The Road to Houston: Which Top Seed has the Best Shot?

 

This time of year can be pretty special, regardless of what sports you follow. Don't particularly care for NCAA Basketball? Well, neither does my wife. She still makes picks, and on most occasions...she does as good, if not better than I do.

The reason is because you can't help but get excited. Over a furious four day stretch, 68 of the "best" college basketball teams in the country go head to head. With teams dropping left and right, sometimes involving upsets, it's really hard not to watch. They say that in Las Vegas, this has become the premier event to attend, eclipsing even the Super Bowl.

Here at Corn Nation, we'd planned on doing something to involve our community regardless of whether or not the Big Red were part of the field. Nebraska playing would've made it much more exciting to follow, but it was simply not to be this year. Having said that, I decided to post a quick guide on the four #1 seeds in this year's field. We all know how to pick the higher seed, right? Well, here is a different take on making predictions...and as we all know, the most important part is picking the eventual National Champion.

If you like Facebook, there is also a cool "March Madness" type game you can play that pits your friends in a bracket to see who comes out on top! Sounds fun, and the details are following the post at the bottom of the page.

Oh, and if you need a bracket to print, here is a cool one from SB Nation that lists each teams blog address.

SB Nation Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

So what I've done here, is start by listing the #1 seed from each region, followed by their probable opponents based on one assumption: That the higher seed always wins as we go through each round. If there are probable upsets, or if I felt a team would have just as hard a time with someone else...I noted that.

From there, I'll assign a difficulty rating based on a bunch of super non-scientific data, (My gut) and a lotta hard facts like records, rankings, and RPI.  I'll rate them on a scaIe from 1 to 5, with 5 being the toughest. I might even toss a coin, ask my 5 year old, or let my cats pick some games as well.

The goal, is to determine which region holds the easiest path to ultimate victory and therefore which #1 seed you should pick in order to secure the $5 investment in your buddies office pool. I mean hey, gas prices ARE going up right? Protect your $5!

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East Region | Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 32-2 (3-2 vs Top 25)

Conference Rank: 1

RPI: 2

The Buckeyes have either been flirting with, or owning the nations top rank all season long. Much deserving of the overall #1 seed for the entire field, the B1G Champion ended the conference play with an impressive thumping of Penn State in the B1G  Tournament Championship Game. Led by freshman Jared Sullinger, and a supporting cast among the best in the country, Ohio State has dropped just two games this season, both coming to teams seeded #4 or higher in this year's tournament.

Projected Path - (16) Texas-SA/Alabama ST. (8)George Mason, (4)Kentucky, (2)North Carolina

The 16 seed will have no chance in this bracket. Just one more warm-up for the Bucks. George Mason went on a pretty good tear up until the final game of their season, until they lost to VCU. With a SOS of just #104, I'm not sure that a team from Colonial League has a realistic chance to pull the massively popular first-round upset.

Kentucky plays in the SEC, and the problem with the SEC this year...is that it's not football season. The Wildcats placed third behind an Alabama team that didn't even make it to the NCAAs. A chance to upset the top seed, sure. But Kentucky is a young team, and losses to Arkansas and Mississippi in February leave a lot of doubt as to the likelihood of a win over OSU in the semis.

North Carolina has the best shot here, if for any other reason than that they've finally gotten the expected output from freshman phenom Harrison Barnes. Recently, the Heels pounded current #1 seed Duke on their way to winning the ACC regular season championship. But like Kentucky, this team is simply too young to give OSU a run for it's money. (3)Syracuse would also take a bunch from the Tarheels just prior to a game with the Bukeyes, and I don't think that helps.

Summary - In years past, the mention of Kentucky and North Carolina in the same region would mean a tough road to the Final Four. This year, I'm not so sure that Ohio State doesn't have the easiest road of all the top seeds. Don't let Jay Bilas and the guys from ESPN fool you. George Mason was a Cinderella team a few years ago, making the final four as an #11 seed. But how does a team from the past, change the present? Overall, the Heels have a chance. But Ohio State has been tested in a conference stronger than this years SEC or ACC. Freshman Sullinger is impressive, and his supporting cast is second to none.

Difficulty Score: 3.75 out of 5

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Southwest Region | Kansas Jayhawks

Record: 32-2 (3-2 vs Top 25)

Conference Rank: 1

RPI: 1

Kansas has been looking like it's old self lately. Peaking at a good time, the Jayhawks have the players to get it done this year. The problem with Kansas, is that they've been unpredictable over the years come post-season play. It seems that everyone just loves to pick them, but we've seen a lot of Kansas teams drop out early. We've also seen them pull of the National Championship as a #6 seed as recent as 2008. Like I said, unpredictable.

Projected Path: (16)Boston U. (8)UNLV, (4)Louisville, (2)Notre Dame

At first glance, this looks like one of those years where Kansas gets shocked early. Boston has ended the season winning every game in February and March, and as we've noted...KU tends to fold sometimes. Upon further review however, you'll see that BU has won these games in the America East Conference, and has one of the worst SOS rankings in the field (#224). Kansas wins.

UNLV would prove to be the better chance for the upset in KU's future. The Runnin' Rebels have lost to just BYU and SDSU over the last 13 games. They boast a SOS rank of #38 and their RPI  is at #25 as well. The Rebels have a good shot at giving Kansas a bit of deja-vu in the 3rd round this year, and leaving Rock Chalk fans wondering why they are cursed with the early-exit blues.

Louisville comes out of the meat grinder that is the Big East conference with wins over Syracuse, Pitt, UCONN, and Notre Dame. That's pretty impressive, even if you're a Big East hater. Add in the fact that Final Four guru Rick Pitino leads this team, and you can start to see why Kansas has their work cut out for them. Even if it's just the semis.

If any team would've had a chance to earn a #1 seed other than Kansas, it was Notre Dame. Many predicted the Irish to land a #1 seed on Sunday, so there would be little surprise to see Kansas get slapped here. Notre Dame has lost just 2 games in The Big East since a drubbing by St. Johns back on Jan 16th, including wins over UCONN, Pitt, Villanova, and Louisville. Scary.

Summary -Departing from my formula of higher seeded winners, there is a good chance that (3)Purdue will end up in the regional finals against KU. This is no cake walk either. I don't think Kansas makes it out of this region alive to be honest, despite the uber-talented Morris twins, and a geat end to the conference tournament. Just too much Big East for me.

Difficulty Score: 5 out of 5

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West Region | Duke

Record: 30-4 (4-2 vs. top 25)

Conference Rank: 2

RPI: 4

Duke is the only #1 seed NOT to end up as regular season champions of their conference. They also boast the lowest RPI of the top seeds. Despite this, the Blue Devils went out and straight up earned the highest seeding, by waxing the Tarheels for the ACC Tournament Championship. Duke has the second most #1 seeds in history, and probably the highest pedigree of any of these teams. As long as Mike Krzyzewski is at the helm, I'm not ever really convinced that these guys will lose.

Projected Path: (16)Hampton, (8)Michigan, (4)Texas, (2) SDSU

After Hampton gets rocked, the Michigan Wolverines may have a chance to pull off a big upset. The Wolves have played better as the season went on, and seem to be peaking at the right time. Since a bad loss to Minnesota back in January, the Wolverines have had some good wins and some close losses. Not sure if they're ready though for Kyle Singler and crew. Could give 'em a run.

Texas makes this bracket tough. Tough to pick. There was a time this season when the Longhorns were on top of things, after taking down the Jayhawks at home back in January. They've proven they can win against anyone. Their problem is that they've also proven they can lose to anyone, after dropping games to Nebraska, Colorado, and KSU. They didn't end things well against Kansas in the Big 12 tourney, so this game could go either way.

San Diego State was also hoping for a #1 seed this year, after a hugely successful campaign. The Aztecs have lost to only BYU, who was at full strength and in the top 5 in the country at the time. Being able to sweep the rest of their league is impressive, and SDSU got it's revenge on the Cougars in an 18 point pasting of BYU in the conference tournament. I'm just a bit unsure about the strength of the league they play in, but definitely a chance to win here.

Summary - Another very tough bracket. Keep in mind that even if SDSU doesn't come out alive, that likely means that UCONN will face the Dukies instead. I like the Blue Devils, and they are playing well...but it wouldn't surprise me to see any of 3 different teams come out of this region.

Difficulty Score: 4.5 out of 5

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Southeast | Pittsburgh

Record: 27-5 (7-4 vs. Top 25)

 Conference Rank: 1

RPI: 10

Pittsburgh has been hard for me to digest. I was convinced they were the best team in the land a few years ago, and they promptly lost halfway through the tournament despite a high seed. that's the Big East for ya. So many good teams, but it can make it very tough to determine anything when there are 6 or 7 teams that continually beat the piss out of one another.

Projected Path: (16) UNC-Ash / Ark-LR, (8)Butler, (4) Wisconsin), (2)Florida

Skip UNC-Ash or Ark-LR. Might as well skip Butler as well. Like George Mason in the East Region, this is 2011, and Butler is not the Cinderella team that almost won it all last year. Pittsburgh meanwhile, has been battle tested in the Big East Conference, and should have very little trouble getting past the first two rounds.

Wisconsin presents what I think is the best shot at an upset in this region. The Badgers pulled off one of only two wins against the Ohio State Buckeyes this season. I watched that game, and this team is very talented. A solid group of leaders, front court and back court. Although I still don't know that Pittsburgh will drop this game, I would pick Wisconsin to be the best of the #2-5 seeds in the country.

Florida got it's rear-end handed to them over the weekend by Kentucky, and is the regular season champion of a conference that is down this year. The extra caveat, is that Florida will have to get by "Fridette and Friends" when they play BYU in the regional semis. (Okay, we all know that it's really just Fridette. But he's so good it's like there's two of him)

Summary - Pittsburgh has a decent shot again to make the Final Four. Their biggest game will come against Wisconsin, if that match-up does indeed come up. I think they'll handle either Florida or BYU as well, on their way to a Final Four appearance.

Difficulty Score: 4 out of 5

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Most difficult paths:

Kansas: 5 out of 5

Duke: 4.5 out of 5

If I'm Kansas, I don't like the probability of playing Louisville, and either Notre Dame of Purdue. Perhaps it's because I've watched our own Huskers push the Jayhawks to the limit, or maybe it's just that they've been knocked out early before. I wouldn't be betting on them, however you shake it out.

Duke has a slightly better chance of surviving, but I don't like the match-up versus Texas, and the SDSU Aztecs are extremely talented as well. Duke will not be able to have an off-game and survive deep into the tourney.

Most favorable paths:

Ohio State: 3.75 out of 5

Pittsburgh: 4 out of 5

I've heard pundits talk about how the East region is the toughest, but I don't agree. You can't base George Mason's path on what they did a few years ago in the tournament, and the youth of North Carolina and Kentucky could very well catch up to them by the time they reach the Buckeyes. Sullinger is a freshman, yes. But don't overlook the Ohio State seniors David Lighty and Jon Diebler either. This team is balanced, and the Big Ten was a quiet conference this year despite the quality of the teams playing in it.

Pittsburgh has done what Big East teams do. They go through the "best basketball conference in the land", and subsequently end up in the middle of a bunch of great teams. But you can't ignore the quality of the Big East. There is simply way too much talent, and I don't think the Southwest Region has anyone that can seriously challenge Pitt, outside of maybe Wisconsin.

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Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out!!!!!

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