Toughest Tournament Draws
by Trevor Whenham - 03/18/2008
All tournament draws are not created equal. Some teams have a line up of relatively easy teams to face, while others have to go from one hard team to the other. Here, in my view, are the five teams with the hardest road to travel. To keep it meaningful, I will only look at teams in the top eight seeds and only at teams that can be viewed as legitimate contenders.
5. Vanderbilt - The Commodores are a team that has been at their best at home, so playing in a neutral site will challenge them. To make matters worse, they will be facing a tough run of teams in those neutral sites. They start off with a No. 13 seed, Siena, which isn't particularly consistent, but which does have a convincing win over Stanford on their record. After that they will either face a Clemson team that has been very dangerous all year and which comes in off a win over Duke and an impressive effort against North Carolina, or a Villanova team that is ridiculously young but talented and oozing potential. A win there and they run right into the Big 12 champions from Kansas. Vanderbilt lost their last game against Arkansas, so they need to step up to make it through this daunting string of opponents.
4. Gonzaga - Gonzaga's participation in the tournament is basically assumed given what they have accomplished under Mark Few, but they have struggled to go as deep as they should. As a No. 7 seed in a very tough spot they could again get bounced earlier than their fans would like. They start out by facing Davidson, the team with the longest winning streak in the country. They were undefeated in conference play, and Stephen Curry is one of the most impressive players in this entire tournament. If they win that they run right into a Georgetown team that had a bad loss against Pitt in the conference tournament, but is still as dangerous as any No. 2 seed after surviving the tough Big East. If the Bulldogs survived that it wouldn't get any easier, with either USC, Kansas State or Wisconsin next up.
3. Michigan State - The Spartans have not been as strong as they could be this year, and they have been frustratingly inconsistent. Inconsistency will kill them in this bracket. They start with Temple, a team fresh off a tournament win in the tough A-10. Their biggest win was over Xavier, but they were tested and seasoned by losing to a number of top teams like Duke, Villanova and Tennessee. The Spartans would next face Big East champs Pitt. The Panthers have struggled at times, but they are finally healthy after a ridiculous run of injuries this year, and they are a popular pick to do some damage. If that's not enough to kill the Spartans, then they have likely games against Memphis and Texas to look forward to. If Michigan State were to make the Final Four it would be an epic accomplishment.
2. Connecticut - The Huskies have a bit of a fragile feel about them these days. They are talented, but they don't seem to have a killer attitude. They will need to find one fast. They start with a game against San Diego, the team that stole a tournament spot by winning the WCC Tournament with wins over St. Mary's and Gonzaga on consecutive days. The Toreros didn't start the season well, but they have found their stride in the new year. Next up would likely be Drake, the current mid-major darling of fans everywhere. The Bulldogs were truly dominant in their conference tournament, and they have nothing to lose. A win there and the Huskies would run right into UCLA, a very popular choice to win it all.
1. USC - O.J. Mayo and the Trojans are hot and flashy, and they are getting lots of love from the experts, but the selection committee did them no favors. They start out with easily the best game of the first round - an epic showdown with superfrosh Michael Beasley and K-State. If they come out ahead in that very tough game then they have to find a way to beat Wisconsin, the mind-numbingly methodical Big Ten regular season and tournament champs. The Trojans will have to avoid letting the Badgers slow the game down and control the pace. Next up is Georgetown, Gonzaga or Davidson. Whichever team emerges from that group of three will be well tested and in form.