Easiest Tournament Draws
by Trevor Whenham - 03/18/2008
There's no such thing as an easy draw in the NCAA Tournament. Even the worst team in the tournament is better than average, and the demands and scrutiny of the format make it an incredibly challenging thing to win. That being said, some teams definitely have an easier road ahead of them than others. Here are the five contenders with the easiest road to the Elite Eight:
5. Stanford - The Cardinal are headed for a very tough showdown with Texas in the Sweet 16. That's the bad news. The good news is that they have two fairly easy games to play before they have to grapple with the Longhorns. They start with a game against Cornell, the Ivy League champs who are just happy to be there after having been locked out of tournament participation by Penn and Princeton for so long. Win that and Stanford next faces either Marquette, the Big East contenders who lost three of their last six and weren't quite among the best of their conference, or Kentucky, a team that has made an inspiring late run to salvage their season, but one which just doesn't have the firepower to compete at the top level without Patrick Patterson.
4. North Carolina - It's not surprising that three of the five teams on this list are No. 1 seeds. Those teams get rewarded for their strong season by being given the easiest possible road to the Elite Eight. North Carolina gets to start out with a game that shouldn't be much tougher than an intra-squad game when they face the winner of the play-in game. That will warm them up to either play Indiana, a talented team that hasn't reacted well lately to their coaching mess, or Arkansas, a talented but inconsistent team that beat Tennessee one day and lost to Georgia the next. Next up would likely be either Washington State or Notre Dame. Both of those teams are quite good, but not up to the level of the Tar Heels.
3. Kansas - A lot of people don't think that Kansas deserved to be a No. 1 seed. Those people really won't be happy that they got a pretty smooth ride. Portland State won the Big Sky, but it's a big step from there to the Big 12. The Vikings played some decent teams in UCLA, Washington and Washington State, but they weren't particularly competitive against any of them. Next up is either UNLV or Kent State. I like both of those teams quite a bit, but not nearly enough to think that they stand a legitimate chance against the Jayhawks. Their third game will be against the winner of the weakest 4/5/12/13 pod in the tournament. Clemson is solid, but weren't quite good enough against UNC. They would be the toughest of the four teams, but still very beatable for Kansas. Vanderbilt is a very weak four seed, Villanova, a team without a senior, is too young to do any damage this year, and Siena is solid but not a giant killer.
2. Xavier - If you read much of what I write then you probably know that I am a big Xavier fan. I don't love the way that they have been playing down the stretch, but I really like the draw they were given. Georgia's run through the SEC Tournament was a great story, but it seems unlikely that they can recapture whatever got them that win and pull off another miracle. They would next play either a Purdue team that has lost two of their last three and which is probably too young to go far, or a Baylor team that will be riding the excitement of being the last team in and is bouncing back from a truly terrible story, but a team that isn't as talented as Xavier. No. 3s often end up playing a No. 2, and Xavier drew the easiest two on the board this year in Duke. The Blue Devils have lost two of their last three and looked flat doing it. Xavier matches the Duke playing style very well and will stand a good chance of the mild upset.
1. UCLA - Most of the reason the Bruins are the favorite in the eyes of many experts and bettors is because of their depth, talent, experience and coaching, but another part of the reason this team is so loved is because of their draw. The Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State better enjoy their tournament experience while it lasts, because it won't last long. Like most No. 8 versus No. 9 games, the two potential opponents of the Bruins in the second round are solid but flawed. BYU makes the tournament often, but they don't have the best record. Texas A&M struggled against the best teams they played and likely aren't good enough to test UCLA. Their Sweet 16 opponent will likely be either Drake or Connecticut. Drake is a great story and a legitimate team, but they would have to step their game up significantly to get past UCLA. UConn is a nice team, too, but they aren't consistent or deep enough to run with the Bruins.