Not all Selection Sundays are created equal.  2016 was amusing in more ways than one…and often for the wrong reasons.  Time to sort out the seeds, snubs, TV turnovers and leaks…

More is Less– thank you CBS for filling two hours with a half-hour worth of material.  I know how much the TNT guys love college basketball for the one month they actually cover the sport, but outside of who has the coolest three piece suit did we need extended studio shenanigans?  I could see a 90-minute show if you have more interviews with coaches and actual analysis…but yesterday’s viewers were the first losers of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Paging Daniel Ellsberg– the bracket was actually busted before CBS could complete it’s wacky analysis segments.  Someone at the NCAA or CBS accidentally released the full tournament field…and it took off on twitter.  Whoever did that, shame on you.  And thank you for allowing me to fill out my sheet instead of having to sit through another CBS studio segment.

Planting Seeds– Kansas, North Carolina, Virginia and Oregon are the #1’s.  In a year where the top ten has been a volatile commodities market, there’s less of a difference between the ones and twos than in normal seasons–but I thought Michigan State deserved a #1 instead of Virginia or Oregon.  I also thought that the Jayhawks should have been placed in the Midwest (Chicago being a little closer to Lawrence than Louisville) bracket…and it felt like the Big Ten was devalued:  Maryland, Purdue and Indiana each getting #5’s?  Did they count having Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois in the league that much as a dead weight?

Shocks– Syracuse (19-13, 9-9 ACC) lost five of its last six games…went winless in its conference tournament and also lost in December to Georgetown and St. John’s.  Vanderibilt (19-13, 11-7 SEC) had an RPI of 61 while losing to Mississippi State and Tennessee.  Tulsa  (20-11, 12-6 AAC) lost twice to dumpster-fire Memphis in March…the NCAA must be looking to give the Golden Hurricane a bid before coach Frank Haith repeats the magic that got Miami and Missouri into hot water (and probation).  Just like UCLA reached the Sweet Sixteen despite not meriting inclusion in the field of 68 last year, expect one of those schools to win at least two games…

Snubs– Monmouth (27-7, 17-3 MAAC) missed out despite a pre-conference schedule that included wins at UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown.  We want schools to be ambitious–yet don’t reward a school that does just that.   Perhaps a 70-year old in the committee was put off by the Hawks “creative dancing bench” (“that will show those young punks not to clown around on the court during a game”).  St. Bonaventure (22-8, 14-4 Atlantic 10) finished the regular season with a five game winning streak that included triumphs over Dayton and Saint Joseph’s…only to get bounced by Davidson in the A-10 Quarterfinals.  St. Mary’s (27-5, 15-3 WCC) and San Diego State (25-9, 16-2 MWC) dominated their leagues after posting wins over Pac-12 schools but find themselves bound for the NIT as well.

Taking the “Sunday” out of “Selection Sunday”– Was the committee even in session yesterday?  Or did they have an extra-long brunch?  Because somehow Kentucky beat Texas A&M on a neutral floor yet was seeded lower than the Aggies two hours later.  Michigan State’s placement as a #2 seemed to not take into account their Big Ten championship win.  Tulsa felt like they were simply a last-second fill-in for Memphis after the Tigers lost the AAC title game.

NIT-picking:  George Washington (23-10, 11-7 Atlantic 10) was at least one win-perhaps two- away from the NCAA’s…and the Colonials face Hofstra in the NIT First Round Wednesday.  Smith Center is a great place to watch a basketball game and metro accessible (Foggy Bottom–Orange/Silver/Blue line stop) as well.  This would be a great appetizer to Thursday’s viewing buffet.  That Virginia Tech (19-14, 10-8 ACC) is in postseason play at all is a minor miracle given the nasty nacho plate Buzz Williams inherited two years ago.  They get a chance to build on their late-season surge (a six game winning streak before the ACC Quarterfinal loss to Miami) by hosting Princeton Wednesday.

First things First– I’m excited that the First Four will be just that…and not the “first round”.  I’m still perplexed that it has to be in Dayton…meaning the winner of Holy Cross and Southern Wednesday has to fly to Spokane for a Friday game.  Why not let the schools go to the first weekend sites to begin with and play their games there?

Upset Insurance—CBS and the NCAA in no way whatsoever attempt to massage the brackets in a way to maximize TV audience interest. But somehow they have a potential Michigan-Notre Dame game in the first round if the Wolverines survive the First Four…while Texas-Texas A&M and Villanova-Temple are possible second round showdowns. Call it upset insurance…if the seeds hold you have better matchups on paper, while if the bracket breaks just right you have a more compelling storyline.

 

Maryland (25-8, 12-6 Big Ten, lost in the conference tourney semifinals)– the Terps get a #5 seed in the South and a first weekend destination of Spokane, Washington.   They’re in a bracket with South Dakota State (who doesn’t like the Terrapin/Tortoise-Jackrabbit/Hare matchup?) with the other first round game pitting Cal against Hawaii.  Just to show the committee has its eye on the second weekend as well, should Maryland advance to the Sweet Sixteen their likely opponent would be #1 seed Kansas.  Hey…didn’t coach Mark Turgeon attend that school?

Player to Watch:  that Melo Trimble has been banged this winter is no secret…the sophomore has had hamstring and back issues crop up sporadically during Big Ten play.  Over the last eight regular season games, Trimble has shot 31% from the field (after hitting 46% of his shots over the first 25 games of the season)…and his assist-to-turnover ratio in that span is a shell of its former self:  from 133/62 (2.14) over the first 25 to 36/26 (1.38) over the last eight.  Good or bad…the Terrapins fortunes offensively begin with #2.

Darkhorse Breakout Candidate:  while everyone is waiting for Diamond Stone to return to the against-Penn State version (39 points and 12 rebounds against the Nittany Lions), Robert Carter Jr. has been heating up:  over the last four games the forward is making 60% of his shots while averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds.  If he can stay out of foul trouble, the junior will provide matchup nightmares for opponents already preoccupied with Stone in the post and Trimble on the perimeter.

Road to the Penthouse: the Terps benefit from the extra day (they play Friday) off…as well as playing on the other side of the country.  Having played in the same Cancun Tournament as the Jackrabbits, they’re ready for South Dakota State and dispatch Cal in the second round.  After a week of answering Kansas questions coach Mark Turgeon notches a win over his alma mater…and then beat a turnover-prone Miami team two days later to reach the Final Four.  Houston, baby!

Road to the Outhouse: you know about the “5-12 curse”?  The Terps are confounded by 6-foot-9 freshman Mike Daum (15 points per game on 20 minutes per contest) and the big men get in foul trouble.  The Jackrabbits turn Trimble over and Rasheed Sulaimon has another 2-for-15 shooting night.  The road to the Final Four ends 2400 miles away from College Park.

 

Virginia (26-7, 13-5 ACC, lost in the conference tourney finals)– the Cavaliers get a #1 seed in the Midwest and a first weekend destination of Raleigh, North Carolina.  They’ll play Hampton in the First Round (the Pirates winning the MEAC for the second straight year) with Texas Tech/Butler the 8-9 matchup in their bracket.  Best news?  Tony Bennett’s team was recognized for a great season and gets their second #1 seed in three years.  Worst news?  Recent nemesis Michigan State (Spartans ended the last two UVa seasons) is the region’s #2.

Player to Watch:  Malcolm Brogdon may have shot 6 for 22 against North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game…but the senior remains their #1 offensive weapon (averaging 20 points a game this month).  While he’s yet to shoot over 50% from the field in an NCAA Tournament game (his career numbers are 19-of-59, 32%), in order for the Cavaliers to advance they need Brogdon to produce.

Darkhorse Breakout Candidate:  all season the Cavaliers have looked for that “other guy” to complement their power trio of Brogdon, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes- only to have the likes of Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall and Darius Thompson remind one of Gunther at the coffee shop:  shining in some episodes, absent in others…and never seriously a Friend.  Senior center Mike Tobey has spent his entire Cavaliers career on the fringe… played anywhere from 13 to 18 minutes a game while averaging 6.8, 6.9, 6.4 and 6.8 points per game.  He’s capable of 15 points and 20 rebounds against Louisville in the season finale–but also capable of 17 points and 16 rebounds over three games at the ACC Tournament.   If the 7-footer can provide another post presence, UVa will be tough to contain.

Road to the Penthouse:  Playing in Raleigh gives them the comfort necessary to dodge first-weekend obstacles…and they exorcise their recent March demons by beating Michigan State in the Regional Finals (in Chicago, no less).  Avenging their ACC loss to North Carolina in the National Semifinals sets up a title tilt against Duke–and Grayson Allen trips over his own feet while trying to get off a last-second shot.  BANNER!

Road to the Outhouse:  After a confidence-inflating victory over Hampton, the Cavaliers are confounded by Butler’s up-tempo offense (Bulldogs rank 22nd in the nation in scoring).  Kellen Dunham sinks three after three and UVa can’t keep pace in a shootout.  North Carolina fans arriving early for their game with Providence are in attendance…and while Tar Heel fans are far too dignified to say anything derogatory, the Cavalier faithful can’t look them in the eye as they stagger out of the arena into another offseason of head-scratching.

 

VCU (24-10, 14-4 Atlantic 10, lost in conference finals)- the Rams get a #10 seed in the West and a trip to Oklahoma City where they will play Oregon State Friday.  Lurking around the corner?  Oklahoma and Player of the year candidate Buddy Heild (providing the Sooners beat Cal State Bakersfield).  From what I understand the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City happen to be located in the same state.

Player to Watch:  Melvin Johnson leads the Rams in scoring, but JeQuan Lewis initiates play on both sides of the floor…running the offense (4.8 assists per game ranked 4th in the A-10) while spearheading the defense that finished 9th in Division I in steals per game.  The junior catalyst is also the team’s best three-point shooter (41% from outside the arc).

Darkhorse Breakout Candidate:  Graduate transfer Korey Billbury came to VCU after three seasons at Oral Roberts.  This winter the guard is second on the Rams in scoring and rebounding while shooting over 40% from three point range…and scored a team-high 19 points against St. Joe’s in the A-10 Finals.  Will this senior shine in March?

Road to the Penthouse:  the Rams upset an Oregon State team that’s reaching the tournament for the first time since Gary Payton was a student in 1990…before their trademark havoc turns Oklahoma inside-out.  Buddy Hield can’t get untracked and the Rams advance to play Texas and Shaka Smart in the Sweet Sixteen.  Smart does chest-bumps with both teams during pre-game introductions.

Road to the Outhouse:  Oregon State behind Gary Payton II (son of you know who) survives the Rams havoc.  By the way, the Beavers also boast high flying Stephen Thompson Jr. (son of the Syracuse guard).  After further investigation, Jarmal Reid is not JR Reid’s son–nor is assistant coach Kerry Rupp the child of the late HOF coach Adolph Rupp, but one had to check.  Leading scorer Melvin Johnson’s two game slump (14 points on 5-13 shooting and 2-9 from three point range) continues…and VCU gets bounced by the Beavers.

Portions also appearing on WTOP.COM.

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