Despite finishing behind Virginia in the ACC regular season standings, and dropping two games to the Irish, Duke was awarded a #1 seed in the South Region. Furthermore, many analysts believe that Duke received an easier region than even undefeated Kentucky. This view is colored somewhat by #2 Gonzaga's tournament failures, and the perceived weakness of #4 Georgetown. Can anyone knock off the Devils, and who else should viewers keep an eye on? Find out in the OFD preview of the Houston Regional.
#1 Duke Blue Devils v. #16 North Florida/Robert Morris
#8 San Diego State Aztecs v. #9 St. Johns Red Storm
Possible Cinderella: #6 SMU Mustangs
Conference realignment has relegated the American to a complete afterthought in the minds of many college hoops fans. Despite having the defending National Champion, many fans would struggle to name more than a couple schools in the AAC. Overlook SMU at your own peril, however. Larry Brown has had success as a 6 seed in the tournament winning the 1988 tournament with #6 seed Kansas. While the Mustangs don't have a player like Danny Manning, Nic Moore (14 ppg and 5.2 apg) and Markus Kennedy (11 ppg and 6 rpg) team up for a nice inside/outside combination. SMU won the conference regular season and tournament titles, and a run to the second weekend would give the American a little respect (although it probably won't gain any TV viewers).
First Round Upset: #13 Eastern Washington over #4 Georgetown - Thursday 9:57 ET TruTV
I don't think anyone outside of DC understands how Georgetown received a 4 seed. While the Hoyas don't have many bad losses, they have just one impressive win over Villanova to go with a pair of close wins over 6 seeded Butler. The Eagles, champions of the Big Sky, beat Indiana at Assembly Hall in regulation. While it's just one data point, the Hoyas needed OT to beat the Hoosiers on a neutral floor. The Eagles average over 80 ppg, shoot tons of threes, and make them at a >40% clip. Their biggest scoring threat is guard Tyler Harvey who hoists more than 9 threes per game, and makes 4.8% of them. The game is a late one on a weeknight, but surely your boss will understand that this kind of schadenfreude is worth a bit of lost productivity. Thankfully for Georgetown, they have experience losing to massive underdogs. Who could forget this game?
First Weekend Game to Watch: #2 Gonzaga v. #7 Iowa or #10 Davidson
It's no secret Gonzaga has a bit of a reputation for underachieving in the tournament. Whether it's due to having to quickly adjust from playing in the weaker West Coast Conference to taking on high major opposition, always being overrated, or simply bad luck, Adam Morrison's tears are the first things that come to mind when many thing of Gonzaga in March. Whether they're facing the Hawkeyes or Wildcats, the pressure will be turned up when they play their second round game on Sunday. Davidson has four shooters above 39% from deep, and have lost just one of their last ten games. Iowa on the other hand plays much slower, and in a limited possession game, anything can happen. While Gonzaga should beat either team, Zags fans everywhere will be on the edge of their seats throughout.
Player to Watch: Monte Morris - Iowa State
Since Irish fans have seen enough of Okafor and his supporting cast this season, don't miss out on watching the fabulous point guard from Iowa State. Morris is pretty much everything a team could want in a point guard. He shoots over 50% from the field, 40% from deep, and 75% from the line. What sticks out for Morris, however, is his ability as a passer. The ISU guard as an incredible 4.91:1 assist to turnover ratio. For comparison's sake, Jerian Grant, an incredible passer as all Irish fans know, led the ACC at "just" 3.08:1. This isn't small sample size either; Morris led the Big 12 in assists this season at 5.2 per game Far from being just a passer, however, when the Cyclones have needed him to score himself, Morris delivered.
Top 4 Seed Going Home Early: (See Above)
Team that Will Absolutely Not Pull An Upset: #11 UCLA
How UCLA made the field of 68 is one of the great mysteries of our time. The Bruins have wins over four teams in the NCAA Tournament. While this is a little unimpressive for a major conference at large, consider that two of these wins were in non-conference against teams seeded 14 or worse (#14 UAB, and #16 Coastal Carolina). Their other two were wins over #8 seed Oregon and #5 seed Utah, both at home. That's the extent of their resume. Even that win over Utah needs an asterisk as the Utes destroyed the Bruins 71-39 in their other meeting. This isn't to say they haven't been part of some memorable games this year. Everyone that watched it remembers the Bruins' incredible seven (7) point first half output against Kentucky. The half featured more Kentucky blocks than UCLA points. The committee pointed to the Bruins "gaining steam down the stretch" which included a run of four wins over the bottom three teams in the PAC-12 before a loss to Arizona in the PAC-12 Tournament, as the reason they made the tournament (and avoided the first four). If the committee applied this "gaining steam down the stretch" criteria to ND, the Irish would have already been awarded the National Championship.
Final Four Pick: Duke over Iowa State
Sadly for fans of decency everywhere, this region looks completely set up for Duke to advance. Despite being questionably selected as a 1 seed, there are few teams in this region that have the ability to knock off the Devils, even when they're playing less than their best. Iowa State does have the talent to pull of an upset of Duke, however, they are even less equipped than ND to deal with Jahlil Okafor. The Cyclones have just two players taller than 6' 8" that play more than ten minutes per game. While Iowa State could find success with a similar approach Brey used against Okafor (don't double, give up tons of twos inside, while locking down the three point line), I don't see ISU generating enough stops or making enough shots to knock out Duke.