Thoughts on Selection Sunday: Duke men's basketball earns No. 4 seed in NCAA tournament

Duke will enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed in the South region.
Duke will enter the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 seed in the South region.

March Madness is here. The country’s conference champions have been decided and many teams have punched their ticket to compete amongst the nation’s best. After Selection Sunday, the Blue Zone is here to break down the tournament:

Duke at No. 4, North Carolina leads ACC with No. 1 seed

After a disappointing last few games, Duke earned the No. 4 seed in the South region. Although this could be perceived as a low seed for a team that has only lost one more game than the first-seeded Tar Heels, the Blue Devils are coming off losses to arguably their two biggest ACC rivals in N.C. State and North Carolina. Duke lost the last home game of the regular season to the Tar Heels, who swept the Tobacco Road rivalry contests this year. More notable, however, was the loss to the Wolfpack in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, even though the Blue Devils were 11-point favorites prior to the start of the game.

Talking about a Cinderella story, N.C. State is coming in as an 11th seed after winning its first ACC tournament since 1987. Its matchup against No. 6-seed Texas Tech could break a lot of brackets. The Wolfpack also beat the only first-seeded team from the ACC after downing the Tar Heels in the conference tournament championship. North Carolina, for its part, did show signs of inconsistency throughout the season but finished stronger than the Blue Devils.

Speaking of the ACC, 23-10 Virginia was given a final chance to make the tournament as it prepares to take on Colorado State in the First Four. The Cavaliers’ inconsistency, lack of offensive depth and struggles in the conference tournament may have hindered their chances to make it to the Big Dance, but the selection committee seems to have prioritized their record.

Perhaps surprisingly, Pittsburgh was left out after landing fourth in the ACC regular-season standings above Clemson, who did make it in as the sixth seed in the West region. The Panthers were able to beat Virginia and Duke earlier in the season but had one less win than the Cavaliers while being bounced in the second round of the ACC tournament.

With this in mind, the Blue Devils are set to take on a No. 13-seed Vermont team that dominated the American East tournament, winning six of the last eight conference championships. The Catamounts may have the more experienced players, so Duke will have to rely on its talent offensively to come out with a win and get into the second round. 

UConn, other top-seeded teams to look out for 

It is probably an overstatement to say that UConn is going to repeat and win the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. In fact, the last team to have successfully defended an NCAA men’s basketball championship was Florida in the 2006-07 season, led by Joakim Noah and Al Horford. However, the Huskies could not be in a better position this year to win the tournament again. For one, they are coming off a triumphant win in the Big East tournament against a prosperous and highly-respected Marquette team. Moreover, the team has not lost in almost a month, and sophomore Donovan Klingan has been an excellent replacement for UConn’s dominant big man from last year, Adama Sanogo. 

The Huskies have also avoided major injuries to its roster, a factor No. 1-seed Houston is currently struggling with. The Cougars are one of three one-seed teams who lost their conference tournament championship games alongside North Carolina and Purdue. No. 2-seed Iowa State was responsible for handing Houston a 28-point loss to take the Big 12 championship, while Wisconsin took down Purdue in the semifinals of the Big 10 tournament before falling to Illinois in the finals. Both the Badgers and Cyclones figure to be strong dark horse teams.

Falling just behind the No. 1 seed teams come the No. 2 seeds — Arizona, Tennessee, Iowa State and Marquette. These squads have shown less consistency than the one seeds but have nonetheless shown the potential to dominate with star-studded rosters. In particular, look out for both the Wildcats, led by Caleb Love and Keshad Johnson, and Tennessee, led by Dalton Knecht. All of these players have the ability to take over games on the biggest of stages. Similarly, No. 4 seed Kansas, a team that has struggled recently, has its own star in Hunter Dickinson, who is capable of dominating the paint.

Competitive matchups to look forward to

While it is impossible to accurately predict which matchups are going to lead to upsets or blowouts, there are a few games that are slated to be more competitive based on the regular season. Right off the bat, two contests that could be tight are No. 5-seed Wisconsin facing No. 12-seed James Madison and No. 8-seed Mississippi State versus No. 9-seed Michigan State. In the former matchup, the Badgers just beat the Boilermakers in the Big 10 championship and seem to be carrying some momentum, but keep in mind that the Dukes are coming in with a 31-3 record while beating the Spartans and Akron in the process, both of whom are in the tournament. When looking at Michigan State, Tom Izzo’s squad has one of the worst records in the tournament (19-14) but have shown the ability to win big when shooting well from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, come in as an eighth seed after racking up some impressive wins that include Tennessee and Auburn. 

Look out for No. 13-seed Oakland versus No. 3-seed Kentucky and No. 11-seed New Mexico versus No. 6-seed Clemson. Coach Calipari’s team has been nothing short of impressive, led by freshmen Rob Dillingham and Reed Sheppard. The Golden Grizzlies, meanwhile, carry more experience and have won 11 of their last 13 games. The Lobos are coming off a win in the Mountain West tournament and possess one of the deadlier duos in Jaelen House and Jamal Mashburn Jr., who combined for 49 points in the conference championship game.


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