2013 March Madness Bracket Trends: Handicapping No. 1 Seeds
by Trevor Whenham - 3/18/2013
There were a lot of teams that could have been named a No. 1 seed this year in the NCAA Tournament — at least seven. There was only room for four, though. Here’s a look at each of the lucky four that got what is at least theoretically the easiest path through their regions:
2013 March Madness Bracket Trends: Handicapping No. 1 Seeds
Louisville Cardinals - No. 1 overall seed, Midwest Region
The basics - The Cardinals have won national titles in 1980 and 1986 and were in the Final Four last year. They are the Big East Champions. They rose to No. 1 in January, dropped three straight games, but then they regrouped and have just one loss — a five-OT epic against Notre Dame — since Feb. 9.
Key player - Russ Smith — “Russdiculous” — is the most exciting and explosive player, and Gorgui Deng is the gatekeeper. However, it is point guard Peyton Siva who makes things work. He’s far from a perfect point guard, but he has brilliant instincts and worlds of experience, and he will carry this team as far as it can go.
Biggest asset - Their defensive tenacity is unparalleled in the tournament. Their defense was good enough to make it all the way to the Final Four last year, and this year it is improved and joined by a better offense.
Biggest concern - This team can check out for long lengths of time in a very frustrating fashion. They need to be mentally sharp, or they can find themselves in a hole they can’t climb out of.
Path - Being the top seed didn’t do Louisville any favors. The opener is simple, but each potential opponent after that — Colorado State, Saint Louis, Michigan State, Duke — is just brutal. If they make the Final Four they will truly have earned it. They do have a big advantage the second weekend, though — Indianapolis is close to home, so the crowd will be friendly.
Outlook - The Cardinals are slight favorites to win it all (19/4 at Bovada), and they deserve it. I wish the bracket set up better for them, but there is no team I can justify naming as the winner over Louisville.
Kansas Jayhawks - No. 2 overall seed, South Region
The basics - The Jayhawks cut down the nets in 1952, 1988 and 2008, and they lost in the finals to Kentucky last year. They cruised to a Big 12 Championship this year. Like Louisville, they had a three-game losing streak in conference play, and they have just one loss since — an ugly setback at Baylor to finish the regular season.
Best player - This depends on whether you like age or talent. Jeff Withey, the senior center, has taken a big step forward this year, and he is a massive force inside. Freshman Ben McLemore has exploded onto the season, and he will be a rich pro after this year.
Biggest asset - Bill Self. Every year people write the Jayhawks off because of what they have lost, yet every year the coach finds a way to make them competitive. This is a far better team than they should be, and Self gets the credit.
Biggest concern - they rely heavily on McLemore, and that’s a concern. He’s brilliant, but he’s young and this is all new to him.
Path - It isn’t as tough as what Louisville faces, but it is far from easy. Neither North Carolina nor Villanova is a real concern, but Michigan or VCU could both present serious matchup issues, and Georgetown would be very difficult to beat.
Outlook - They are the co-fourth choice to win it all at 10/1, but I don’t have Kansas in my Final Four. They will cruise to the second weekend but not survive it.
Indiana Hoosiers - No. 3 overall seed, East Region
The basics - The Hoosiers have national titles in 1940, 1953, 1976, 1981 and 1987, but they have not been to the Elite Eight since 2002. They don’t come into this tournament playing as well as they have. They have dropped three of their last six, including a shocking 12-point loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament.
Best player - It was assumed that this would be Cody Zeller — the preseason favorite to be National Player of the Year. Instead, Victor Oladipo has emerged as the star of the squad. Zeller has been good, but Oladipo is more dynamic. As a one-two punch they are tough to match.
Biggest asset - Simply put, they are just so darned talented. They have the most talent of a legitimate contender, and they can confuse and confound opponents as a result.
Biggest concern - Their three losses in the last six — and a very lucky win over Michigan in a fourth — means that they are clearly vulnerable. It could be that they are tired or lacking focus or that opponents are just starting to figure them out. Either way, they just need to find that other gear again.
Path - They have the easiest path to the Final Four of any top seed. Neither N.C. State nor Temple is good enough. UNLV or Syracuse are vulnerable. Marquette is incredibly overrated, Butler is flawed. Miami is playing way over their heads.
Outlook - I would be reasonably surprised if Indiana (5/1) isn’t in the Final Four. I would be quite surprised if they won a game once they got there.
Gonzaga Bulldogs - No. 4 overall seed, West Region
The basics – Cinderella is no more, Gonzaga has evolved from a plucky-and-always-dangerous mid-seed to an elite squad. They have only been to the Elite Eight once — in 1999 — but have appeared in the Sweet 16 four more times since. They crushed the West Coast Conference as has almost always been the case.
Best player - Kelly Olynyk made the bold decision last year to redshirt in the middle of his career. Apparently it’s something more players should do. Before the year on the bench he was struggling to find playing time. Now he’s one of the top players in the country. He’s so big and versatile that he is almost impossible to completely cover.
Biggest asset - Mark Few is one heck of a coach. He could have the keys to any number of big-time programs right now, but he has stayed in Gonzaga — and likely will for years to come. He is a master at turning second-level talent into first-level stars — the Boise State of basketball.
Biggest concern - They haven’t played anyone. St. Mary’s is the closest thing to a real opponent in the WCC, and they were clearly no match for the Bulldogs. They beat teams like Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, but they have yet to be tested against an elite squad. They lost at Butler in a game that would have answered some critics if they had won.
Path - Some people are down on Gonzaga, but I like their path. I have little respect for Pitt. Wisconsin would be tough but not unbeatable. They walloped Kansas State last time they met. The Elite Eight contest against Ohio State, or especially New Mexico, would be the biggest test en route to Atlanta.
Outlook - I think the West region is Gonzaga’s to lose. I give them little chance against Louisville in the Final Four, though. For a team ranked 21st to start the season, though, a Final Four appearance as a No. 1 seed would be a ridiculous accomplishment.
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