The best weekend of the year has been shifted back a day, but that just gives us another 24 hours to get ready. Xavier is emphasizing individual instruction to prepare for 2021-22, but the rest of us are just going to park in front of the television for 96 hours to watch 68 teams turn into 16. We’re going to be breaking down each region for you in the next couple of days.
Michigan and Alabama grabbed the high seeds, but the East Region has some big names low down the seed curve. How about a play-in game between schools with a combined 13 NCAA championships? MSU and UCLA are both, to some extent, lucky to be here, but both bring an unquestionable pedigree. The Big East sends UConn on the seven line and conference tournament champion Georgetown as a 12 seed. Toss in Maryland as a 10 and you have a bracket quadrant with big names on the bottom half of a lot of matchups.
Underseeded: #7 Connecticut Huskies
What does finishing 41st in the KPI, 16th in the KenPom, 11th in Torvik, and going 7-7 in the top two quads get you? Apparently a seven seed and a matchup against a team out of the best conference in the nation. UConn with Bouknight is a real problem and has only lost to Creighton and Villanova in the last month. The Huskies can score and defend at an elite level. On most metrics they are surrounded by teams seeded several lines higher. Their draw means that they may struggle to advance, but part of that will land on the committee.
Overseeded: #11 UCLA
Louisville should be in this spot. UCLA has two Q1 wins against six losses and sports a 5-9 record in the top two overall. They needed three overtimes to beat Pepperdine, lost to Oregon State in their last game, haven’t won a game since the 25th of February, and currently sit 44th on the KenPom and 51st in the Torvik. Saint Louis and Colorado State have the same amount of Q1 wins in fewer attempts, Ole Miss has more, and Louisville is 7-6 in the top two quads. All of those teams have a better argument for inclusion than the Bruins. It’s hard to look past the name as the reason that UCLA is in, because they wouldn’t be here on a blind resume.
Fun to watch: #14 Abilene Christian and #3 Texas
ACU comes out and gets after you on defense. They attack every shot, every pass, and every dribble. No one in the nation forces turnovers at a higher rate than the... Wildcats. I won’t even pretend I didn’t have to look that up. Their 26.7% turnover rate is a full percentage point higher than anyone else. The offense isn’t really there to match the defense, but Abilene lost games to Arkansas and Texas Tech by a grand total of 20 and were competitive in both. They could shock a team that focuses on the spectacular and sometimes forgets the fundamentals.
You know what is fun to watch? A team that doesn’t get bogged down with things like fundamentals and just does the spectacular. The Longhorns have some absolute sky walkers on their squad. If they can run even a little bit someone is going to get punched on in a way that spurs highlight level reactions. They aren’t great shooters and can get careless with the ball, but as long as they don’t play a team that capitalizes on those things they should be free to fly.
Darkhorse pick: #5 Colorado
The Buffs don’t defend quite well enough to be elite, but they are a really good squad. If seeds play out they have a very comparable FSU team waiting in the second round with the winner possibly facing a hobbled Michigan. The lower level seeds in the top half of the East must like their chances to be in the Elite Eight. Colorado is horrifically inconsistent, though. They beat USC three times, including one 18 point demolition, but also lost to Washington, Cal, and Oregon St. If they get hot they could run to the Final Four but their potential for disaster prevents them from being a true favorite.
Favorite: #2 Alabama
Alabama has a legitimate argument to be a one seed, a tournament tested coach, and the best defense of any high major team in the nation. They play fast and aggressive and are absolutely relentless in attacking shooters on the other team. The Crimson Tide are battle tested, too. They went 17-5 in the top two quadrants and crushed some other NCAA tournament teams on the way to that record. A 90-59 win over an Arkansas team that earned a three seed must surely be a warning to everyone.
The two seed is the favorite here because the one seed is Michigan. A full strength Michigan is a national championship contender. Unfortunately for them, they are 2-3 in their last five and are without their most efficient offensive player, Isaiah Livers, for at least the first weekend and likely for the entire tournament. Livers was a 30 minutes per game player capable of getting 20 any time out. Even without him Michigan could still win it all, but they likely don’t have the firepower to break Alabama.