The 2016 March Madness field has just been announced, and boy is there a lot to talk about. The selection committee made a number of interesting decisions, and many that I don’t personally agree with. However, with some of the resulting matchups and the widespread parity of this season, you can be sure this tournament will be one of the most exciting to date.
There’s a lot to talk about, and I’ll be releasing my full overview of the field and my own bracket over the next few days, along with many other March Madness related posts. However, for now I want to give my first reactions to the newly released bracket.
I’ll separate my reactions into three parts: first will be the actual 68-team field and which teams I believe should and should not have made the tournament. Second will be seeding, and which teams I believe were seeded too high or too low. Last will be my initial thoughts on intriguing matchups and the strength of each region. Let’s do it.
- The Bubble
The tournament committee really shocked me with a few of their selections, and that’s the sentiment coming from most analysts at the moment. For me, there were three teams that made the tournament that should not have been included, and one that I find absolutely stunning. These teams are Vanderbilt, Syracuse, and Tulsa.
I believe the best of these teams is Vanderbilt. While I believe that the SEC’s third team in the field should have been South Carolina (if the SEC even deserved three teams, it was that bad this year), I can understand the rationale for their inclusion, which include wins over Kentucky and Texas A&M, a strong strength of schedule and no horrible losses.
Syracuse is a little tougher for me to understand. The fact that they made the tournament itself is shaky but definitely arguable (they were borderline first four out/next four out), but what really surprises me is that they weren’t even among the last four teams in that have play-in games (Vanderbilt/Wichita St/Michigan/Tulsa). That this team was ranked ahead of all these teams plus some that missed the tournament is a bit crazy. These guys went just 9-10 against ACC teams, including losing three times to fellow bubble team Pittsburgh, and lost to Big East cellar dwellers Georgetown and St. John’s. I just don’t think they deserved it.
Lastly, the real head scratcher is Tulsa, a team Joe Lunardi didn’t even list on the bubble in his final Bracketology released just before the selection show. This is a 20-11 team in the very shaky American conference, an RPI/SOS of just 58/64, and a team that got crushed by Memphis in the American quarterfinals. It’s a real stunner, especially considering some teams that just missed the cut.
My three teams that I believe should’ve been in the tournament are St. Bonaventure, Monmouth, and South Carolina, in that order. However, I also believe St. Mary’s, San Diego State, and Valparaiso had strong resumes, and while they may not have been tournament teams, they should’ve at least beat Tulsa.
St. Bonaventure particularly surprised me, as I considered them a lock for all intents and purposes. The Bonnies were arguably the hottest team in college basketball once February hit, going 9-1 in their last 10 regular season games, including a road win against Dayton and a sweep of St. Joe’s. They finished tied for the A-10 regular season title, and with an RPI of 29. 29! Hard to imagine how a loss to Davidson in the A-10 tournament could take anything away from that.
All in all, it was just a really bad night for the “mid-majors”. It seems year in and year out that the committee prefers the average power conference teams to strong teams in lesser-known leagues. The committee says year after year that teams need quality wins, regardless of record. St. Bonaventure and Monmouth especially looked worthy. However, once again teams like Michigan, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, and Tulsa go dancing.
Blame the bid thieves? Slow down. Despite all the talk about teams who might steal tournament bids by winning their conference tournaments, the only real bid thief this year was Northern Iowa. So if you’re a fan of the Bonnies, blame Northern Iowa. Otherwise, blame the committee.
When I look at the seeding of all the teams in the tournament, a few things immediately pop out at me, the first being that Oregon was given a #1 seed. Sure, their 31-point victory over Utah in the Pac-12 championship game was one of the most impressive performances of the year by any team. But still, this means that Michigan State goes down to a 2-seed, and I think they just might be the best team in the country. I know I’m not alone in being surprised at this one.
Another interesting point to make about that 2-seed line: Villanova was put into Kansas’ South region. That typically means that the committee viewed them as the weakest of the 2-seeds. It was probably some kind of scheduling or travelling issue, but if not, that means the committee ranked Xavier as the best team out of the Big East. Interesting.
Another one of the most surprising committee decisions was Wichita State being given a play in game against Vanderbilt. Wichita State was another team considered a lock, and they only narrowly made the field despite dominating the Missouri Valley. It’s a testament to how much the committee favors power conferences.
I think the placement of the two top SEC teams was definitely a little backwards. These teams tied for the regular-season title, and Kentucky defeated Texas A&M in the SEC title game. However, A&M received a 3-seed while Kentucky is a 4. These should probably be reversed.
It seems like the 5-12 matchups are always scary. However, this year’s 5 line is incredibly strong. Maryland spent much of the year inside the top 10, and might have the best shot of any team in the South region of knocking off Kansas. Baylor is an incredible rebounding team coming out of the Big 12, the NCAA’s best conference, who could easily make a deep run. Indiana won the Big Ten regular season title outright, yet only received a 5. Purdue is very strong as well.
Despite beating Syracuse three times, both Pittsburgh and Syracuse received #10 seeds.
Overall, it seems like the committee really favored the Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and American conferences specifically while not giving as much credit to the Big Ten and Atlantic 10. All of the Big 12’s seven teams are favorites in the first round, with the lowest seed being #8 Texas Tech. The Pac-12 also had a few teams seeded surprisingly highly, including Oregon State and USC along with Oregon. The ACC received two #1 seeds despite none from the Big Ten or Big East. Don’t get me started on Tulsa.
- Matchups and Regions
For me, the strongest region in the bracket is easily the East. Top to bottom, this region is stacked. North Carolina is a strong #1 seed, the overall #2 in the tournament. Xavier is underrated, but an extremely tough team. West Virginia easily could have been a #2 but instead are a #3. Kentucky is a popular Final Four pick and a hot team right now, but in the second round they have a potential matchup against Big Ten regular season champs Indiana. Notre Dame had a great run last year, and Wisconsin made the championship game last season. Even the 12-14 seeds all have six or fewer losses. USC and Providence are also strong. Needless to say, that’ll be a tough one to predict.
I think the weakest region is the West. It has the weakest #1 in Oregon and #2 Oklahoma has to love their draw. #3 Texas A&M is overrated, as is #4 Duke. Many of these teams just have a lot of losses. #5 Baylor has 11, #6 Texas and #7 Oregon State have 12. These teams are good, but are proven to be very beatable. Expect possible madness.
However, if they do manage to both advance out of the first round, a 3-6 second round matchup between rivals Texas and Texas A&M would be huge.
Another dream matchup would be in the Midwest if #1 Virginia and #2 Michigan State met in the Elite 8. It would be a rematch of a great 2014 West Sweet Sixteen matchup.
To me, there aren’t a ton of possible upsets that jump off the page at me. Sure, they’ll happen, but they just don’t seem as predictable this year. Maybe it’s because so many #1 seeds lost in their conference tournaments. However, teams like Wichita State, Northern Iowa, VCU, Gonzaga, and Michigan are double-digit seeds that have proven their ability to beat good teams and there are many other smaller programs ready to make the most of their chance to knock off one of the big boys.
Make sure to keep checking Top Level Sports over the next few days for more coverage of March Madness as this is just the beginning. Strap in- the next few weeks will be a wild ride.