NCAA Bracket 2012: 10 Biggest Questions Facing Your Bracket

Robert Aitken@@RobertAitkenBRAnalyst IMarch 12, 2012

NCAA Bracket 2012: 10 Biggest Questions Facing Your Bracket

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    The 68-team NCAA tournament bracket has been set, and now there are millions across the country sharpening their pencils and gazing into crystal balls. Everyone in the country still has a flawless bracket right now, at least before the games begin.

    While everyone may be confident now and some may fear their brackets being shredded apart in the next few days, there's one thing consistent with everyone filling out a bracket right now.

    Everyone has questions.

    For as scientific as it may be to fill out a bracket and the mathematical odds for outcomes to be true, there always seems to be something that defies the odds every March. It is that exact reason that has everyone scratching their heads. Many participants believe a bracket that is easy to fill out is also an inaccurate one.

    So before you sign your name to that bracket and fill it out in pen or permanent marker, here are 10 very valid questions you may be asking yourself, along with some breakdown and thought with what could be deciding factors in major parts of your bracket.

What Do I Do with Iona?

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    The initial reaction from the NCAA bracket being revealed was the shock that Iona, a mid-major team from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, made the field as an at-large team. The Gaels were an impressive 25-7 on the season, including a 15-3 MAAC record that gave them the top spot in the conference tournament and an assumption of an automatic bid.

    Then came the conference semifinal, when Iona fell to Fairfield by 10 points. In many predictions, Iona had fallen out of the NCAA bracket and onto the NIT bracket. Instead, Iona makes it into the field in a First Four game against BYU on Tuesday. The winner of that game will then face Marquette, the third seed in the West region.

    Many will try to call Iona "this year's VCU," which seems like a valid point. They lead the country with 83.3 points per game and 19.3 assists per game as a team. Their field-goal percentage (50.4 percent) is second best in the county, falling short of only Creighton's 50.9.

    So, can Iona make that improbable run? Probably not.

    The Gaels are only 1-8 in their history in the NCAA tournament. That win came 32 years ago against Holy Cross. They also have only won three games over a nationally ranked team in their 72-year history, with the last one being an upset of Iowa State in 2005.

    Iona will likely get people's blood boiling with a win over BYU, but nothing more.

Do I Believe in the Hype of Harvard?

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    Harvard is now coming to the 68-team bracket for the first time since 1946, when the field was just eight teams. The Crimson were nationally ranked this year at one point, finishing the season at 26-4 overall.

    Tommy Amaker is the coach of Harvard, known a few weeks ago as that place Jeremy Lin played college basketball. Amaker coached well for Michigan before coming to Harvard, but never made it to The Big Dance. Amaker did, however, make it to the Sweet 16 in 2000 as coach of Seton Hall.

    Amaker now tries to win a game in the tournament with his new squad, which faces Vanderbilt.

    Harvard is a No. 12 seed, a lucky number for upsets.

    If you ask Amaker, however, it's more than just the luck of the draw. Amaker said that his squad, as well as the Ivy League as a whole, is underrated in college basketball. According to him, the fact that the league was 13th in conference power rankings, while the Pac-12 was 10th, puts Harvard in company with some decent teams.

    Well, the Pac-12 only had one more team in the field than the Ivy League did, yielding just Colorado and California. Unfortunately, Harvard could only face one of those teams if it made the Final Four, which won't be happening.

    Feel a little nervous for Vanderbilt, but the Crimson will probably be going home if they face Wisconsin in the round of 32.

Is Murray State a Sleeper?

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    Despite only one loss all season long, the Murray State Racers have ran to the NCAA tournament and sat down comfortably as an at-large bid.

    The problem, however, is that it doesn't seem like the committee has taken Murray State seriously. The Racers seemed to be given a raw deal by getting just a sixth seed and having to face a dangerous Colorado State team that came out of the very tough Mountain West conference.

    The saving grace for Murray State is that it will be basically playing a home game in its first two games. Murray State would draw Marquette or the Iona/BYU winner in the third round with a Sweet Sixteen spot in Phoenix on the line. The crowd will probably be deafening as the entire town of Murray could be making the journey to nearby Louisville for the games.

    Murray State is poised to be a sleeper and live up to the stellar record it has had this year. With some good games, it could even be a dark horse for the Final Four. Pencil in the Racers for at least a Sweet 16 berth.

How Far Do I Advance My Top Seeds?

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    It's the easiest way to fill out a bracket. Advance all of the top seeds as far as they can go, giving you all No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. The problem with that, of course, is that it just doesn't happen. Only once in history has there been only top seeds representing their respective corners of the bracket.

    Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Syracuse all have one thing in common: they are all favored for the Final Four. However, logic suggests that at least one will fall by the wayside before all four could potentially meet up.

    So, who falls early and when does it happen?

    It's the most important part of the bracket, because it is usually the biggest upset of the tournament.

    Picking a top seed to latch onto is harder than it looks. Kentucky seemed to be punished, despite being the overall top seed.

    Their corner of the bracket is just too tough, giving them defending champion Connecticut in the round of 32, as well as VCU in the Sweet 16, a team that was in the Final Four last year. They also have a possibility of seeing Indiana in that same spot. Follow that up with Duke, Baylor and UNLV on the other half of the South bracket, and it is bad news for Kentucky.

    The best bet is Michigan State, which will enjoy softballs from LIU Brooklyn and the Memphis/Saint Louis winner before the Sweet 16. In Phoenix, the Spartans could possibly see Louisville, Missouri, Murray State, Marquette or a Cinderella team. Not to discredit those clubs, but Michigan State could be in this tournament a while.

    As for Syracuse, it doesn't get really hard until potentially seeing Wisconsin in the Sweet 16. North Carolina has had a great year as well, but the Tar Heels will be out of danger likely until their regional final clash, which probably has Kansas in it.

How Much Faith Should Be Invested in Florida State?

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    Florida State is riding high after an ACC tournament victory and a No. 3 seed in its region. Now, the next question for the Seminoles is how long does this ride last.

    St. Bonaventure is up first, fresh off of an Atlantic 10 Conference title. Assuming the Seminoles make it through that, Cincinnati or Texas is waiting for them.

    Here's a good stat to chew on. In the last 30 years, four teams have beaten both Duke and North Carolina twice in the same season. Florida State becomes fifth team on that list, the first since Georgia Tech in 1995-1996. All four of those teams before Florida State made it to the Sweet 16. That should say enough for Florida State's chances.

    Beyond the Sweet 16 may be asking for something more from Florida State. The seeding would suggest that it would draw Ohio State in the Sweet 16, an opponent that the Seminoles may not be able to overcome.

Can Connecticut Do It Again?

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    The Huskies of Connecticut haven't quite had the season that defending champions want to have. Still, UConn is in the field as a No. 9 seed in the South Region.

    Statistics suggest that the No. 8 vs. 9 matchups are basically dead even, but let's just give the edge to Connecticut for argument's sake. Stats also say that No. 9 seeds fare better against a top seed than an No. 8 does. That may be an advantage to the Huskies in normal scenarios, but that top seed is Kentucky.

    The magic could still be there for UConn, but it will be something just as improbable as last year's national championship. An argument can be made that the winner of that matchup could run the table through the rest of the region and into the Final Four.

Who Is This Year's VCU?

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    Nobody thought Virginia Commonwealth should have been in the NCAA tournament last year. They likely were only in from the expansion of the field to 68, generating the First Four games. VCU was in one of those games, taking down USC and being inserted in as an No. 11 seed.

    What would then happen was just as improbable as it gets in the tournament.

    VCU shocked four more teams—Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas—landing them in a Final Four that was just too crazy to predict. The Rams would fall to Butler, but triumph with their great showing. It was five victories for a school that had only five victories in their tournament history before last year.

    So, who does that this year? Well, if you ask VCU, they'll answer with themselves.

    It stands to reason that VCU, which now is a No. 12 seed, could shake things up in the South Region. The Rams have Wichita State in their first game and could face Indiana and Connecticut or Kentucky just to get to the Elite Eight.

    Here are some other teams to be afraid of: Colorado in the South, Colorado State in the West, South Florida in the Midwest and West Virginia in the East.

Who Is My No. 12 Seed for an Upset?

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    One of the first rules you are taught with brackets is that there is probably a No. 5 seed falling in their first game.

    The fact that there's at least one No. 12 seed winning every year is enough to get the upset juices flowing. The First Four now has five teams sitting with a 12th seed attached to them in the bracket and any one of them could be the next great upset artist.

    We have hit on VCU already and its ability to make a run in the South. Harvard's seeding in the East Region has people talking as well. Not many know much about Long Beach State, but just being a 12th seed will have some looking at them as an upset in the West Region.

    This brings me to the First Four matchup, which decides the 12th seed in the Midwest. California, out of the lackluster Pac-12, takes on South Florida, an at-large from the mighty Big East.

    The Bulls have hung around with some of the toughest teams in the country all year long. The Golden Bears are probably in for some trouble in their game.

    South Florida then draws Temple, who was nationally ranked at the end of the season, but fell to UMass in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Temple may be feeling vulnerable, having shown a great deal of offense this season, ranking 30th in the country in points per game. South Florida is a deplorable 328th in points per game. Smells like an upset to me.

Can Anything Stop Michigan State in the West?

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    There is plenty to say about Michigan State and how great they have played this season.

    Among the six power conferences, only the Spartans were a top seed that won their conference tournament. So as other teams are licking their wounds and prepping for the long journey through the bracket, Michigan State is hot.

    The Spartans have a path of least resistance, especially compared to some top seeds this year.

    Michigan State is easily into the Sweet 16 without really looking at their opponents. Michigan State is an all-around team that just cannot be matched up well against by the teams in the West Region.

    Try as Louisville, Marquette or Missouri might, few can imagine a Final Four without Michigan State. If there is one guarantee to make yourself in your bracket, have Michigan State be it.

How Many Big Ten Teams Are in the Final Four?

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    The Big East Conference may have put nine teams into the tournament, but it is the six teams from the Big Ten that will get people excited come Final Four time.

    Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan are all No. 4 seeds in the tournament, making it almost a guarantee for a Sweet 16 berth for all three. Ohio State is a No. 2 seed in the East Region, which could lead to an all-Big Ten Elite Eight matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State.

    This doesn't even include the top seed of Michigan State in the West Region or Purdue, a dangerous 10th seed in the Midwest that could give fits to Kansas prior to the Sweet 16. It isn't a question of if there will be a Big Ten representative in the Final Four, but how many.

    The six teams are spread out in strong positions that could have all six in the Sweet 16 and could have all four Final Four teams potentially. Ohio State and Michigan are strong bets, while the three No. 4 seeds are intriguing predictions.

    As for Purdue, be daring and think big for them, but not too big. If someone doesn't win two games of these six teams, it will be the Boilermakers.