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10 biggest takeaways from the NCAA Tournament bracket reveal

Larry Brown Sports logo Larry Brown Sports 3/11/2018 Shane McNichol
Feb 21, 2018; Boulder, CO, USA; USC Trojans forward Chimezie Metu (4) and forward Nick Rakocevic (31) and guard Jordan McLaughlin (11) and guard Elijah Stewart (30) and guard Shaqquan Aaron (0) huddle in the second half against the Colorado Buffaloes at the Coors Events Center. © Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports Feb 21, 2018; Boulder, CO, USA; USC Trojans forward Chimezie Metu (4) and forward Nick Rakocevic (31) and guard Jordan McLaughlin (11) and guard Elijah Stewart (30) and guard Shaqquan Aaron (0) huddle in the second half against the Colorado Buffaloes at the Coors Events Center.

The brackets are finally here!

We can toss away all of our conjecture about who is in and who is out. No longer do we need to argue about where each team will go or what the match-ups might look like. We have an NCAA Tournament bracket to breakdown, rip apart, and then dissect even further.

RELATED:   Men’s NCAA Tournament bracket

But before we start picking games and looking for our champion, let’s peak back at the selection process and see who won and lost out on Selection Sunday.

1. Notre Dame and USC snubbed

Southern California had to have thought they were fairly safe after finishing second in the Pac-12 in the regular season, and then fighting their way to the conference tournament championship. The Pac-12 is a less deadly conference than the ACC, but it is hard to justify taking Syracuse, who was under .500 in ACC play, over the Trojans, who were 12-6 in conference.

USC won eight games versus KenPom top 100 teams away from their home floor. Syracuse won just three such games.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, was just 6-9 without All-American candidate Bonzie Colson in the lineup, thanks to an unfortunate injury. With Colson, the Irish won the Maui Invitational and looked impressive early on. Notre Dame even beat Syracuse, at the Carrier Dome, without Colson! To see the Orange in and the Irish out isn’t easy to explain. In fact, USC is a historically bad snub.

Devonte' Graham, left, celebrates with Kansas teammate Silvio De Sousa after the Jayhawks defeated West Virginia to win the Big 12 Tournament on March 10. © Jamie Squire/Getty Images Devonte' Graham, left, celebrates with Kansas teammate Silvio De Sousa after the Jayhawks defeated West Virginia to win the Big 12 Tournament on March 10.

2. The top tier of the Midwest region is loaded

There’s a compelling argument to be made that Kansas, Duke, and Michigan State are three of the eight best teams in this tournament. Unfortunately for two of those teams, but luckily for those of us watching the tourney, all three of those schools are grouped in the same quarter of the bracket.

They are all full of NBA-level talent and are all coached by legends. The city of Omaha could be treated to a few classics in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight rounds.

Kansas has to feel safer knowing they can only face one of those two giants. Even for Michigan State, who has been ranked in the top 10 all season and is one of the nation’s most talented teams, beating Duke and Kansas in one weekend is a tough ask.

Arizona State's De'Quon Lake reacts to a call during the second half against Colorado in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on March 7. © Isaac Brekken/AP Photo Arizona State's De'Quon Lake reacts to a call during the second half against Colorado in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament on March 7.

3. The committee certainly doesn’t have a recency bias

Some years, the committee goes overboard rewarding the hottest team in the month of March or a bubble team who won a few games in the conference tourney. This year, the committee really valued the entirety of the season, with two perfect examples.

Arizona State and Oklahoma looked like Final Four teams in November and December. Both were highly ranked and looked like serious contenders to make a deep run in March. They then both outright collapsed down the stretch.

Oklahoma has lost 11 of its last 15 games in the brutal Big XII. For the committee to not just put the Sooners in the field but to have them nowhere near the cut-line was a definite surprise. Oklahoma made the field comfortably as a 10 seed.

Arizona State was closer to missing the tournament and will play in the First Four early this week. The Sun Devils have lost five of six games and have not beat a top 200 team since February 10. Based on those results, it is odd to see the Sun Devils rewarded with a big over a team like Notre Dame.

Emmett Naar of Saint Mary's stands on the court during a quarterfinal game against Pepperdine at the WCC tournament on March 3. © Ethan Miller/Getty Images Emmett Naar of Saint Mary's stands on the court during a quarterfinal game against Pepperdine at the WCC tournament on March 3.

4. Saint Mary’s bounced for its schedule

We see mid-major schools who were dominant in their conferences and feature strong win-loss records left out of the at-large picture all the time. It happened to Middle Tennessee this season when they failed to win the Conference USA Tournament.

Saint Mary’s spent most of the season ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll and looked to be considered “more than a mid-major.” The Gaels won at Gonzaga and finished the season 28-5. When they lost in the WCC Tournament, there were whispers about them being on the bubble, though most projections saw them in the field.

Instead, the committee looked at the schedule Saint Mary’s played and determined it was not tournament-caliber. You can’t blame the committee here, as the Gaels coasted for the non-conference portion of the season. They played non-conference games outside of the state of California and their best win other than Gonzaga was 12th seeded New Mexico State. The Gaels played just three games against tournament teams all season. That’s not going to be enough to earn a bid when the bubble is as competitive as it was this year.

Louisville guard Ryan McMahon reacts following a March 1 loss to Virginia. © Timothy D. Easley/AP Photo Louisville guard Ryan McMahon reacts following a March 1 loss to Virginia.

5. Louisville missed by just a moment

Though the committee didn’t identify Louisville as one of the first four teams out of the field, you have to feel for the Cardinals based on how their season ended. In the final week of the regular season, the Cardinals held a four-point lead on the nation’s top team, Virginia, with only one second remaining in the game and managed to lose via a bumbling series of mistakes.

Had they just sealed that game, their seeding the ACC Tournament would have been affected and you have to assume they’d be at least closer to the cut-line, if not in the tournament.

Tyus Battle of Syracuse dribbles down the court in the first half against North Carolina during the second round of the ACC Tournament on March 7. © Abbie Parr/Getty Images Tyus Battle of Syracuse dribbles down the court in the first half against North Carolina during the second round of the ACC Tournament on March 7.

6. Syracuse sneaks in

Most bracketologists outside of upstate New York had already essentially ruled Syracuse dead in the water earlier this week. Conventional wisdom had them sitting on the back side of the bubble, unlikely to see their logo pop up on the Selection Show. The committee disagreed and awarded the Orange an 11 seed with a trip to the First Four.

The Orange finished the ACC season 8-10 and lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals. They went just 3-7 versus fellow tournament teams in the ACC. Syracuse’s best wins out of conference were a non-tournament team (Maryland) and the MAC champion Buffalo Bulls, both in the comfy confines of the Carrier Dome. Those are not the kind of wins that typically earn a bid for an at-large team.

When comparing Syracuse’s resume to some of those left out, it’s hard to see why the committee chose the Orange.

Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. pulls down a rebound during the second half against Georgia at the SEC tournament on March 8. © Jeff Roberson/AP Photo Missouri's Michael Porter Jr. pulls down a rebound during the second half against Georgia at the SEC tournament on March 8.

7. Missouri could be a problem if Michael Porter Jr. is healthy

Missouri earned a nine seed without the services of future top ten NBA draft pick Michael Porter, who has been fighting a back injury all season. He returned for the SEC Tournament and looked rusty, but is still the same guy who was a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American.

With another week to get healthy and back into his rhythm, Porter could be himself again.

Florida State, matched up with Mizzou in the first round, certainly hopes that isn’t the case. Top seeded Xavier, just one game away from that match-up, can’t be excited about it either. They may feel a bit like the 2014 Wichita State club that was undefeated, yet met an underachieving Kentucky team loaded with NBA talent in the second round.

Of course, none of this matters if Porter isn’t a factor yet, though the possibility of his resurgence is exciting.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett cuts down the net after defeating North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship game on March 10. © Abbie Parr/Getty Images Virginia coach Tony Bennett cuts down the net after defeating North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship game on March 10.

8. Virginia is a deserving top overall seed

After starting the season unranked, the Virginia Cavaliers mowed through the season. The Hoos played the 25th toughest schedule per KenPom’s rankings and went 31-2. Virginia only lost at West Virginia, a brutal place to play, and versus rival Virginia Tech in overtime. Fourteen of Virginia’s wins came at the expense of teams in the NCAA Tournament field.

By Selection Sunday, the Cavaliers’ spot atop the bracket was a no-brainer. Virginia won the ACC regular season and tournament championships. Of the other top seeds, only Kansas also accomplished that feat in their respective conferences.

This is the best team Tony Bennett has brought healthy into the NCAA Tournament, looking to reach his first Final Four as a head coach. With the brand of smart basketball they play and their generational defense, this the Virginia team that could play through March and into April.

Xavier's Naji Marshall reacts in the first half against Providence during the semifinals of the Big East Tournament on March 9. © Elsa/Getty Images Xavier's Naji Marshall reacts in the first half against Providence during the semifinals of the Big East Tournament on March 9.

9. Other one seeds went as expected

The other three top seeds went to Villanova, Kansas, and Xavier. Villanova earned their spot by losing just four times this season and won the Big East Tournament this week in New York. Kansas survived college basketball’s best conference, winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles.

The final top seed was up for grabs as recently as Saturday. Had Xavier advanced at least to the Big East Tournament final, the Musketeers would have been a shoo-in for a one seed. After they lost to Providence in the semifinals though, North Carolina had a chance to sneak onto the top line. The Tar Heels lost to Virginia Saturday night and finished the season with ten losses.

Xavier opened the door to another team grabbing a top seed and was lucky that no other suitors played their way onto the top of the bracket. By losing though, Xavier did lose its chance to play in the Midwest Region. Instead, they’ll head out West.

Loyola-Chicago guard Clayton Custer dribbles to the basket against Indiana State on Feb. 10. © Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Loyola-Chicago guard Clayton Custer dribbles to the basket against Indiana State on Feb. 10.

10. Fun upsets are in this bracket

Everyone loves finding the perfect upset in their bracket pool. There’s something special about cheering on Cinderella to knock off one of basketball’s blue blood programs. Every field of 68 teams has a few upsets hiding beneath the brackets if you dig deep enough.

Two that stood out as soon as they flashed on the screen featured mid-major teams with intriguing offenses.

Loyola-Chicago won the always exciting Missouri Valley Conference. Led by point guard Clayton Custer, the Ramblers find open shots and can get hot in a hurry. Against a Miami team that has had some lapses defensively this season, Loyola can get a win.

In the same region, the Kentucky Wildcats will get all they can handle from Davidson (also the Wildcats). Davidson runs an active motion offense that was particularly potent when Stephen Curry was involved, yet is still dangerous. Davidson is hot and coming off winning the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament. Bob McKillop’s Wildcats are paced by post scorer Peyton Aldridge and shooter Kellan Gray, who combine for nearly 40 points per game.

Shane McNichol covers college basketball and the NBA for Larry Brown Sports. He also blogs about basketball at Palestra Back and has contributed to Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.

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