What’s the best (or worst) storyline in the Midwest region? Nearly five years after the FBI revealed the results of its investigation of the basketball talent game, and three years after Yahoo! Sports reporting on the scandal produced the transcript of a wiretapped conversation which LSU coach Will Wade said he’d made a “strong-ass offer” to a recruit, Wade has been dismissed by the university.
For the second time in three tournaments, someone else will coach the Tigers after Wade had spent the entire year developing the team.
In 2019, when Wade was suspended following the publication of the tape transcript, the Tigers made the Sweet 16 with assistant coach Tony Benford in temporary charge. He’s back in the tournament on the TCU staff, where there is considerably more sanity and he’ll do his job as an assistant coach ably. This time at LSU it’s veteran Kevin Nickelberry.
MORE: DeCourcy’s expert bracket picks
He has more than 400 games of experience as a head coach, with Howard, Hampton and the women’s team at Columbia Union. Maybe this experience can be a pleasant storyline for him.
It isn’t for the sport, though.
F – Keegan Murray, Iowa
F – Jabari Smith, Auburn
G – Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
G – Johnny Davis, Wisconsin
C – Walker Kessler, Auburn
MORE: SN’s 2021-22 All-America team
Best first-round game
No. 4 Providence v. No. 13 South Dakota State. Although the Friars are champions of one of the nation’s most prestigious conferences, the Big East, and the Jackrabbits ran through a conference many who follow college basketball could not immediately name (the Summit League, formerly known as the Mid-Continent), there will not be a huge talent disparity between the teams.
What Providence needed to open the NCAAs after a crushing defeat in the Big East Tournament was a properly seeded No. 13, not the team leading the nation in effective field goal percentage and ringing up 86 points a game. South Dakota State isn’t much for defense, which might help the Friars, but it’ll be essential for PC to keep this game to a measured pace, or they could be this year’s big upset victim.
Seeded too high
No. 12 Richmond. The Spiders were nowhere near the at-large line for most of the season. They finished 83rd in the rankings at KenPom.com, 82nd in the NET, 73rd in Strength of Record. Their only Quad 1 victory came Sunday, in the Atlantic-10 Tournament championship game against Davidson. Richmond was only 6-9 in Quad 2, even after its title run.
It certainly was a challenge for the committee to update its bracket so late on Sunday afternoon – the A-10 result was final a little less than 3 hours before the Selection Show was to commence – but I had them correctly pegged as a 13.
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HISTORY OF UPSETS BY SEED:
15 vs. 2 | 14 vs. 3 | 13 vs. 4 | 12 vs. 5
Seeded too low
The Summit League isn’t the 1980s ACC, but it did produce a Sweet 16 team last year in Oral Roberts, so a team that went through at 18-0 and with higher power rankings than the team directly above them ought to have been respected more.
This feels a little like the committee chose just to deal with the seed line impacted by Richmond’s “bid theft” rather than dig deeper. Does it matter? It’s actually probably better for South Dakota State, which would be permitted to play its open-court style by an Iowa team that simply is better at it.
But the job is to get the bracket right.
No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Providence. Indeed, the committee did the Friars no favors with this miscalculation. The idea behind seeding is to give the best possible advantage to the teams that earn it, but this error is likely to end up costing PC, the way the 2016 committee punished No. 2 seed Michigan State by seeding a tremendous Middle Tennessee State team in the 15 slot.
Best potential game
No. 1 Kansas v. No. 5 Iowa, Sweet 16. This is the region of All-Americans; 60 percent of The Sporting News first team will be stationed in the Midwest, and this game would contain two of them: the Hawkeyes Keegan Murray and the Jayhawks’ Ochai Agbaji.
MORE: Sporting News 2021-22 All-America team
It’s doubtful they would defend one another; Murray has a significant height advantage. But they’ll see each other plenty.
Iowa often plays without a true big man, and they won in that circumstance Sunday against Purdue, which employs an excellent center tandem of 7-4 Zach Edey and 6-10 Trevion Williams. Kansas can go small and often has, which would negate some of Iowa’s ability to spread its offense around the 3-point line and open up space to attack the lane and create open threes.
It’s fun just thinking about it, but it’s two wins away for each.
Best potential player matchup
Tari Eason, LSU vs. Johnny Davis, Wisconsin. Davis is a first team All-American for The Sporting News; Eason was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award. LSU is one team that may not find it necessary to use a lot of help or special considerations to slow down Davis, which could cause problems for the Badgers.
Eason is adept at blocking shots and picking up steals, but he also is effective at handling switches and can defend multiple possessions. Davis is one of the most inventive scorers in Division I, capable of playing above the rim and inventing various ways to score. If they see each other, we will see a show.
Get to know
No. 15 seed Jacksonville State – the one automatic qualifier that didn’t win its most recent game. Every other team that earned its conference’s bid achieved that distinction by claiming a conference tournament championship. Some of them won two games, and some won four, but they all finished on the pleasant side of the final score in their most recent games.
Jacksonville State’s Gamecocks became instant Bellarmine fans after they lost in the ASUN semifinals to Jacksonville, which happens to be in another state. Jacksonville State is in Alabama, Jacksonville in Florida. If you think that’s confusing, consider what happened after that JSU loss.
Jacksonville’s win advanced them to the league tournament final, where the Dolphins played Bellarmine. Because Bellarmine still is in its transition period from Division II, its program is ineligible for postseason play. That meant if it won the game, the automatic bid would be granted to regular-season champion Jacksonville State.
That’s what happened. So the Gamecocks are not on a roll, but luck is with them.
Don’t be surprised if …
Auburn finds a way to lose sooner than scheduled. Bruce Pearl is one of the great NCAA Tournament coaches, but this team has been losing juice for weeks. As the Tigers went 3-3 in their final six games, guard Wendell Green has shot 20-of-68 from the field. That’s 29.4 percent. I suppose if one is successful 29.4 percent of the time as a batter, that’s pretty good. It’s not good for a guy taking double-figure shots on average.
The terrific Auburn frontcourt isn’t getting enough support.
No. 10 Miami hasn’t been a successful NCAA Tournament team for several years, in part because the Hurricanes haven’t made it in several years.
In their most recent appearance, the Hurricanes opened the door for Loyola’s memorable run to the 2018 Final Four by falling in the first round as a No. 6 seed, on a buzzer shot by the Ramblers’ Donte Ingram. The Canes haven’t been back since.
It’s impossible to know what to expect from this bunch, capable of defeating Duke on the road or losing in non-conference to a meager UCF team. But that’s why we call them a sleeper. Behind wing Kameron McGusty, who came over from Oklahoma, they reached the ACC Tournament semis. A win or two here could happen.
Final Four pick
Top seed Kansas got itself a mighty fine draw here. Auburn is sagging. Wisconsin has one star on a team of overachievers. Providence has no stars on a team of overachievers. It was almost as if Bill Self sat in the Selection Room nodding to the committee members each time a team went up on the Midwest board.
If so, he might have taken a restroom break, or was up grabbing some of that great ice cream that’s regularly served in the room, when Iowa was sneaked in as a No. 5. But there’s got to be at least some challenge on the road to the Final Four.