For the NCAA selection committee, this might be the best year yet. No one can really argue about the field of 68 that was selected.
The No. 1 seeds — Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga — are all worthy and deserving.
Strangely, there will be no controversy about which teams were left out. Syracuse and Illinois State are the obvious teams that didn’t make it. Syracuse was doomed by some bad early season losses (notably St. John’s and BC). Illinois State had a great regular season (27-6) but not enough quality victories.
The final at-large bids went to Kansas State, Wake Forest, Providence, and Southern California.
The most difficult region is the South, where North Carolina is seeded first, Kentucky second, and UCLA third. Three bluebloods competing for one Final Four berth. A UCLA-Kentucky matchup in the Sweet 16 could be epic. The Bruins beat Kentucky in Lexington earlier this season, but are seeded behind the Wildcats.
Fittingly, the East with overall No. 1 Villanova seems to be the softest bracket, but the Wildcats will have to deal with No. 2 Duke, which just won the ACC tournament, to make the Final Four. The argument could be made that Duke should be the No. 1 seed, but to be in the same region as Villanova, the committee had to regard the Blue Devils as the eighth-best team in the field.
Some seeds could be quibbled with. Vanderbilt did not deserve a nine; the Commodores should have been in double figures. Wichita State did not deserve a 10; the Shockers should have been a four or a five. Dayton, the seven seed in the South, gets stuck with really difficult matchup in Wichita State.
The selection committee put together some interesting matchups, though they deny doing anything on purpose.
Northern Kentucky, in its first NCAA Tournament, playing Kentucky is one. Kentucky will win and then could face Wichita State in the second round in a rematch from 2014, when Kentucky ended Wichita’s undefeated season.
Some nice “home-court advantages” include both Florida and Florida State opening in Orlando. The committee had a surprise for the Seminoles, however, as they will face a difficult matchup in Florida Gulf Coast, a team they would never schedule in the regular season.Joe Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org