Florida, Wichita State, Arizona and Virginia earned the four No. 1 seeds. Who could have predicted that quartet back in November?
The Gators, by virtue of their flawless run in the SEC and a 26-game win streak, earned the overall No. 1 seed and will be extremely difficult to get rid of in the South Region. Kansas (2), Syracuse (3) and UCLA (4) could present some opposition.
The Jayhawks are led by a stellar freshman class, highlighted by stars Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. However, KU’s big man Embiid has been sidelined with a back injury and just how much he will play is uncertain.
The Orange earned the No. 3 seed, but that has more to do with a 25-game win streak to begin the season and much less to do with losses in five of their last seven games, including an early exit from the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.
The Bruins are one of those teams that are loaded with talent but short on consistency. UCLA won the Pac-12 Tournament with a great effort against the West Region’s top seed, Arizona, but can the Bruins be trusted to remain at the top of their game for the next three weeks?
A team that has had no problem with consistency is Wichita State. The Shockers will run out of the top spot in the Midwest and enter the NCAA Tournament as the first team with a perfect record (34-0) since UNLV in the 1990-91 campaign. Whether Wichita State can stay perfect remains to be seen.
The selection committee didn’t do the Shockers any favors, with a region consisting of powerhouses Michigan (2), Duke (3) and Louisville (4). On top of that, a potential second-round showdown with Kentucky (8) could end WSU’s postseason run before it really gets started.
The Wolverines earned the No. 2 seed by virtue of their Big Ten regular-season crown, despite losing in the conference title game to rival Michigan State. John Beilein’s squad is balanced and deep on talent and may just find its way out of the Midwest.
Duke earned the No. 3 seed and although its team has shown some vulnerability at times, with freshman phenom Jabari Parker at the helm and a great supporting cast, Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils could make a serious run, if they get hot offensively.
A coach and team with a real gripe may be Rick Pitino and Louisville. The defending national champions won the first-ever American Athletic Conference Tournament title and seem to be peaking at the right time once again. The selection committee may have sold the Cardinals a little short.
To the selection committee’s credit, the team they didn’t sell short was the Virginia Cavaliers, who picked up the No. 1 seed in the East. Like Wichita State and Florida, consistency was the key for Virginia, as the Cavs tied the ACC record for most league wins (16), earning their first regular-season crown since 1981. The team completed the championship sweep by topping Duke in the tournament final, earning its first title since 1976. The defensive-minded Cavs don’t win pretty, but they do win a lot.
Those in the East that will try to break through Virginia’s stingy defense include Villanova (2), Iowa State (3) and Michigan State (4).
The Wildcats had a No. 1 seed within grasp, but bowed out of the Big East Tournament very early. Jay Wright’s squad is fundamentally sound and hasn’t received a ton of national attention, making them extremely dangerous in this event.
Iowa State is an offensive force in a Big 12 conference not short of scoring power. The Cyclones are red-hot entering the NCAAs and could find their way to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
Never count out Tom Izzo and Michigan State. The Spartans won the Big Ten tourney and have the type of the team that could present a real problem for Virginia in the Sweet 16.
The East may be the deepest region, as it wouldn’t be surprising to see Cincinnati (5), North Carolina (6), Connecticut (7) or even Memphis (8) make a deep run.
Like Virginia, Arizona earned a top seed thanks to strong defensive play that led to the Pac-12 regular-season crown. Unlike the Cavaliers, Sean Miller’s squad has plenty of offensive firepower, with a really nice mix of veterans and young stars.
The West Region has other strong defensive teams in Wisconsin (2) and San Diego State (4), and a sharp-shooting squad in Creighton (3).
Bo Ryan’s Badgers are built for this event, contending each shot and really frustrating the opposition, especially opponents that aren’t used to their style of play.
The Aztecs don’t get the respect they deserve in the Mountain West Conference, but Steve Fisher’s squad wears foes down over 40 minutes and usually comes out on the winning side.
Greg McDermott’s Bluejays are a different animal altogether. Creighton has the best pure scorer in the nation in All-American Doug McDermott, and when he gets going, the Bluejays can beat any team in the country.
With all the combinations of intriguing matchups, March Madness could prove to be just that this season.
If the next three weeks are anything like the last four months, then all basketball fans are in for a real treat.
(Scott Haynes is College Sports Editor for The Sports Network)