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Perspective | John Feinstein’s region-by-region breakdown: Iowa State deserved better

Perspective | John Feinstein’s region-by-region breakdown: Iowa State deserved better

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

It really doesn’t matter who ends up as NCAA tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, but for anyone who watched games this season (something selection committee members apparently are often too busy to do), there was no question which team has been the best: defending champion Connecticut.

Danny Hurley did a remarkable job of rebuilding after losing most of his top players from last year’s title team. Does that mean the Huskies will cut down the nets again April 8? That’s a definite maybe.

Two other teams from last year’s Final Four — San Diego State and Florida Atlantic — join U-Conn. in this bracket. Neither would appear to be as strong as it was a season ago — though San Diego State is a No. 5 seed, just as it was last March. In fact, U-Conn.’s toughest competition might come from Auburn, the No. 4 seed, though the Tigers will have to get past Yale (never an easy out under James Jones) and possibly San Diego State just to reach a potential matchup with the Huskies.

If anyone has reason to complain in this bracket, it is Iowa State, which many people thought might jump to a No. 1 seed after North Carolina lost Saturday in the ACC final to North Carolina State.

Instead, the Cyclones, who hammered Houston, 69-41, in the Big 12 tournament championship game Saturday, got stuck in the same bracket as Connecticut. The committee will claim their weak nonconference schedule hurt them. How about their record the past two months? Just to get to a potential region final against U-Conn., Iowa State probably would have to win a tough Sweet 16 matchup against Illinois.

The best story in this region is Duquesne, which last made the tournament in 1977 — when Norm Nixon was the Dukes’ point guard, Dean Smith had yet to win a national title and Mike Krzyzewski was in his second season at Army.

The Dukes won four games as the sixth seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament to end their drought. Coach Keith Dambrot, whose dad played on powerhouse Duquesne teams in the 1950s, might retire at season’s end at least in part to spend more time with his wife, Donna, who is battling breast cancer.

I am completely unbiased but … go Dukes!

The team that has the most to complain about in this region is Wisconsin. Why? A No. 5 seed seems about right for a team that just missed winning the Big Ten tournament Sunday, but the Badgers’ first-round opponent is James Madison. The Dukes are 31-3, including a victory at Michigan State in November. The committee insists November wins carry weight, so how did JMU end up as a No. 12 seed? That’s not to say Wisconsin can’t or won’t win the game, but it is an unfair matchup for both teams.

The winner probably will face Duke, which dropped from a possible No. 2 seed a couple of weeks ago to a No. 4 after losing its regular season finale at home to North Carolina and then its ACC tournament opener to N.C. State, the eventual champion. If the Blue Devils come out as flat as they did against the Wolfpack, they could lose to Vermont, a perennial tournament team that has one of the most underrated coaches in the country in John Becker.

Whoever emerges from that pod almost certainly will face top-seeded Houston. Like fellow No. 1 seeds North Carolina and Purdue, the Cougars lost in their conference tournament, getting blasted by Iowa State. Some will pick them to lose to the winner of the Nebraska-Texas A&M — the Aggies are capable, having beaten Kentucky twice — but I suspect Houston will bounce back and will be too much for Duke, even if the Blue Devils make it to the second weekend. Speed kills.

If N.C. State has enough left emotionally to get past Texas Tech after winning five games in the ACC tournament, including victories over rivals Duke and North Carolina, the Wolfpack could be a difficult challenge for Kentucky in the second round.

Kentucky is in the bottom of the bracket — it’s amazing how often Duke and Kentucky end up in the same region — but the Wildcats are a pretty good pick to make the Final Four as a No. 3 seed if they play to their potential. Kentucky is like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “There Was a Little Girl”: When they’re good, they’re very good, and when they’re bad, they’re horrid. They open against Oakland, a lovely story under Coach Greg Kampe, in his 40th season at the school.

The biggest question in this region is the health of Marquette’s Tyler Kolek. With him, the Golden Eagles can beat anyone. Without him, they are just a step above ordinary. Since arriving at Marquette, Shaka Smart has proved his middling record at Texas was the result of a bad fit. He is back to being the hot young coach he was when he took VCU to the Final Four 13 years and about four hairstyles ago.

The 7-foot-4 question in this region is whether this will be the year that two-time player of the year Zach Edey and Purdue finally make it to the Final Four.

The Boilermakers were a tick of the clock away from beating eventual national champion Virginia in the 2019 South Region final. In the three tournaments since, Purdue lost in the first round as a No. 4 seed to No. 13 seed North Texas; lost as a No. 3 seed in the Sweet 16 to No. 15 seed St. Peter’s in 2022; and last season lost in the first round to 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson, making Purdue only the second No. 1 seed in 39 years to lose its tournament opener.

Matt Painter is in a club of accomplished coaches who never reached a Final Four that includes Lefty Driesell, John Chaney and Painter’s mentor, Gene Keady. Painter would like to join them in the Hall of Fame someday but would prefer to make a Final Four first.

This is Edey’s last shot. As good as he and Purdue have been the past three seasons, they have shown a tendency to flame out late in important games, especially in March. Their bracket doesn’t appear to be all that daunting.

Tennessee is the No. 2 seed and faces 2022 darling St. Peter’s in the first round, and Creighton, a Jekyll and Hyde team, is the No. 3. Lurking at No. 4 is Kansas, which can be a very tough out if Hunter Dickinson is healthy, though this has been Coach Bill Self’s most difficult season since he arrived in Lawrence in 2003. There’s also Virginia, Purdue’s 2019 nemesis, opening in Dayton as one of the last four teams in the field.

Purdue should not be in danger in a first-round game against Montana State or Grambling and should reach the Sweet 16. (Then again, it should not have been in danger last year against Fairleigh Dickinson.)

After Utah State or TCU in the second round, the Boilermakers could be looking at Gonzaga or Kansas, assuming the Jayhawks hold off McNeese, which at No. 12 might be the most underseeded team in the tournament. Say what you want about the Cowboys’ Will Wade — and people say plenty — but the guy can coach. He put together a brand-spanking new team after being hired in April and won 30 games. McNeese is fast, good and dangerous.

Tennessee is another of those hot-and-cold teams. Rick Barnes’s teams always play good defense, and in Dalton Knecht, the Vols have a true offensive threat. That said, they had better beware of the Peacock.

As usual, the committee didn’t do the HBCU conferences any favors, sending the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference champions to Dayton for play-in games: Grambling to play Montana State and Howard to play Wagner.

Both can win … to earn the right to face No. 1 seeds two days later.

That said, the Bison’s presence in the tournament for a second straight year is a tribute to Coach Kenny Blakeney and his players, who upset top-seeded Norfolk State in the MEAC tournament semifinals and then held on against Delaware State in the final. Howard had one winning season in 29 years before Blakeney arrived. It has now had three straight.

Despite losing in the ACC tournament championship game, UNC held on to a No. 1 seed and now tries for a second Final Four in three seasons under Coach Hubert Davis — with no bid at all in-between.

The committee did the Tar Heels no favors with a second-round matchup against either Mississippi State or Michigan State. This is not one of Tom Izzo’s better Spartans teams, but any team coached by Izzo is dangerous in March.

So is St. Mary’s, which deserved better than a No. 5 seed after winning the WCC regular season and tournament titles. The Gaels’ point guard is Augustas Marciulionis, son of Sarunas, who led the Soviet Union to its 1988 Olympic upset of the last U.S. team that didn’t include professionals.

The No. 2 seed is Arizona, which looked like a No. 1 seed most of the season before a late fade. The Wildcats open against Long Beach State, which announced it was parting with Coach Dan Monson and then won the Big West tournament.

Do not count out Alabama, which should face St. Mary’s in a second-round game worth watching.

The most underseeded team in this bracket, and perhaps the entire field? No. 14 Colgate. The Raiders dominated the Patriot League for a fourth straight season, and the only mystery bigger than why they can’t land a decent seed is why a bigger program hasn’t tried to hire Coach Matt Langel. Maybe no one can find Hamilton, N.Y. Which is a blessing for Colgate.

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