That’s an exaggeration, but not as much of one as you’d think. A No. 1 seed is, of course, preferable to a No. 10 or 15. But when the difference is one seed line?
More important than the numbers beside a school’s name are the opponents. And the 2019 bracket provided the clearest example of that March Madness truth in a while.
There are always irregularities and imbalances. But the contrast between the Final Four paths of top seeds this year seems particularly stark. And it’s reflected in our annual rundown of Selection Sunday winners and losers:
Selection Sunday winners
Virginia | Seed: 1 | Region: South
The Cavs didn’t get the No. 1 overall seed. And – we feel obligated to mention for obvious reasons – they probably drew the best of the 16-seeds. But the rest of the South Region looks kind. Neither Oklahoma nor Ole Miss is a threat. Kansas State could be without its best offensive player due to injury, and Wisconsin sometimes can’t play its top player in crunch time because he’s a sub-.500 free-throw shooter. On paper, this looks like an Elite Eight ticket.
Duke | Seed: 1 | Region: East
Duke got the No. 1 overall seed, and a fairly harmless draw. The first true test would come from Virginia Tech, which beat the Blue Devils in February. But those were the Zion-less Blue Devils. The (near) full-strength ones, on paper, shouldn’t have trouble with anybody pre-Minneapolis. And that includes Michigan State – more on the Spartans later.
Yale | Seed: 14 | Region: East
The Ivy League champs could make a convincing argument they deserved a 13-seed. But they’ll gladly take a matchup with scandal-ridden, overseeded LSU. Nothing about Maryland, Belmont or Temple screams “Sweet 16” either. This draw makes Yale a prime Cinderella candidate if it wasn’t already.
The 2018-19 ACC became the second conference to ever put three teams on the top line, after the 2009 Big East. It didn’t have quite so much luck on the bubble, but it boasts the top three teams in college basketball. And the committee, rather than rewarding winners of weaker conferences, recognized that.
Selection Sunday losers
Gonzaga | Seed: 1 | Region: West
The Zags claimed the fourth 1-seed. But matchups can render seeding irrelevant. For Gonzaga, the place alongside ACC giants on the top line might be a curse in disguise.
To get to the second weekend, Mark Few’s crew will likely have to beat a Syracuse program that has lost just once on the first weekend since 2011 and twice since 2006. And to go further, it may very well have to beat a better version of the Florida State team that bounced it in last year’s Sweet 16.
North Carolina | Seed: 1 | Region: Midwest
Sensing a theme? The Tar Heels got their 1-seed, but their likely path to Minneapolis goes through a pesky, hot Utah State; either surging Auburn or Kansas in Kansas City; and a Kentucky team that worked UNC in Chicago in December. That’s about as tough as roads to the Final Four get for top seeds.
Kentucky | Seed: 2 | Region: Midwest
Kentucky won’t be happy either. (John Calipari is never happy on Selection Sunday, but for the second straight year, his displeasure is justified.) Wofford, the 7-seed opposite the Wildcats, is dangerous. And if you watched the Big 12 tournament this past week, you know you don’t want any part of Iowa State – the 6-seed in UK’s region – in Kansas City, where Kentucky would get the Cyclones. And then there’s Carolina. Not easy.
Michigan State | Seed: 2 | Region: East
Sparty went all out for a Big Ten title and three-game sweep of Michigan. Their reward? A 2-seed – same as the Wolverines. In Duke’s region. With the strongest 7-seed, Louisville, staring it down in the second round. Brutal.
Oh, and by the way: Tom Izzo, who is riding the longest Sweet 16 drought of his career, is 1-11 all-time against Mike Krzyzewski and Duke. Perhaps that added to his displeasure when, asked whether Michigan State got what it deserved from the committee, he said, “For a couple of years now, including in 2016, I don't think we did.”
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