There is not an easy path to the Final Four, but some are a bit easier than others in 2013.
Interestingly enough, the disparity between what's considered the easiest and most difficult roads to Atlanta have little space between.
The world is flat in college basketball now, and never has it been flatter than a season that saw the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 combine for 10 tournament bids while the SEC and ACC had to settle for seven between them. Heck, even the tournament champions of the Patriot League and Ohio Valley Conferences got more respect as 11 seeds than the winners of the Pac-12 and SEC tournaments, who earned 12s.
On the contrary, though, having more mid-majors potentially decreases the challenge for the battle-tested powerhouses. Obviously, not every single round will be a cakewalk, but the convenience of a slighter road is to one's advantage.
Especially for these following schools in each region.
Ohio State, West Region
Receiving a No. 2 seed, Ohio State can look across its portion of the bracket and see No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Although that potential showdown is further down the path, the Zags put together a 31-2 record that features two major victories (Kansas State and Oklahoma State) and two losses, against Illinois and Butler.
The Buckeyes split with the Illini this season and logged impressive wins over Michigan, Indiana on the road and twice over Michigan State and Wisconsin. On its side of the West bracket, the most difficult potential matchups after Round 1 for Ohio State are New Mexico, Belmont and Wisconsin.
Having already proven they can defeat the Badgers, Belmont can be a threat to the Buckeyes because it has experience. Unfortunately, the Bruins suffered early exits the past two years and need to establish themselves before becoming a stronger threat.
The Lobos are expected to be a significant test; however, New Mexico hasn't faced nearly as difficult of a conference or non-conference schedule as Ohio State. The Bucks' are also more efficient offensively in a stronger defensive league.
Indiana, East Region
Aside from the No. 2 seed Miami Hurricanes, Indiana has a nice route to the Final Four.
Their first opponent will be decided by the play-in game between LIU Brooklyn and James Madison. The Hoosiers toughest potential matchup comes from Syracuse. UNLV was slightly overrated at the No. 5 spot, since it split with Colorado State and went 1-2 versus New Mexico this season.
The Hoosiers play much better collectively on each side and feature two studs in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. North Carolina State and Temple have the talent to score, but Indiana courts much tougher defense to avoid a Round 2 upset.
As for the Orange, Jim Boeheim's crew doesn't possess the offensive electricity to control the tempo. And Indiana's defense will isolate the Orange's offense to gradually pull away.
Georgetown, South Region
After a quick glance at the South bracket, Georgetown looks like it has a rough road to Atlanta. Diving in deeper, though, that's not entirely the case.
Kansas is a susceptible No. 1 seed as the Jayhawks won a fairly shallow Big 12. In addition, the Hoyas play better defensively across the board; they allow an average of 55.7 points per game to Kansas' 61.5 and were able to generate turnovers more consistently.
In short, the Jayhawks' effective offense will have trouble should these two square off.
Elsewhere, Georgetown's best possible regional matchups are Florida, UCLA and San Diego State. The Gators have not been impressively consistent recently, the Bruins don't have the defensive competency to match the Hoyas and the Aztecs lack on offense.
One team to monitor is Minnesota, because the Golden Gophers have the defense to equal Georgetown. It's Tubby Smith's offense that will have trouble keeping pace with the Hoyas.
Duke, Midwest Region
For one, Duke had a more difficult strength of schedule over Louisville and Michigan State, according to Jerry Palm of CBS Sports.
And regardless of what may or may not occur during the tournament, it's always better to have that tougher schedule. Plus, the Blue Devils managed to collect strong wins over Louisville (neutral site), Ohio State and split with Miami.
As for the bracket, Duke's athleticism is a competitive advantage over defensive teams such as the Cardinals and Spartans. Other schools on its side of the region in Creighton, Memphis and Cincinnati don't play consistently across the board.
The Bluejays can score a lot, but also hit dry-spells—one week their scoring is in the 70s and 80s, and the next they're scoring in the 50s and 60s—that Duke will capitalize on. Memphis plays a significantly weak schedule by comparison, and the Bearcats don't have the offense to run with the Blue Devils.
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