Breaking down the other one seeds

For the second time in head coach John Calipari’s three-year tenure at the helm of the UK men’s basketball team, the Cats will enter the NCAA tournament as the top seed in its region (the South region). The other one seeds in this year’s tournament include Syracuse (Big East, 31-2, East region), North Carolina (ACC, 29-5, Midwest region) and Michigan State (Big Ten, 27-7, West region).

Like UK, Syracuse was last a one seed in 2010, while UNC last was a one seed when head coach Roy Williams won his second title in 2009. In the title game that year, the Tar Heels took down head coach Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, who were last a one seed in 2001, the year after Tom Izzo’s only national championship.

It is very evident in my mind where these three one seeds rank behind Kentucky. The best of the rest in my mind is the Syracuse Orange, although I think they are vulnerable to be upset. The Orange had an impressive body of work in the regular season, finishing 30-1 in a conference that sent nine teams to the big dance. But they were tested and pushed numerous times along the way, and were picked apart in their two losses to Notre Dame and Cincinnati in the Big East tournament semifinals. If a team like Vanderbilt, Florida State or Ohio State gets hot from three against head coach Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, the Orange can be beat.

North Carolina looks poised for another tournament run out of the Midwest. With the Tar Heels’ NBA-sized front line consisting of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, they shouldn’t be tested until they face Kansas in the Elite 8, assuming the Jayhawks also avoid an upset. Kansas has size of its own in 7’0″ center Jeff Withey and POY candidate Thomas Robinson. If Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor can keep up with UNC star point guard Kendall Marshall, I think Kansas has a chance to steal the Tar Heels’ Final Four bid.

Michigan State to me is the weakest of the one seeds, but of course they are a one seed nonetheless and very deserving of one. Tom Izzo has reached four Final Fours since 2000, and has a history of making unexpected runs in the tournament. So I have to respect the Spartans, the Big 10 regular season and tournament champions, and Big 10 POY Draymond Green. In my opinion, Michigan State’s guard play was inconsistent down the stretch, and a team like Louisville in the Sweet 16 or Missouri in the Elite 8 that has strong guard play could test them.

Since the field expanded to 64 teams, the following statistics show that it is highly unlikely that all four teams reach the Final Four:

  • 91% of the time, at least one #1 seed has made it to the Final Four.
  • 55% of the time, at least two #1 seeds have made it to the Final Four.
  • Only 15% of the time do three #1 seeds make it to the Final Four.
  • Only once (2008) have all four #1 seeds made it to the Final Four. That’s a mere 3% of the time.

But such is the beauty of the NCAA tournament; we never really know what to expect. I think all three teams are vulnerable, but I predict one will join UK in the Final Four.