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2015 NCAA Tournament: A Challenging Field But Not Impossible.

Duke's potential opponents in the Elite Eight suggest the relative folly of using power rankings to judge a team's path. Gonzaga is the highest rated roadblock for Duke in the South, but in my opinion, No. 3 seed Iowa State is a much more dangerous foe for the Blue Devils, because they are exactly the kind of team to give Duke fits.

Will Grayson Allen be a major factor in this year's tournan
Will Grayson Allen be a major factor in this year's tournan
Evan Pike-USA TODAY Sports

The moment the NCAA Tournament field was announced Sunday night, the critics raised their annual chorus of complaints and second-guesses.

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For once, the normally critical voices of the CBS and ESPN "experts" were fairly restrained. Their biggest outrage - and it wasn't much - was over the inclusion of Texas and UCLA in the field. But nobody could raise much passion over any team that got stiffed in favor of the two big-name mediocrities.

But the internet exploded with a familiar theme - that much-despised Duke was handed an easy path to the Final Four. We all heard it in 2010, although you didn't hear much about it in 2013, when a Duke team ranked No. 1 in the RPI was given a No. 2 seed and put in the same bracket with the No. 1 seed in the entire tournament (and the eventual champion).

There are two major problems with making such judgments on Selection Sunday. First, while matchups can be important - even vital - it's not so much about the relative strength of various teams, it's how the matchups relate to style of play.

Duke's Achilles heel is teams that slash to the basket and hit 3-pointers. It doesn't matter than other kinds of teams might be ranked higher.

But, even more importantly, it's ridiculous to look at a bracket and judge a team's path to the Final Four, because they may not end up playing the best teams that seem to be ahead of them.

Duke DID get lucky in 2010, not because of the selection committee, but because No. 1 Kansas choked in the second round against Northern Iowa and No 2 Kentucky gagged in its regional semifinal matchup with West Virginia.

Just for fun, let's check the path facing Duke and compare it with the path facing the other three No. 1 seeds.

It starts with the 1 vs. 16 game in what the NCAA confusingly calls "the second round."

Right now, Duke doesn't know who it will get, but in all likelihood, it will be North Florida.

The Ospreys are Pomeroy's 127th ranked team - by far the highest ranked 16th seed. In fact, North Florida is ranked higher than No. 13 seed Eastern Washington (136), No. 14 Albany (131) and three No. 15s - Belmont (149) and North Dakota State (151) and Texas Southern (207).

Even if Robert Morris upsets North Florida in Dayton Wednesday night, RMU would rank as the third-toughest 16 seeds at 173 - better than the Lafayette (195) team that Villanova gets.

No. 1 vs. No. 8/9

Assuming Duke wins the opener (no guarantees as we learned in 2012 and 2014), the Devils would get either No. 27 San Diego State or No. 42 St. John's in the round of 32. Guess which team is the highest ranked 8/9 team in the field - that's right, the Aztecs.

Villanova gets either No. 38 N.C. State or No. 43 LSU. Wisconsin gets No. 37 Oklahoma State or No. 46 Oregon. Kentucky gets No. 34 Cincinnati or No. 49 Purdue.

Depending on the results of the first round (in Dayton) and the second round (the round of 64), Duke could start off playing toughest path to the Sweet 16.

Note: Checking the DBR message board, I was surprised to see how many posters seem to take it for granted that Duke will play St. John's in the second round. Personally, I think San Diego State -- a higher rated team with a lot of NCAA experience (and IMHO a much better tournament coach) - is very, very likely to eliminate the Johnnies. FWIW, Pomeroy rates the Aztecs as a 58 percent favorite.

No. 1 vs. No. 4/5

It gets harder to predict the deeper we get into the tournament, but most likely the No. 1 seeds will play the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the Sweet 16. It could be an 11 or a 12, but if that happens, it will be an obvious break for the No. 1 seed in that region.

But let's assume that all the No. 1s get to play a 4 or a 5. Who has the biggest potential test in that case?

It turns out that Duke potentially faces the best 4/5 team in the field - No. 8 Utah, the fifth seed. It could be No. 22 Georgetown.

Villanova could face No. 12 Northern Iowa or No. 18 Louisville. Wisconsin could face No. 16 UNC or No. 29 Arkansas.

Kentucky has the easiest path through this round with either No. 25 West Virginia or No. 33 Maryland.

So through the first three rounds, Duke has potentially toughest path in each round - unless there are some upsets to help the Devils along the way.

No. 1 vs. No. 2/3

Again, there are a lot of lower seeds that could sneak in here, but assuming the top seeds get though, the No. 1 seeds should be meeting the No. 2 or No. 3 seeds in the Elite Eight.

Duke doesn't face the toughest - or even second toughest 2/3 combination.

Wisconsin has the toughest No. 2 seed (No. 2 Arizona), although No. 3 seed Baylor (No. 15 in Pomeroy) is a relatively weak No. 3.

Villanova has a tougher combo - No. 4 Virginia or No. 9 Oklahoma.

Duke could get No. 6 Gonzaga or No. 13 Iowa State.

Kentucky's challenge comes from No. 10 Notre Dame or No. 11 Kansas.

Just a note - Duke's potential opponents in the Elite Eight suggest the relative folly of using power rankings to judge a team's path. Gonzaga is the highest rated roadblock for Duke in the South, but in my opinion, No. 3 seed Iowa State is a much more dangerous foe for the Blue Devils, because they are exactly the kind of team to give Duke fits.

Still, overall, Duke could very well have the toughest path to the Final Four … although we'll have to wait and see what the real matchups are before making that determination.


From what little I've seen of North Florida and the slightly more I have read about the Ospreys, they remind me of a somewhat older version of the Virginia Tech team that gave Duke such trouble in Blacksburg.

Coach Matthew Driscoll has a bevy of guards and he turns them loose to shoot a ton of 3-pointers. North Florida averaged 9 of 23 shooting on 3-pointers for the season, hitting 39.1 percent. The Ospreys actually average about six more attempts a game than the Hokies - and hit almost exactly the same 39 percent of those attempts.

Sophomore guard Dallas Moore (15.9 ppg) and 6-8 junior Beau Beech (12.5 ppg) are the chief scoring threats, while 6-8 Henry Davenport (11.5 ppg and 6.5 rebounds) is the top inside player. Driscoll does have one big man, but 6-11, 235-pound soph Romelo Banks puts up modest numbers.

North Florida played six power conference teams early in the season, recording one significant win - a 73-70 victory at Purdue. The Ospreys also lost at NCAA-bound Iowa (80-70), at Florida State (93-77), at South Carolina (81-56), at Alabama (76-61) and at Northwestern, where the Wildcats won 69-67. Throw in a loss at Northern Iowa (66-49) and it's obvious that Driscoll's team has plenty of experience against big-name opponents.


-- I think both N.C. State and UNC got favorable seeds. The Wolfpack could lose to LSU, of course, but it's a winnable game. And if they do move on No. 1 seed Villanova in the next round, I like the Pack's chances of pulling an upset.

Interesting that the committee lined Villanova's path to the Final Four with ACC teams. They could end up playing N.C. State, Louisville, Virginia and Duke in consecutive games.

North Carolina is matched up against Tommy Amaker's Harvard team, which offers an interesting contrast between a school where kids go to be educated and a school that has made a mockery of education to support a successful basketball (and football) program.

But ethical concerns aside, it's a game that UNC should win. Tommy has had better teams in recent years. This one lost to Boston College for the first time in ages and was lucky to get past Yale to win the Ivy's bid.

You'd love to see Amaker win, but it seems a long shot to me.

And if UNC gets past the Crimson, I foresee no problems with a grossly overrated Arkansas team in the next round. I do think that getting past No. 1 Wisconsin will be much, much tougher in the Sweet 16.

-- The ACC got just six teams in the field, but five of them were seeded in the top four - meaning that it wouldn't take any upsets to get five ACC teams in the Sweet 16.

The ACC, trying to rebuild its reputation as the nation's best basketball conference, needs something like that to help repair the league's national reputation.

It's been a decade since the ACC actually WAS the nation's best conference - an honor I would argue that it held for 26 years - from 1980-2005. The proof was in the NCAA results. Over that span, the ACC won more titles, more NCAA games and had a better NCAA winning percentage than any other conference - and it wasn't close.

The last great year was 2005 -- the ACC not only won the national title, but put three teams in the Sweet 16 and finished with a 12-4 overall record. A year earlier, the ACC had two teams in the Final Four, a third Sweet 16 team and a 14-6 NCAA record,.

The ACC has won two national titles in the ensuing decade, but the league hasn't won more than nine NCAA games in any season since. The ACC is 63-46 inNCAA play over that span - not bad, but not up to the standards the league once maintained.

The ACC is currently on a four-year streak without a Final Four team. That matches the longest dry spell in ACC history (1958-61).

-- The ACC did get two teams in the NIT. Miami is a No. 2 seed and will host North Carolina Central in a first-round game Tuesday night.

Pittsburgh also made the field as a No. 4 seed. The Panthers open at home against Georgia Washington Tuesday night.