Now that the 68-team field has been revealed, it’s time to get into the conversations about how the teams match up. There’s also the chance to talk about which games we hope to see happen in the second and regional semifinal rounds. Below are some choices with the obvious caveat that, just to offer up one example, a Stony Brook or Chattanooga fan won’t be rooting for a possible Kentucky/Indiana matchup in the second round since that means their team would be eliminated.
An exercise geared more towards the casual viewer who latches onto attractive individual match-ups and storylines, here are our choices.
SECOND ROUND GAMES YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR
No. 4 seed Kentucky vs. No. 5 seed Indiana (East Region)
By now you know all about the recent history of this series, as the two programs haven’t met since the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA tournament. The committee can say whatever about not purposely matching the Wildcats and Hoosiers, but either way both are one win away from making it happen. The point guard matchup alone (Tyler Ulis vs. Yogi Ferrell) will be worth the price of admission, and given the hopes and expectations of both fan bases the atmosphere should be intense.
No. 3 seed Texas A&M vs. No. 6 seed Texas (West Region)
The longtime rivals have already met once this season, with Texas A&M winning the quarterfinal matchup in the Battle 4 Atlantis. But the stakes this time around would be much higher, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. The question for Texas going into this week is whether or not big man Cameron Ridley (foot) will be able to play; a return to the court would help the Longhorns deal with the front court tandem of Tyler Davis and Jalen Jones. Also there are talented guards, led by Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and A&M’s Danuel House.
No. 2 seed Villanova vs. No. 7 seed Iowa (South Region)
Some of the individual match-ups on the court, most notably how Villanova would defend Jarrod Uthoff and how the Hawkeyes would account for Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, will be interesting if these two teams meet. What also makes this interesting is the pressure on both. Villanova’s failed to get out of the first weekend in each of the last two tournaments, and Iowa’s had issues with late-season tailspins of their own. Which “streak” comes to an end?
No. 4 seed California vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)
These are two of the most talented teams in the field, with both receiving the label of “team capable of making a Final Four run” before the brackets were revealed. The Golden Bears have a rotation that includes possible first round picks in Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb and Tyrone Wallace, and Maryland counters with a talented freshman big man of their own in Diamond Stone and sophomore point guard Melo Trimble. Whoever wins has a shot at knocking off top seed Kansas in the Sweet 16.
No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 9 seed Providence (East)
The Tar Heels and Friars met in the NCAA tournament two years ago, with North Carolina surviving an outstanding 36-point performance from Bryce Cotton. This time around the ACC champs would face the task of corralling Kris Dunn, with forward Ben Bentil being a test for Brice Johnson and the rest of the North Carolina front court. The Friars will need more from their supporting cast, but this is the kind of game that could churn out an excellent individual effort viewers won’t soon forget.
No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest Region)
The Bulldogs will clearly have their work cut out for them against No. 6 Seton Hall in the first round, so who knows if they even get to this point. But a matchup of three of the top big men in the country would be fun to watch. Utah’s Jakob Poeltl won Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, and both Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis were in the conversation for WCC Player of the Year. Would also give NBA types the chance to evaluate these three against quality interior competition.
THE BEST POTENTIAL SWEET 16 GAMES
No. 1 seed Kansas vs. No. 5 seed Maryland (South)
You could also put Cal in this spot, as either team has the ability from a talent standpoint to challenge the top overall seed. But Melo Trimble and Rasheed Sulaimon vs. Frank Mason III, Devonté Graham and Wayne Selden Jr.? Would be entertaining, that’s for sure.
No. 2 seed Xavier vs. No. 3 seed West Virginia (East)
If you were to put together a “pound for pound” ranking of the toughest teams in the field, the Musketeers and Mountaineers would definitely be in the conversation; neither team is backing down from anyone. Having Devin Williams, Jonathan Holton (WVU), Jalen Reynolds and James Farr (Xavier) all in the paint would be fun, as would seeing how the Musketeer guards deal with the West Virginia pressure.
No. 1 seed North Carolina vs. No. 4 seed Kentucky (East)
Two of the sport’s most storied programs meeting with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line? Cool. There would be quality match-ups across the board but especially on the perimeter, with Ulis and Jamal Murray leading the way for Kentucky and Joel Berry II and Marcus Paige doing so for the Tar Heels.
No. 2 seed Oklahoma vs. No. 3 seed Texas A&M (West)
Two prolific scorers on the court in Buddy Hield and Danuel House, and both teams have more than just one headliner in their respective perimeter rotations. The question for Oklahoma would be whether or not they’d have enough in the post to counter Texas A&M’s deep front court.
No. 2 seed Michigan State vs. No. 3 seed Utah (Midwest)
Two of the nation’s best players would be on the same court in Chicago, with Michigan State being led by Denzel Valentine and Jakob Poeltl doing so for the Runnin’ Utes. Utah’s backcourt has made strides throughout the course of this season, but that would be put to the test against the Spartans with Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris also in the fold.
No. 1 seed Virginia vs. No. 5 seed Iowa State (Midwest)
The difference in styles would provide some entertainment here, with the Cavaliers having their version of the pack line defense and one of the nation’s best guards in Malcolm Brogdon. Iowa State doesn’t lack for talent but there are depth issues, especially if Jameel McKay isn’t fully engaged. Would make for an interesting chess match.