How do you sort out Selection Sunday Shenanigans? It’s tough to piece together a 68-school tournament bracket…but there are always things to nitpick each and every year. And 2015 is no different…
Chasing Kentucky– the Wildcats to the surprise of absolutely no one receive the #1 overall seed and a three bus rides: they spend the first weekend in Louisville (78 miles away from Lexington), the second weekend in Cleveland (a 5-hour drive from Rupp Arena) and the third weekend in Indianapolis (a 3-hour drive from campus). Big Blue Nation can save on hotel rooms…giving the rational fan base more money to throw at “I Still Hate Laettner” t-shirts.
Planting Seeds– Villanova snagged the #1 seed in the East away from Virginia thanks to their roll through the Big East Tournament. Wisconsin snagged the #1 seed in the West by winning the Big Ten in overtime. Therefore the fourth #1 seed goes to…Duke? The Blue Devils finished behind Virginia in the ACC and lost in the conference tournament semifinals. I would have placed Arizona in the fourth #1 spot.
Who Got Hosed– forget about a school getting a #4 instead of a #3 (Maryland)…which teams got robbed? Davidson despite entering the Atlantic 10 Tournament ranked 24th (which would generate a 6 seed) gets a #10. Miami (Fla) misses the field despite a 10-8 ACC record, 7 road wins and a victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor. Boise State plays Dayton in a First Four game–on Dayton’s home floor. The First Four is basically the extra helpings of bread I don’t even acknowledge when I eat out at the March Madness Cafe.
Maryland (27-6, 13-5 Big Ten, lost in the conference tourney semis)– the Terps get a #4 seed in the Midwest and a first weekend destination of Columbus, Ohio after just about everybody had the team ticketed for a #3 seed in the East playing in Pittsburgh. I think Notre Dame winning the ACC Tournament moved the Fighting Irish into that spot–forcing the Terps down one slot. Unfortunately that slot is in the same region as favorite Kentucky (a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup). Columbus is also an easier commute for #13 seed Valparaiso and #5 seed West Virginia. Stop complaining Terp fans! Your school is in the Big Dance for the first time since Gary Williams was mispronouncing Greivis Vasquez (alternating between Greevous and Grayvous).
Player to Watch: Melo Trimble is the engine that makes this train run. The freshman transformed a program that was hemorrhaging players last spring into a tournament team…averaging 16 points and 3 assists. Would he slow down once Big Ten play started? Hardly. Will he slow down now that the NCAA Tournament is underway? Don’t bet on it…
Darkhorse Breakout Candidate: while Dez Wells and Jake Layman are the other two main offensive cogs, the Terps need help from one of the “other guys” on this roster if they’re to make a deep run. Evan Smotrycz began the year injured and spent most of the season on the fringe–before averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds during two Big Ten Tournament games. Can the senior build on that and turn around what’s been a difficult final season?
Road to the Penthouse: the Terps use their #4 seed as motivation. Melo Trimble, Dez Wells and Jake Layman fire on all cylinders as they bounce Valparaiso and West Virginia–before becoming Kentucky’s #3 victim on their march to immortality.
Road to the Outhouse: they never get over getting the shaft–and come out sluggish Friday afternoon against Valparaiso. The big men come up small. Their tournament inexperience comes back to haunt them as the Crusaders notch an upset for the ages.
Georgetown (21-10, 12-6 Big East, lost in the conference tourney semis)– the Hoyas go west to Portland, Oregon for the first weekend as the #4 seed in the South bracket. Coach John Thompson III’s team was consistently uneven against elite competition–looking great in 20+ plus wins against Villanova and St. John’s but finishing 4-6 against the top six teams in the Big East. Xavier and Providence were bad matchups that caused the offense to self-destruct…and away from home Georgetown was 5-4. Now they have to head all of the way across the country? Does somebody have it in for the Hoyas?
Player to Watch: D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. The junior guard leads the team in scoring and assists while also ranking third on the team in rebounding. On a team without a true point guard, Smith-Rivera provides a clear head offensively. On a team with multiple freshman playing major minutes, the upperclassmen provides a steady hand. If the Hoyas make a run, he’ll be the reason why.
Darkhorse Breakout Candidate: freshman Isaac Copeland appeared to have turned the corner in January–averaging 11 points over a 10-game stretch where he became the secondary offensive option (we won’t even discuss how center Joshua Smith’s inability to be an offensive factor thanks to continual foul trouble). Then he suffered not a “freshman 15″ but a “freshman 16″–managing 16 points over the next four games as Copeland suffered a 4-21 shooting slump. Could a 15-point effort in the Big East Semifinals against Xavier be the start of a monster March?
Road to the Penthouse: the Hoyas find their offensive identity and scrape past Eastern Washington before benefitting by Stephen F. Austin’s upset of Utah. The Lumberjacks are no match for the Coach John Thompson III’s team–who reach the second weekend of the big dance for the first time 2007. Even a loss to top-seeded Duke doesn’t dim the shine of a fantastic tournament run.
Road to the Outhouse: Eastern Washington travels well to nearby Portland, Oregon. The Hoyas offense stagnates and Joshua Smith gets into early foul trouble. Eagles sophomore guard Tyler Harvey (23ppg) goes off and the Hoyas D can’t contain him. Another agonizing defeat to a double-digit seed for coach John Thompson III.
Virginia (29-3, 16-2 ACC, lost in the conference tourney semis)– the Cavaliers get a #2 seed in the East after being ranked in the top five for most of the season. You could make the case for UVa being in the same bracket as the softest of the #1’s (Villanova has looked suspect in losses and capitalized on a not-as-good-as-you-think Big East). While defense was the difference this winter–the Cavaliers led the nation in scoring defense (50.8 points allowed per game)–Tony Bennett’s offense is highly effective–ranking 53rd in shooting. Last year coach Tony Bennett guided the Cavaliers to their first ACC Regular Season Title since 1983 and their first ACC Tournament championship since 1976. Can he lead the UVa to their first Final Four since 1984?
Player to Watch: Malcolm Brogdon tallied 25 points (including 12 straight at one point) in the ACC loss to North Carolina–and remains the #1 offensive option on a team that doesn’t score a lot (225th in Division I). They need the 6-foot-5 matchup nightmare to produce from the perimeter with Justin Anderson still working his way back from injury.
Darkhorse Breakout Candidate: can you be a breakout candidate if you’re the team’s best player? Justin Anderson missed eight games–the first seven with a broken pinkie and the eighth because of an appendectomy. In two ACC Tournament games the junior shot 0-for-6 in 26 minutes played…if he can regain his previous form (13ppg, 47% three-point shooting) the Cavaliers will suddenly have that necessary extra gear for the Big Dance.
Road to the Penthouse: Anderson is fully healed and gives the stagnating offense exactly what it was missing. The Cavaliers cruise into the Final Four after disposing of an overseeded Villanova in the Elite Eight. Once there, they face a spent Wisconsin team that has nothing left in the tank after upsetting Kentucky. BANNER!
Road to the Outhouse: The offense stays in neutral and Justin Anderson fails to regain his pre-injury form. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans bounce the Cavaliers for the second straight year–only this time in the round of 32. A heartbreaking loss made even worse by Duke advancing to the Sweet 16 in the same building hours before…and the Blue Devil faithful stay to cheer on the Cavaliers’ collapse.
VCU (26-9, 12-6 Atlantic 10, won conference tournament)– the Rams locked up an automatic bid by winning four games over four days in Brooklyn. Coach Shaka Smart’s team gets a #7 seed in the West and plays Ohio State in Portland Thursday. Who’s ready for another tournament run?
Player to Watch: Treveon Graham leads the Rams in scoring and rebounding–while ranking second on the team in three-point shooting. With Briante Weber in streetclothes it’s imperative that VCU’s alpha dog shoulders the burden.
Darkhorse Breakout Candidate: JeQuan Lewis was thrust into the starting lineup when Weber went down with a season-ending knee injury. During the A-10 Tournament the sophomore averaged 11 points and 3 assists–while also turning the ball over 3 times a game. The Rams need Lewis to take better care of the ball in the Big Dance.
Road to the Penthouse: the Rams bounce Ohio State in the first round and coach Shaka Smart’s havoc defense shocks Arizona to get to the sweet sixteen. Shaka Smart signs a 10-year contract with such a ridiculous buyout there’s no way he’d ever leave for greener pastures.
Road to the Outhouse: The A-10 run was merely a mirage as Ohio State exposes the Rams deficiencies that were evident in their 5-6 finish. The Buckeyes D’Aangelo Russell has a field day and VCU heads home...only to lose Shaka Smart to the Alabama vacancy.
Portions previously appeared on WTOP.COM.