Much of the regional contingent in the NCAA basketball tournament faces a boot camp-caliber obstacle course on the road to the Final Four.
Start with VCU, a trendy pick despite Sunday’s loss to Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10 tournament final. The Rams (26-8) are the South Region’s No. 5 seed, and if they survive Thursday’s opening test against Mid-American Conference champion Akron in Auburn Hills, Mich., they could face a virtual road game against Michigan.
Playing an hour’s drive from their campus, the Wolverines should dispatch South Dakota State and advance to a Saturday game against VCU. Were the Rams to beat Michigan and reach the Sweet 16 in suburban Dallas, they could face two teams they defeated en route to the 2011 Final Four: top-seeded Kansas and No. 2 Georgetown.
Formidable as Michigan will be in Auburn Hills, Kansas will be more so in Kansas City. Jayhawks faithful are all about basketball, and after Bill Self’s top-seeded squad dusts Western Kentucky on Friday, it will face the North Carolina-Villanova winner Sunday.
During the modern era, Kansas is 6-1 in NCAA tournament games staged in Kansas City, the lone defeat to Virginia in the 1995 Midwest Regional semifinals. That was Curtis Staples, Harold Deane and Junior Burrough besting Jacque Vaughn, Raef LaFrentz and Greg Ostertag.
The Jayhawks’ coach at the time? Roy Williams, now at North Carolina. At least Williams’ Tar Heels, if they beat Villanova, will be accustomed to a pro-Kansas crowd. The Jayhawks defeated North Carolina in last season’s Midwest Regional final in St. Louis.
Duke defeated Louisville at a November tournament in the Bahamas before 3,511. A Midwest final between the region’s top seeds would draw considerably more to Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, about a two-hour drive from Louisville.
The last time the Blue Devils played in Lucas Oil, they defeated hometown Butler for the 2010 national championship. Announced attendance: 70,930.
Duke should dismiss Albany — we said the same thing last year about Lehigh — on Friday in Philadelphia to set up a Sunday matchup against either All-American Doug McDermott and Creighton, or the Big East’s Cincinnati. Pencil the Blue Devils into the regional semifinals.
The Hoosiers are the East’s top seed, with ACC regular-season and tournament champion Miami the No. 2. Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes head to Austin, Texas, where Friday they meet Pacific, followed by a presumed Sunday game against the Colorado-Illinois winner.
If Miami survives the first weekend, it travels to Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center for the regional semifinals. That’s the same building where Larranaga’s 2006 George Mason team defeated Wichita State and Connecticut to reach the Final Four.
But enough stalling. Time to offer some advice and picks.
If you’re hunting some double-digit seeds capable of creating chaos, consider Bucknell, Davidson, Boise State and Minnesota. The No. 1 with the toughest turn-around game: I think Pittsburgh takes out Gonzaga on Saturday.
Ken Pomeroy’s new-aged ratings have the Zags No. 4, just as the NCAA selection committee does. But Pomeroy’s numbers rank the Panthers No. 7 nationally, making them by far the most undervalued team in the field — they are seeded 31st overall and eighth in the West Region.
In the 10 previous seasons that Pomeroy rated teams, only one Final Four team has been below 50th in offensive efficiency — a calculation rooted in points-per-possession. Louisville was 103rd last year.
Only four of 40 Final Four squads were below 30th in defensive efficiency. The most recent were Nos. 41 Butler and 52 VCU in 2011.
Given those parameters, I’m eliminating Final Four-caliber teams such as Georgetown (No. 62 offense), Saint Louis (No. 58 offense) and, reluctantly, VCU (No. 43 defense).
The four regional final picks:
Midwest — Louisville over Duke.
West — Ohio State beats Pitt.
South — Kansas tops Georgetown.
East — Miami defeats Indiana.
More bracket nuggets: Virginia is 76th on the NCAA’s final Rating Percentage Index. The worst RPI for an at-large selection was No. 74 New Mexico in 1999.
The Cavaliers’ final non-conference strength of schedule is No. 300. The only at-large teams below 200 are 216 Boise State, 270 Notre Dame and 272 Pitt.
None of the 37 at-large teams lost to more than three opponents below 100th on the RPI. Virginia lost to seven.
Conversely, the Cavaliers’ eight top 100 wins match Massachusetts and Tennessee for the most among teams omitted.
The highest-rated RPI teams excluded from the field this season were Nos. 31 Southern Mississippi, 54 Louisiana Tech, 56 UMass and 57 Kentucky. The lowest-ranked RPI team to receive an at-large was No. 53 California.
Grading Teel Time’s bracket: The projected field I posted Saturday night included all 37 at-large selections. Thirty-two of 68 teams were seeded correctly, 26 within one line, 10 within two.
The lone outliers: I had eighth-seeded Pitt as a 5, 12th-seeded Oregon as an 8.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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