Nether Regions: Breaking Down the East, West, South, and Midwest
Everything you need to know about the Tournament's four different regions:
Most loaded region - Midwest
You can't ask for much more out of a single region. The Midwest boasts the #1 overall seed, and the hottest team in the country in Louisville. The Cardinals were the only school from the Big 6 to win both the regular season and conference tournament titles, and they did it in the best conference out of any of them.
Overall the region boasts the regular season champion of three of the Big 6 conferences - Louisville, Kansas, and Michigan State, with Pac-10 Tournament winner USC and Mountain West Tournament champion Utah thrown in for good measure. There's also West Virginia sitting there as the 6 seed, a very dangerous team that waxed arch-rival Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament last week before falling to Syracuse in overtime.
For the feel-good story seekers, the Midwest gives you North Dakota State, who in their first year in Division I had won both the regular season and Summit tournament championship to make the NCAA Tournament. For their effort, they get to play the defending national champions in the first round.
But that doesn't mean the Metrodome will be completely covered in Jayhawk blue. Almost 2,000 fans turned out at Bison Sports Arena to watch the Selection Sunday show on CBS to see where their beloved team will end up. Most of them, and many more, will be taking the three hour drive down from Fargo to cheer them on.
Easiest region for a top seed - South
Despite being the #3 overall seed, North Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship according to odds-makers, fans and sportscasters alike. Yet they were placed in arguably the weakest region, giving them the easiest path to Detroit of any other team.
#2 Oklahoma has dropped four of their last six games, although granted the first two were without Blake Griffin. # 3 Syracuse, as everyone knows by now, played 195 minutes of basketball in four days in the Big East Tournament last week, with a roster that only goes seven deep. # 4 Gonzaga has played a very tough schedule, but hasn't beaten a team currently ranked in the Top 25 all year.
To top it all off, the Tar Heels play their first two games (assuming they can squeak by Radford) in Greensboro.
But before you gleefully pencil in UNC on your bracket, keep in mind that this is the NCAA Tournament, where nothing ever happens the way it is supposed to. The easiest road to the Final Four in recent history came in 1998, when Paul Pierce and #1 Kansas were playing in the weak Midwest region and seemingly could sleepwalk to the Final Four, before losing to Rhode Island in the second round and destroying about 98% of the country's brackets. Could history repeat itself for Roy Williams? You never know.
Region with the most questions - West
Can # 1 UConn still make it to Detroit without Jerome Dyson? Dyson has been out since mid-February with a knee injury, and was at the time their second leading scorer and indisputably one of their best defenders. While the Huskies are still very, very good, they are simply not as dominant as when Dyson was on the court.
Speaking of Huskies, can Washington take advantage of playing out west? The Pac-10 regular season champs really caught a break when the NCAA Selection Committee sent them to Portland for the first two rounds, just a couple hours' drive from their campus in Seattle. Bubble-bursting SEC champ Mississippi State will have their hands full in what should be a purple-clad arena.
Will the chip-on-the-shoulder routine help Memphis? The Tigers have the best record in college basketball, have won 25 straight games, and just won their fourth straight conference championship in blowout fashion. Yet they were sent out west as a # 2 seed.
The seed was more an indictment of Conference USA - a one-bid conference - than Memphis itself, but don't tell that to Coach Calipari. He has made no secret about how he intends to motivate his team for the Tournament, stating after their drubbing of Tulsa, "If they (the NCAA Selection Committee) think we're a 2 seed, we'll try to prove them wrong."
How far can Marquette go without Dominic James? The Golden Eagles have dropped five of their last six since James broke a bone in his foot a month ago against UConn, and hardly anyone expects them to do anything but take an early exit from the NCAA Tournament - especially considering that they were shipped out to Boise to play 30-4 Utah State. But even though James' playing career at Marquette is over, the team's emotional leader will still be on the bench. He will still be a Golden Eagle so long as Marquette advances, and his teammates will be playing their guts out for him. It may not show up in the stat sheet, but that is a significant factor.
Déjà vu anyone? Last year in the West region the 8-9 matchup was #9 Texas A&M vs. # 8 BYU, won by the Aggies. This year? Same exact matchup in the same region.
Region with the most potentially intriguing matchups - East
In all likelihood, there won't be a shortage of storylines for the East regional final in Boston.
You could have a Duke-Florida State rematch from the ACC title game a week ago. There could be a very interesting meeting between Ben Howland's UCLA and the team he left behind in Pittsburgh. There could be a Pitt-Villanova rematch from Jan 28th, a game won by the Wildcats. There could be a rematch of Duke-Xavier from December, a game the Blue Devils won going away. Should Duke and Pitt meet in Boston, it would be a rematch from a classic game at Madison Square Garden early last season where the Panthers won an absolute grudge-match in overtime.
Another team to watch is UCLA. If the Bruins want to make it four straight Final Fours, the NCAA Selection Committee seemed hell-bent on making them earn it. They play their first game against a VCU squad that just tore through the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, behind the leadership of one of the most underrated guards in the country in Eric Maynor. Get by them, no big deal, the Bruins just might have to beat Villanova - who has notched wins over Pitt, Syracuse and Marquette (before the injury to Dominic James) - in Philadelphia. Survive that, and they could be facing ACC Tournament champ Duke 3,000 miles from home in Boston. Piece of cake.