The Syracuse Orange begin play in the Midwest region this Friday, March 18. Seeded 10th, SU takes on the 7th-seeded Dayton Flyers. You may remember the Flyers from such hits as "that time they beat the Orange in a really ugly game and ended our season in agony."
While the NCAA Tournament selection process obviously seeds the teams on its own, we wanted to take another look at those 16 squads anyway -- re-ranking them in order of how likely it is they can get through the Midwest region. Syracuse will not be first, so naturally, I'm still a #disloyalidiot.
1. Michigan State Spartans (2-seed)
Tom Izzo devil magic is at least part of the reason for this ranking. But aside from that, the Spartans are a very good basketball team. They won the Big Ten, have been on fire of late, and if not for a Denzel Valentine injury during the season, they'd probably have the fourth 1-seed instead of Oregon. Additionally, MSU gets a shot to play Virginia AGAIN -- this time in the Elite 8. If it comes down to those two, money's on the Spartans continuing to haunt the Hoos.
2. Virginia Cavaliers (1-seed)
See above. Virginia's a quality team, but a tendency to go cold from the field will do them no favors against teams that actually have a couple shooters. Their draw's pretty reasonable (toughest team they'd face in the top half is Purdue), which also assists their chances of making it further.
3. Purdue Boilermakers (5-seed)
Like Virginia, Purdue gets the benefit of the softer side of this bracket, and a host of manageable potential opponents. Led by center A.J. Hammons, the Boilermakers have a strong option in the paint that a lot of teams (going small) can't match up well with. They also played MSU tough for the B1G title. So if Purdue can get past UVa, perhaps they figure out the Spartans this time around.
4. Seton Hall Pirates (6-seed)
Seton Hall has been mentioned a lot among teams that were underseeded, and that's a fair assessment based on what the team accomplished this year. If the strong regular season wasn't enough, they knocked off Xavier and Villanova in consecutive days to win the Big East Tournament. That shows how dangerous they are, and they're peaking at just the right time. Plus having a dynamic player like Isaiah Whitehead goes a long way in the tournament.
5. Utah Utes (3-seed)
Utah was actually closing the year strong -- playing their best basketball through the end of the regular season. Then the Pac-12 Tournament arrived. The Utes were good, but a strong Oregon team completely ran over them in the final. This is not to say Utah's bad at all. Just that they might be susceptible to a loss to a good, perhaps underseeded squad (like SHU).
6. Iowa State Cyclones (4-seed)
Getting through the Big 12 was no laughing matter this year, but the Cyclones survived. They weren't without losses, however. ISU picked up 11 throughout the season, and after a stronger start to the year, definitely seemed to come down to earth a little under the weight of the league. They've gained a reputation for collapsing a bit in the Big Dance too (see last years upset loss to UAB and more). Iowa State is a trendy upset pick.
7. Syracuse Orange (10-seed)
We all know what Syracuse is capable of. Now they just need to execute it (isn't that the case for most teams, though?). If lessons were learned from the last Dayton loss, SU's zone (if it's at peak form) could pose a challenge to Michigan State. State would still be favored, of course. But it would be interesting to see what a team that leans on the three-ball a bit (Valentine and Bryn Forbes, particularly) could do against this team's zone. Obviously the Orange's defense was better when they faced Wisconsin a few years back. But that UW team also shot really well too. Just something to think on...
8. Dayton Flyers (7-seed)
Dayton's got some Cinderella in them from previous years, something that shouldn't be discounted. While the Flyers started the year pretty hot, the A-10 schedule appeared to take its toll over the course of the season, and the team was knocked out before the league final. Dayton's a quality opponent for SU (again), and the teams should match up well with one another. They're one to watch out for if they can right the ship and get past opening weekend.
9. Gonzaga Bulldogs (11-seed)
The Zags shouldn't have gotten in, and wouldn't have if not for a WCC Tournament win. But they're here, and back in their original role as spoiler. That could be an advantage for the NCAA Tournament-tested program. Seton Hall is a tough draw for round one, but after that, a hot shooting Bulldogs squad could push itself a round or two. They're another team high on early upset lists.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-seed)
Tubby Smith's done a phenomenal job with TTU this season. It's just a shame the team suffered an early defeat in the Big 12 Tournament to lowly TCU. The Red Raiders don't fit the typical mold of a team that tests Virginia, but with a pretty evenly-spread scoring load (six players score between 8.5 and 11 points per game), there's an interesting mix of talent that could take some extra prep to account for.
11. Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans (12-seed)
UALR steamrolled through the Sun Belt all season, but rarely fought above its weight class. Their claim to fame was a win over San Diego State, who failed to be their typically strong selves and ultimately missed the NCAAs this year. So while we think we know what we're getting with the Trojans, there's much more to learn. Purdue's not a likely upset, but if UALR can pull it off, they're a scarier defensive team (third overall in PPG) than most might want to see.
12. Butler Bulldogs (9-seed)
Without Brad Stevens, there's not as much fear of the Bulldogs in March. But that doesn't mean they're incapable of the upsets that put the program on the map to begin with. Butler's late-season fade has diminished faith -- I mean, if you watched the game they almost lost to Georgetown alone, you'll see why. That doesn't mean they're an assured first-round loss, though. Watch Kellen Durham as a potential tourney hero if Butler starts heating back up.
13. Iona Gaels (13-seed)
I was tempted to put Iona higher, just by way of facing the shaky (fair or not) Iowa State Cyclones. But the Gaels were not the MAAC's best team this year and could be due for a defensive collapse against a team like ISU. A.J. English promises to keep any game interesting, and don't fool yourself into thinking this team only scores points against weak competition. Even if for one game, they'll be a fun watch.
14. Fresno State Bulldogs (14-seed)
Fresno's matchup with Utah could get a second look from those that choose not to believe in the Utes. But overall, the Bulldogs are an okay team from a conference (the Mountain West) that just failed to really do much this season. They caught SDSU sleeping in the league final, and that's how they got here. Never say never. Just not sure Fresno State can do much here, even if they push past the Utes.
15. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (15-seed)
MTSU ended the year on a roll, winning six straight en route to a C-USA title. The team can shoot too -- hitting 45 percent of shots overall, and nearly 39 percent from three. They can't match Michigan State in talent, but if shots start falling, you wonder if things get uneasy for the Spartans at all. As indicated by the number here, they're not the MOST dangerous double-digit seed. But they're also not to be overlooked.
16. Hampton Pirates (16-seed)
Hampton was smoked by major conference teams (Colorado, SMU) earlier in the year. And otherwise, they just laid waste to the MEAC slate presented to them. They know how to crash the boards. But again: look at the competition. Virginia doesn't get pushed around by ACC teams, never mind by teams from low-major leagues. If Hampton's the first 16 to upset a 1, I'd be stunned.