First impressions tend to last. Still, it’s always wise to put them under a microscope to see if they stand up to scrutiny.
Example: When the NCAA Tournament brackets were unveiled on Selection Sunday, the Southwest bracket looked like a favorable one for Kansas University. Upon closer inspection, KU still very much looks like the team to beat, but even if the names of the teams don’t blow you away, the star power should.
Hours before the brackets were released, I sent my All-American ballot to the Associated Press. The voting guidelines stipulate that a team doesn’t have to adhere strictly to the format of two guards, two forwards and a center, but does have to be a mix of perimeter and post players, a blend a coach would feel comfortable sending onto the court.
First team: Nolan Smith (Duke), Jimmer Fredette (Brigham Young), Marcus Morris (Kansas), Derrick Williams (Arizona), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State). Second team: Kemba Walker (Connecticut), Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame), E’Twaun Moore (Purdue), Kenneth Faried (Morehead State), JaJuan Johnson (Purdue). Third team: Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), Jordan Taylor (Wisconsin), Jon Leuer (Wisconsin), Jordan Williams (Maryland), Markieff Morris (Kansas).
Player of the Year: Fredette.
Coach of the Year: Bill Self (Kansas).
That’s six players — the twins, Hansbrough, Moore, Faried and Johnson — playing in the Southwest region, four in the Southeast, three in the West and one in the East. Williams’ Maryland team didn’t get a tourney berth.
No one team in KU’s region is one that, based on matchups, indicates it is built to beat Kansas, but one potential opponent lurks as a dangerous threat to anyone it plays because of its wild style that lends itself to upsets in both directions.
No. 4 seed Louisville has hoisted 829 three-point shots. For comparison purposes, consider the totals of other potential opponents during the sub-regional and regional rounds: UNLV (534), Illinois (566), Purdue (605), Vanderbilt (695), Boston University (721).
The Cardinals can lose to anybody when they’re misfiring (a combined 8 for 39 in losses to Drexel and Providence) from long distance and slay giants (13 for 27 in victory against Syracuse) when hitting. The heavy reliance on threes makes the Cards the region’s most likely team to score an upset against KU and the most likely to get upset before having a chance to face the nation’s No. 2 team.
Morehead State’s Faried, who passed Tim Duncan on Feb. 19 as the leading rebounder in Division I history, opens the tourney against the Cards. The last thing Pitino needs is for Morehead to taint his sterling reputation (five Final Four appearances for three schools, a .745 winning percentage in 47 tournament games), but stranger things have happened.