The conference tournaments are finished and the field has been announced. Before you rush to fill out your bracket, check out my take on both the weakest and toughest region.
I am going to preface all of this by saying there is no easy road to Indianapolis. Each of the four regions have their fair share of tough teams fully capable of getting hot and cutting the nets down. Regardless of the caliber of opponents, whoever reaches the Final Four will be battle tested and deserving of playing for the national title.
Weakest: South Region
The South Region is the weakest of the four.
The No. 1 seed in the South is Duke. The Blue Devils are annually one of the best coached and most disciplined teams, and they have the greatest home court advantage in the land. But, they do not have the athletes or top end talent the other three No. 1's employ. Away from Cameron, Duke was 5-5, experiencing bad losses to Georgetown and North Carolina State. Bottom line, outside of Durham, Duke is not anywhere near as feared as Kentucky, Syracuse, and especially Kansas
Lets shift to the bottom of the region and take a look at No. 2 seed Villanova. One of the most important things to look for when filling out a bracket is the performance of a team in their final games entering the tournament. Villanova? They have lost five of their last seven and six of their last ten. Nova is not playing their best basketball at the most important time of the year.
Staying with that theme, the No. 9 seed Louisville Cardinals have lost three of their past five games. In the first round, they match up with the No. 8 seed California Golden Bears. I ask you, who have they beaten? Cal played in the weakest power conference, the Pac 10, and they are 1-6 against the RPI top 50. I would argue that Mississippi State and Illinois should have received bids over Cal.
Then there is No. 4 seed Purdue. There is a reason why a power conference team who went 27-5 was given a four seed and not a two; Just a few weeks ago, they lost Robbie Hummel to a torn ACL. Hummel was unquestionably the teams most important and best player. Since he went down, they have lost two of their last five, including an embarrassing 27 point loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.
Lastly, there is No. 3 Baylor. The Bears had an impressive season, but I would be fearful of picking a team with very little tournament pedigree. Baylor has been to the tournament one time in the past twenty seasons, 2008, and they lost in the first round.
As mentioned earlier, every region includes a few teams that are playing solid ball going into the tournament. For the South Region, Notre Dame is a prime example of this. Prior to losing a tight game to the eventual Big East Tournament champion West Virginia, they had won six straight, including wins against Pitt and a road win against Georgetown.
Toughest: Midwest Region
Traveling to the Midwest you have the best team in the nation, Kansas, and the best player in the nation, Evan Turner.
Kansas earned the No. 1 overall seed for good reason. The Jayhawks are experienced, deep, well coached, and overall the most complete team in the tournament. Having been ranked no lower then third all season, they are the picture of consistency and the favorite to be the last team standing.
Ohio State is one of two teams (West Virginia) seeded No. 2 that one could argue deserved Duke's No. 1. You can't find a team in the field playing better than the Buckeyes. They have won 16 of their last 18, including their last seven. In the Big Ten Championship game, they made a statement to the rest of the country when they beat Minnesota by 29. And how can I not talk about Evan Turner. John Wall received most of the early season hype, but Evan Turner has turned into the most dominating force in college basketball. If there is one player capable of having a 'Carmeloesque' tourney and leading his team to a title, its Turner.
No. 3 seed Georgetown has won four of their last five games. They have many impressive wins, including a recent defeat of Syracuse, and a blowout over Duke in front of President Obama. Greg Monroe is one of the better big men in the nation, and this team has the talent to play their way to Indianapolis.
No. 4 seed Maryland is coached by Gary Williams, and No. 5 seed Michigan State is coached by Tom Izzo. Enough said.
As you begin to look at the lower seeds in this region, you come to No. 6 seed Tennessee and No. 7 seed Oklahoma State, ironically, the only two teams to beat Kansas this season.
When you talk possible Cinderellas, one need look no further than No. 13 seed Houston. They have one of the nations top scorers in Aubrey Coleman, who is averaging 25.6 points per game.
Finally, there is Northern Iowa. After losing only four games this season, the Panthers surely feel insulted being given a nine seed, and one must be weary of a team with a chip on their shoulder. While they are a huge long shot to advance deep into the tourney, they are good enough to upset anybody on any given night.