Ranking the 10 Teams with the Easiest Road to the Final FourMarch 18, 2013
Ranking the 10 Teams with the Easiest Road to the Final Four
With the brackets set for the 2013 NCAA tournament, college basketball’s best teams have their eyes on the Final Four. Some, however, will have a much tougher time getting there than others. In March Madness, facing the right opponents can make just as much of a difference as having the right players on your own team.
One favorite in this year’s field of 68 that’s facing some very favorable matchups is Indiana. Although the Hoosiers didn’t land the No. 1 overall seed, their top spot in the East regional won’t force them to face many of the grinding, physical defenses that tripped them up in Big Ten play.
Even IU won’t have an easy time in what’s sure to be an upset-laden tournament, but their path is certainly more encouraging than most. Herein, a closer look at Tom Crean’s squad and nine more teams with comparatively light opposition between them and the Final Four.
10. Virginia Commonwealth
The most dangerous regional game for Virginia Commonwealth is likely to come in the Round of 32, when the Rams get the winner of the backcourt scoring derby between Michigan and South Dakota State.
Fortunately for VCU, whoever survives that game is likely to be worn down and will get only one day off to prepare for the Rams’ havoc press.
If Treveon Graham and company do get as far as the Sweet 16, their road actually gets easier, as neither top-seeded Kansas nor No. 2 seed Georgetown has a premier point guard to help weather the pressure.
It’s also worth noting that VCU has an exceptionally easy second-round matchup, as Akron PG Alex Abreu is suspended after his drug-related arrest.
For a team whose offense has struggled mightily in SEC play, there could be few more welcoming opening matchups than Northwestern State, a high-scoring offense that rarely worries about trying to play D.
Florida’s good fortune doesn’t end there, as its third-round foe will either be UCLA (which just lost its second-leading scorer to an injury) or Minnesota (one of the country’s least consistent teams in the second half).
The Gators also got a favorable draw when it comes to the two teams seeded ahead of them.
Neither Kansas nor Georgetown boasts a top-notch ball-handler at point guard, leaving both teams vulnerable to the Gators’ defensive pressure and vastly improving Florida’s chances of getting out of the South regional.
The Badgers are likely to face three teams seeded higher than they are en route to Atlanta.
Two of those, Kansas State and Ohio State, have had serious issues with point production and will be decidedly vulnerable to the Badgers’ outstanding defense (witness the Buckeyes’ 71-49 loss in Madison).
The third team, of course, is top-seeded Gonzaga—a very different beast but one Wisconsin is well suited to handle.
With the shot-blocking Jared Berggren to contain Kelly Olynyk, and the tandem of Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans to handle Elias Harris, the Badgers will make the Zags work for points like no team has this season. That gives them a great chance to pull a narrow upset.
Although Georgetown drew a relatively tough No. 15 seed in Florida Gulf Coast, the Eagles are still a No. 15 seed and hardly a good prospect to knock off the Hoyas.
The 7 vs. 10 matchup in front of Otto Porter Jr. and his mates is also a bonus, as neither San Diego State (lack of size) and Oklahoma (lack of scorers) will put up much resistance.
Florida isn’t an ideal Sweet 16 opponent, but the Gators have been so inconsistent on offense that they could fall apart entirely against the Hoya D.
Top-seeded Kansas, meanwhile, is the type of team that will happily settle in for a defensive slugfest—one that Georgetown, winner of an infamous 37-36 game over Tennessee this season, has a fine chance to win.
If it weren’t for the presence of top-seeded Indiana in the East, the Hurricanes would be No. 1 on this list.
Miami’s half of the regional should be a cakewalk for the ACC champs, who have enough weapons to top even the Hoosiers if they play their best in an Elite Eight showdown.
No. 15 Pacific and (probably) 10th-seeded Colorado have little hope of handling the size and athleticism of the Miami frontcourt.
Picking a likely Sweet 16 foe is a crapshoot—any of Butler, Bucknell, Marquette or Davidson could reasonably survive the opening weekend. But none of those teams will have an answer to ‘Canes star Shane Larkin at the point.
5. Ohio State
The best hope for any No. 2 seed is drawing the weakest of the top-seeded teams.
Gonzaga is not only a shaky No. 1 seed (by virtue of a comparatively weak schedule), but also a team thoroughly ill-suited to winning the kind of bruising defensive battle that Ohio State thrives on.
The Buckeyes are in pretty good shape to make it to an Elite Eight meeting with the Zags, too. Facing a No. 15 seed (even one as good as Iona) in their first game is, of course, a nice start.
The toughest team in the Buckeyes’ half of the West bracket is third-seeded New Mexico, and with Aaron Craft around to shut down Kendall Williams, Ohio State has a decided advantage in facing the Lobos.
For a No. 1 overall seed, Louisville got saddled with a beast of a No. 2 seed in Duke.
However, the Cards—who gave the Blue Devils a good fight even while now-healthy Gorgui Dieng was injured—are more than capable of knocking off Coach K’s boys in the Elite Eight, and they should have little trouble getting to that matchup.
After taking care of a No. 16 seed, the Cardinals will get either Missouri (whom they’ve already beaten by 23) or a very similar Colorado State team.
That leaves only a Sweet 16 meeting with (probably) Oklahoma State. Louisville’s vaunted ball pressure will force even the great Marcus Smart into enough mistakes to turn the tide in the Cards' favor.
The Zags stand to get two pretty easy wins to open the tourney. After a romp against 16th-seeded Southern, they’re likely in for a high-scoring duel with a Pitt team that doesn’t have quite as many offensive weapons to match up with the Bulldogs.
A potential Sweet 16 game against Kansas State is a rematch of an easy Gonzaga win from December, leaving only the Elite Eight and (probably) either Ohio State or New Mexico.
Both teams know how to play defense, but neither is equipped to do much scoring of its own, giving the Zags’ prolific offense a good shot against either foe.
Like most No. 1 seeds, Indiana shouldn’t even have to break a sweat to make the Sweet 16.
After polishing off a No. 16 seed to start, the Hoosiers will face one of a pair of talented offenses (N.C. State or Temple) that can’t possibly win a shootout with their own third-ranked collection of scorers.
IU’s likeliest Sweet 16 foe is Syracuse, whose 2-3 zone is most vulnerable to a team loaded with jump shooters—just like the Hoosiers.
The only serious threat to the Hoosiers’ run appears to be Miami. Still, the Hoosiers have enough length not to be overrun by the Hurricane frontcourt and enough scorers to have a good chance at outpacing Shane Larkin and Durand Scott.
With Kansas ranked No. 1 nationally in field-goal percentage allowed, the Jayhawks are happy to bet on their defense against anybody else’s. The biggest threat to KU is a world-class half-court offense, and the South regional only has one.
If Michigan survives both South Dakota State and VCU (far from a certainty), the Wolverines and Jayhawks will square off in the Sweet 16.
Trey Burke and his platoon of three-point gunners might be able to score enough to take down KU, but it’s not all that likely.
Other than that game, the Jayhawks will presumably get 16th-seeded Western Kentucky, a North Carolina team that wilts when it can’t get points in transition, and scoring-poor Georgetown in a very winnable Elite Eight game.