The 68 most deserving teams have almost all been selected, but the committee decimating the dreams of college kids and costing institutions millions of dollars worth of free advertising isn't going to get in the way of our having a good time, right? Today and tomorrow we'll be breaking down each region for you; by the time the play-in games are over and you've put in your order for hot wings, we'll have you prepped for action.
This is not a region loaded with the blue bloods of college basketball. Oregon leads the way as the one seed and Oklahoma is the two. You have to drop to the four before you hit Duke and one of those names that even people who follow college basketball for two weeks a year know. Thrown in the mix you have Texas A&M, Baylor, Oregon St., and Yale. There are some names that people will recognize in here, but if there is a region that seems more likely than the others to send a comparative outsider to the Final Four, this is the one.
Until the Bearcats knocked off SMU in the final game of the regular season, they essentially had no impressive wins. UC went 8-10 against the RPI top 150 (that's 150, not 50) and feasted at 14-0 against 150+. They played an insanely soft schedule finished with four top 50 wins and got in ahead of teams like St. Mary's and Akron, both of whom play in classic mid-majors and still compiled more top 100 wins. The got in ahead of San Diego State and Monmouth, both of whom tried to play better schedules, and they are seeded the same as Butler and Providence, both of whom played eight games against the RPI top 25. There's a really good argument UC shouldn't be here, let alone a nine.
12 top 100 RPI wins, a sweep of West Virginia, and wins over Oklahoma and UNC apparently lands you a six seed in the same region where Duke, with lesser numbers than those, merits a four seed. Prefer a more KenPom look at things? The team two spots above Texas, Utah, landed a three seed. Texas lost to TCU at the turn of the year, since then their absolute worst loss came to Baylor. That's the biggest blemish on their resume, a loss to five seed and exactly one loss to a team not in the top 65 of the KenPom. That earns you a six seed now.
Easy to like
#7 Oregon St
I'm a sucker for the longtime redemption story, and the Beavers are something of one. They haven't played in the tournament since 1990 when Gary Payton was on the team. Now, Gary Payton Jr. plays for Oregon State and they are finally back. Payton Jr. almost didn't play for the Beavers coming out of juco, but has now made a name for himself there. Neither the offense nor the defense are great, but you can bet these guys are going to get a lot of pre game love from pundits.
Fun to watch
The Sooners feature the ever smiling Buddy Hield, they jack three pointers like there may not be a tomorrow, they play fast, and they do the little things relatively well. If you created a team in the sadly non-existent college basketball video game, they'd probably play like Oklahoma does. Add in an unobjectionable coach in Lon Kruger and you have a team that you can watch and enjoy without fearing for your eternal soul.
Easy to hate:
Do you like your hate ever-burning and fueled by the whining of an elf-man with a over inflated sense of self? Then take UC as your team to hate. Mick Cronin scheduled no one, said his team had bigger things to focus on than the most heated rivalry in college basketball, then compared his team favorably to Duke. Delusions of grandeur, both in terms of stature and program, plague Cronin. He's a ranting, whining, classless embodiment of the Bearcats.
Do you like to hate the guys born with the silver spoon? Duke are your guys. Grayson Allen was a media darling last year and has spent this year parlaying that into playing incredibly dirty, incredibly Duke-like basketball. Watch those clips for a moment and try to imagine what would happen if Jalen Reynolds did something like that. A federal inquest? Surely Jalen would be suspended for multiple games for the first infraction, most likely the season if he did it twice. Allen got a "reprimand," which is a fancy code word for nothing. The legendary Coach K, paragon of virtue, did nothing. Good stuff.
Sometimes guards go cold, sometimes teams miss shots, and sometimes a defense can't get stops. Grabbing rebounds, though, tends to stick. Baylor gets on the offensive glass like their very lives depend on it, getting a full 40% of their misses back. They may not be great elsewhere, but if you can't keep the Bears off the glass, they will just keep hammering until they score. Duke is six deep and gets killed on the glass, Oregon also can't keep teams from collecting misses. This region could set up for the boys from Texas.
#5 Baylor v. #12 Yale
Unless, of course, the Bears lose in the first round. If you are picturing some guys with high black socks and affected English accents when you think of the Bulldogs, don't. Yale sets their defense and dares you to come get the ball if you miss. Only six teams in the nation hold the defensive glass better. Baylor shoots well, but Yale defends well against jump shooters. Baylor doesn't defend the arc terribly well, and Yale loves to shoot from deep. Yale does turn the ball over a lot despite playing slowly, and the Bears can force turnovers. This could be a good one.
Player to watch
Buddy Hield- Oklahoma
If you have to get up early for work and have missed some games that take place in later time slots, you may have missed Hield. It seems a little obvious to pick a player of the year candidate here, but Buddy is a blast to watch. Hield shot 23% from deep his freshman year and 46% in this his senior season. He attacks off the bounce, gets teammates involved, and looks like he loves to play. Right now, he's just another example of why college ball is so much better than the NBA.