Somebody forgot to tell NCAA Tournament No. 1 seeds Florida (South), Wichita State (Midwest), and Virginia (East) that this was supposed to be the Year of the One-and-Done in college basketball.
An entire college basketball season that has had the subtext of a preview of coming NBA attractions — Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins, and Kentucky’s Julius Randle — has reached the NCAA Tournament, and the favorites are the teams with the over-the-hill crowd on the court: seniors, juniors, and sophomores.
The only No. 1 seed with one of the freshman phenoms is Arizona, the top seed in the West. The Wildcats have Aaron Gordon, but their best player is junior Nick Johnson, the nephew of late Celtics guard Dennis Johnson.
The field of 68 for America’s annual obsession with brackets and buzzer-beaters was set on Sunday, and it reinforced the current dichotomy of the college game. The inexperience and evanescence of the collection of talent on some of the blue-blood programs such as Kentucky has become the great equalizer in the college game, allowing schools with less-celebrated recruits who stick around for more than a couple of semesters to thrive.
The one-and-dones have taken a backseat to those who have played and stayed. Let this be a lesson to the coaches who just want to assemble AAU all-star teams. Cohesion still counts. Basketball is still a team game, not a collective NBA audition.
Florida, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed and winner of 26 games in a row, has four senior starters. Undefeated Wichita State (34-0) doesn’t have a freshman among its top nine scorers. Trying to become the first team since Robert Montgomery Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to complete an undefeated season, Wichita State is not a fluke. The Shockers reached the Final Four last year and lost to eventual national champion Louisville. They returned eight players from that team.
Virginia, which won its first ACC regular-season title since the days of Ralph Sampson and its first ACC tournament title since 1976, has one freshman among its top seven scorers. The cagey Cavaliers are led by seniors Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell and talented sophomores Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson, Mike Tobey, and Anthony Gill.
In the ultimate dichotomy of team-building, the Shockers, the first team to enter the tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991, could face eighth-seeded Kentucky, the NCAA’s version of a fast food drive-thru, in the second round. John Calipari is the patron saint of the one-and-done approach.
Harvard is about as far as you can get from Kentucky, with apologies to Ashley Judd. Harvard got a decent draw and a long trip to Spokane, Wash., as a No. 12 seed, as it will face Cincinnati, a hard-nosed team that can have trouble scoring. The Bearcats ranked tied for 214th in the country in 3-point field goal percentage. Call the East the New England bracket, as Harvard, Providence, and Connecticut are all in the region.
Experience is in in the NCAA Tournament this year, and so is our State U. The University of Massachusetts is dancing for the first time since 1998, earning a 6-seed. Unfortunately for the folks in Amherst, they ended up in the Midwest. To borrow a soccer term, the Midwest is the Group of Death.
It has three of the four Final Four participants from last year — Wichita State, Michigan, and Louisville, which only drew a No. 4 seed. The fully-loaded bracket also has Duke and Kentucky. In another region, senior-laden Saint Louis would be a trendy pick to reach the Final Four in Arlington, Texas. The Billikens still have the player with the coolest name in the game, guard Jordair Jett.
UMass gets the winner of one of the dreaded Dayton death march “first-round” games, between Iowa and Tennessee on Wednesday. If UMass wins that game, it could face Duke.
UMass students might flood the streets to party win or lose, if their team beats the Dukies to reach the Sweet 16, or if Parker, a potential Celtic, lights it up. The game would also be Coach K vs. Coach K. UMass coach Derek Kellogg would match up with the Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski.
Speaking of Duke’s doyen, if you are one of those people who has an undying hatred for the Blue Devils, you’re already seething. Krzyzewski lobbied for the Atlantic Coast Conference getting a little more r-e-s-p-e-c-t Saturday, and it appeared to work. The ACC got six teams, tying the Atlantic 10 for the second most in the tournament behind the seven of the Big 12.
Rightfully, Virginia received a No. 1 seed, even if Michigan had a slightly better almighty RPI.
Coach K and swapping a “C” for an “A” made a big difference with the committee.
Just ask the folks in the American Athletic Conference. The ACC got a No. 1 seed and six teams in the tournament, including North Carolina State, which barely scraped into the field of 68. The Wolfpack will face Xavier in the First Four.
Meanwhile, the AAC, the football-playing remnants of the reposed Big East, didn’t have a team seeded higher than fourth and saw Southern Methodist, which went 23-9 and had an RPI of 53, left with its nose pressed against the tourney glass.
For the most part, the suits got it right.
However, it was curious that Arizona would have to face Oklahoma State or Gonzaga, teams that were in the top 15 in the preseason AP poll, in its second game.
Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart was the most hyped non-freshman in the country this season. But he has enjoyed a Six Flags sophomore season, a roller-coaster ride of brilliance and petulance that included a three-game suspension for shoving a fan. He is dangerous.
Here is a way-too-early Final Four prediction: Florida (South), Iowa State (East), Oklahoma State (West), and Michigan (Midwest).
I think Warren Buffett’s billion dollars is safe from me. Happy Bracketeering.