After the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, reseeding the field is a popular shtick. Another fun exercise is to rearrange the sixteen teams left according to their original seed order. That yields the following match-ups:
1 Florida vs 44 Tennessee
2 Arizona vs 41 Dayton
4 Virginia vs 37 Stanford
6 Michigan vs 29 Kentucky
8 Wisconsin vs 26 Connecticut
12 Iowa State vs 24 Baylor
13 Louisville vs 16 San Diego State
14 Michigan State vs 15 UCLA
The allure to this approach is that it continues to reward the teams at the top with the (theoretically) easiest possible road to the Final Four. Michigan is the only top 8 team that would be punished under these circumstances, but is it really fair to “reward” Virginia for earning the 4th 1 seed by pitting them against Michigan State? If Michigan had beaten Michigan State in the Big 10 Tournament final, perhaps they would have earned the right to avoid Kentucky and instead faced a much more manageable date with Stanford. And of course Stanford and Dayton should not be rewarded for slightly above average seasons by facing each other, they should be forced to continue to run the gauntlet against top seeds.
Alas, this method throws a giant monkey wrench into the concept of filling out your entire bracket for an office pool before the tournament starts, so it’ll never happen. On the bright side, the college basketball gods have nevertheless blessed us with a terrific collection of Sweet 16 games. Here’s one man’s ranking of the eight contests taking place tomorrow and Friday, from most compelling to Stanford-Dayton:
1 Louisville vs Kentucky
If you need me to explain why this is #1, you’re not a college hoops fan. But just in case, here are five reasons off the top of my head:
1- It’s the best college basketball rivalry outside Duke-UNC.
2- Kentucky was ranked #1 in the preseason poll, Louisville was #3. These teams have had Final Four expectations since November.
3- They bring the best out of each other. (exhibit A: Kentucky’s win over Louisville in late December at Rupp Arena was the Wildcats’ best win of the season before their Round of 32 classic against Wichita State.)
4- Indianapolis is the perfect neutral site location for this regional clash. (It sure as heck beats Baylor and Wisconsin in Anaheim, for example)
5- Calipari and Pitino are the two resident mob bosses in college basketball and the title of “Don” is always at stake when they meet.
*NOTE: Syracuse-Kansas would have been a solid 2nd behind Kentucky-Louisville due to the presence of at least 6 pros and as many as 4 or 5 lottery picks in this year’s draft (Wiggins, Embid, Ennis, Grant, Selden). Yeah, I know, I should let it go.
2 Florida vs UCLA
Florida is 7 points away from being undefeated and the two teams that beat them way back in the first month of the season (Wisconsin and Connecticut) are also in the Sweet 16. They’ve been the best, most consistent team for the majority of the season and they have to be considered the title favorites at this point. But Kentucky’s struggles and the overall weakness of the SEC mean that UCLA is the best team the Gators have faced since mid-December. Kyle Anderson will be the best player on the floor in Memphis and though Florida’s pieces fit better together, the Bruins have more raw talent among the 8 or so top players each team will use.
3 Wisconsin vs Baylor
This is Bo Ryan’s most gifted Badger team, but they still don’t have the athleticism to match Baylor’s NBA-caliber frontline. This is a classic matchup of “athletes” vs “basketball players” (insert racial overtones here) but in a major upset Wisconsin probably has the best future pro in Sam Dekker. Wisconsin is old school, Baylor is new school, but whichever school can get stops late will move on to the Elite Eight.
4 Virginia vs Michigan State
It’s not often that a 1 seed winning a Sweet 16 game would be an upset, but in this case it absolutely would be. The Spartans have the best, most balanaced starting five in the country and outside of maybe Joe Harris or Malcolm Brogdon getting the nod over Denzel Valentine, not a single Cavalier would start for Sparty. And no offense to Tony Bennett but this is the biggest coaching mismatch in the Sweet 16 as well. Tom Izzo has 6 Final Fours and a National Championship to his name; Bennett is in the Sweet 16 for the second time and has never advanced beyond this point.
5 Arizona vs San Diego State
Along with Louisville-Kentucky, this is the other rematch on the Sweet 16 docket. And just like that Midwest showdown, this West battle is regionally significant. Arizona won the first meeting on SDSU’s home floor and the Aztecs should again enjoy a bit of a home court advantage in Anaheim. Brandon Ashley’s absence opens the door for San Diego State to compete in the paint, and Winston Shepard is one of the elite wing defenders in America, which gives them a decent chance to lock up Nick Johnson. Also, Dwayne Polee has emerged as a viable 2nd banana to go with Xavier Thames but he did not even play in that mid-November clash. Don’t sleep on San Diego State avenging that loss and giving the Mountain West Conference some credibility on a national stage.
6 Iowa State vs Connecticut
The point guard match-up between DeAndre Kane and Shabazz Napier is worthy of the stage Madison Square Garden provides. They’re the two best all-around point guards in college basketball and they’ll both embrace the bright lights with gleeful abandon. Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie are young coaches on the rise, hoping to entrench their respective alma maters in the national conscience.
7 Michigan vs Tennessee
Michigan and Iowa State are the two most terrifying offensive teams in college basketball, but Tennessee’s beefy frontline and long, lanky perimeter rotation is pretty scary in its own right. Mitch McGary would have been a worthy foil for Tennessee big man Jarnell Stokes, but without McGary Michigan could have trouble keeping the Volunteers out of the paint and off the glass. Tennessee has a real chance to join Florida and Kentucky in the next round, giving the much maligned SEC three of the eight teams left standing.
8 Stanford vs Dayton
When healthy and whole the five best teams in college basketball are Michigan State, Florida, Kansas, Arizona, and Kentucky. Four of them are left in the Sweet 16 (although Arizona is not whole given the absence of Brandon Ashley) and conveniently they’re each in separate regions. And even without Ashley, I still think Arizona’s presence in the Final Four would be the best the West could offer, so here’s hoping for a top notch Final Four of Florida, Michigan State, Arizona, and Kentucky.