Is a repeat in the Cards for Louisville?
Kentucky was the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA title when this season began, but on Selection Sunday, the Wildcats were an eighth seed. They were only the first of five teams to reach the No. 1 ranking, preceding Michigan State, Arizona, Syracuse and Florida, the current No. 1 and the top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The closest thing to a dominant team is Missouri Valley champion Wichita State, which is 34-0, ranked No. 2 and the top seed in the Midwest Regional. But the NCAA selection committee mistrusted the Shockers' weak schedule so much that it loaded that regional with powerhouse programs, including defending national champion Louisville, which received only a fourth seed.
It should make for a tournament as unpredictable as the season. Here's Newsday's breakdown:
SOUTH: Coach Billy Donovan's Gators have fallen in the Elite Eight the past three years and return a veteran group that should profit from the experience. Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young and Will Yeguete all played significant roles a year ago, and they are 3-0 against Kentucky this season.
Other dangerous teams are Syracuse, which held the No. 1 ranking but finished 2-5, Kansas, Virginia Commonwealth and dark horse New Mexico. You could add Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are in line for a virtual road game against the Orange in the third round in Buffalo. Watch out for the Mountain West champion Lobos, who have struggled in the NCAA but are a physical, veteran team that could upset Kansas, whose center, Joel Embiid, might miss the first weekend of the tournament.
EAST: Virginia was the surprising winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference and added the tournament title by beating Duke to become the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA field. The Cavaliers are a rugged defensive team that is headed to a potential Sweet 16 meeting with another more accomplished defensive team in Big Ten Tournament champ Michigan State. For a No. 1 seed, the Cavs' resume has major question marks with home losses to VCU and Wisconsin and at Wisconsin-Green Bay, which was among the first four left out of the field.
Big East regular-season champion Villanova is in the bottom half of this bracket as the second seed and 11th-seeded Big East Tournament champ Providence also is in the same half of the bracket. The sleeper is Big 12 Tournament champ Iowa State, whose last four wins were over NCAA Tournament teams.
WEST: Arizona is the top seed in the weakest regional. The Wildcats' combination of Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon had them at the top of the polls much of the season. They could be tested in the third round if Oklahoma State and Marcus Smart make it past Gonzaga in their opener.
Creighton and Doug McDermott have a shot to make a Final Four run but could face in-state rival Nebraska. Second-seeded Wisconsin has wins over two of the No. 1 seeds in the field, Florida and Virginia, and a stellar resume. The Badgers have a top backcourt with Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson.
MIDWEST: Unsure about the strength of Wichita State's schedule, the committee lined up Kentucky as a possible third-round opponent, and if the Shockers win, they could meet Louisville in the Sweet 16 for a rematch of last year's national semifinal. As if Cleanthony Early and his teammates didn't prove their mettle last season.
Schedule questions kept the defending champ Cardinals a fourth seed. If they get past the top half of this bracket, Duke and national runner-up Michigan are waiting in the bottom half. It's possible Rick Pitino's team could replay both of last year's Final Four games in this regional. With Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith playing so well, it's also possible the Cards could repeat as national champs.