As a Badger fan, my first reaction is that this is a good draw. Wisconsin has a real chance to make a run deep in the region.
My second thought? Oh yeah, there's that whole high-variance style and offensive issues thing. But that's another story for another time. Right now? Let's look at the West Region. Fun Fact? This region is 12.5 percent Irish and 12.5 percent Wildcats. Also, it has two Top 20 tempos according to Ken Pomeroy and three tempos below 300. Truly, a recipe for fun.
1. Gonzaga Bulldogs
The team with the target on its back. Between Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, they're one of the best frontcourts in the country. Kevin Pangos is a solid point guard, and the Bulldogs were able to use the combination to make half of their shots and put up 31 wins in the regular season. In fact, they were only one shot away from 32-1. And Przemek Zarnowski warrants mentioning, as well.
Fun Fact: Gonzaga has never made it beyond the Sweet 16 since its magical Cinderella run in 1999. And Gonzaga is the only the sixth team to enter the tournament as the only team with less than four losses. Of the previous five, only the 2005 Fighting Illini made the Final Four, and they needed an epic comeback to do it.
Personal Threat Level: That being said, Gonzaga is 31-2 and ran the West Coast Conference. They could well be stopped short, but I'm going to give it a high level.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
They do not have a difficult draw, but there's a good team here. Deshaun Thomas is one of the best offensive players in the Big Ten, and therefore college basketball. The defense is one of the best in the country, and despite two-thirds of the series against Wisconsin, the Bucleyes faced some real good offenses along the way. They don't have a signature non-conference win, but they beat everyone in the Big Ten, and therefore they beat the best in college basketball.
Fun Fact: Ohio State is 21st nationally in regard to fewest opponent free throws attempted. I present this without comment, because we all know the Big Ten referees are all crooked monsters.
Personal Threat Level: A great defense, a solid second scoring option in Lenzelle Smith, and a draw that seems pretty easy? This is an Elite 8 team.
3. New Mexico Lobos
It's entirely plausible that the Mountain West conference is going to become one of the Power Six conferences in college basketball. Being the winner of it, therefore, has some cachet. The Lobos possess two double-figure scoring guards in Kendall Williams and Tony Snell. Add to that a 7-footer who's averaging 12-and-8 in Alex Kirk, and you have a team with the inside-outside presence to ground its opponents into dust as it attempts to get to Los Angeles and beyond.
Fun Fact: The last time New Mexico has won two games in the NCAA Tournament? 1974, back when regional third-place games were still played. To put it another way, the Lobos have never won two consecutive games in the NCAA tournament. Steve Alford? He's only done it once.
Personal Threat Level: Kirk, Williams and Snell should be coming back. However, their pod is a tough one to get out of. For 2013-14? They could be real scary.
4. Kansas State Wildcats
Bruce Weber may illicit a lot of emotion, but he was smart enough to make certain that the style Frank Martin used to inexplicably escape Manhattan for South Carolina stayed intact. The Wildcats may not be big, but they will hit the offensive glass with aplomb and rely on the veteran Rodney Magruder for a lot of their offensive load. They go nine-deep in their rotation, and even if some experts are right and they do get swaggerjacked by the first-four winner, they will not go quietly.
Fun Fact: Weber's three first-round losses as a head coach have been by a combined seven points. Only one was as the higher seed.
Personal Threat Level: The Badgers can win on the glass and win ugly against them in the second round. It's not that great of a concern to me.
6. Arizona Wildcats
An in-season conference tournament victory over San Diego State brought Arizona to becoming a top-three team with wins over Florida and Miami. Then came a Sabatino Chen three that should've been but wasn't, and on came the Pac-12 inconsistencies. What that means is that Arizona is an interesting team. They have a balanced scoring load between Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson. Kaleb Tarczewski is a solid defender as a 7-footer, as well.
Fun Fact: The Wildcats' last two appearances in the NCAA tournament have brought them into the second weekend of play. Derrick Williams brought them to the Elite Eight in 2011, and Russ Pennell's one season as coach got them a Sweet 16 run as a No. 12 seed in 2009.
Personal Threat Level: They can get deep, but there's a nut-sized barrier to them meeting the Badgers.
7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Jack Cooley is one of those Troy Murphy-Luke Harangody low-post thumper types that has helped Notre Dame play some solid ball. Jerian Grant is a fine distributor and Eric Atkins hits about 43 percent from beyond the arc. They're a fundamentally sound team in general (fifth nationally in assists), despite some inconsistent performances along the way. They can make an opponent play their game, but if Grant and Atkins can't get their shots to fall, they're in some trouble.
Fun Fact: The last time Notre Dame's won a tournament game against a team from a non-power six conference? 2003.
Personal Threat Level: I'm more worried about the 13 seeds. Most experts agree that Ohio State seems like it should be, too.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers
The more statistically-oriented among us think Pittsburgh is a sleeper team. The Panthers are the sixth-ranked team in regard to a tempo-free net rating. They are seventh according to Ken Pomeroy. You won't see them put up a lot of points, But they have a steady senior point guard in Tray Woodall and they know how to force another team into playing their style of basketball.
Fun Fact: They are the slowest team in the NCAA tournament in regard to pace. That's 339th nationally. The Badgers are only 310th!
Personal Threat Level: They shock Gonzaga, I'll admit I'm worried.
9. Wichita State Shockers
Normally, the mid-major powers are built on strong guardplay and killing it from beyond the arc. You'd think I'm going to put a pun here, but I won't. Nevertheless, the Shockers are the bizarro mid-major. They attack the boards hard with Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall. Ehimen Oruke's a solid rebounder and shot-blocker. Offensively? They do have an inconsistent shot from the line and from three. But this is a team with three seniors and a junior leading the attack. On experience alone, they're going to be a tough out.
Fun Fact: I'm not going to get all political here. But the Shockers have their own T. Boone Pickens in Charles Koch of the Koch family. He paid enough to get his name on the Wichita State stadium.
Personal Threat Level: They can get past Pittsburgh. Gonzaga won't be so easy.
10. Iowa State Cyclones
This is a team that plays fast and loose. They're 10th in field goal attempts, and first in attempts from the line. There's going to be one heck of a low-post matchup between Jack Cooley and Melvin Ejim. Cooley may have the height advantage, but Iowa State has Will Clyburn to double down on the glass with. He's got that Ryan Evans game about him, but without all those weaknesses. And in terms of Offensive Rating (expected points given 100 possession), Tyrus McGee is 2nd in the nation.
Fun Fact: I had this whole idea of doing a joke about how Fred Hoiberg was Rick Blaine, what with the way station it was for transfers. But I'm not going to. People in Ames have no sense of humor for fun facts.
Personal Threat Level: They don't have the defense to get much beyond Round 2.
11. Belmont Bruins
Everybody come see the upset pick. The sexy, sexy upset pick. You've got three seniors scoring in double figures. Ian Clark leads the nation from beyond the arc at 46.3 percent. The Bruins distribute well (21st in assists), they get a lot of assists (fifthth).They're 4th nationally in terms of field goal percentage. They could very well jump up and punch Arizona in the mouth. But the thing of it is? Belmont's rarely faced a defense as good as Arizona, let alone some of the others in the draw.
Fun Fact: Belmont has never won a tournament game. Never. NEVER!
Personal Threat Level: Not this year. Let someone else ruin their pool.
12. Ole Miss Rebels
If Marshall Henderson was any more of a pro wrestling-styled villain, he would have blown-out, beach blonde hair and a fancypants robe for every time the band starts up "Monster" to introduce him on the floor. But he's good at scoring and can kick it into legend mode. Henderson's so loud, in fact. There are two solid frontcourt presences and known villains from rich-kid camp in Murphy Holloway and Reginald "Reg" Buckner who are only known for that one time Buckner punched a guy. Holloway's good for 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds. Buckner brings in 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks.
Fun Fact: Henderson is shooting 88 percent from the free throw line. The rest of the team? 62.1 percent. So basically? They're 337th without him from the charity stripe.
Personal Threat Level: A little scared. Henderson could kick it into legend mode. But they don't have a third rebounder.
13(A). Boise State Broncos
This is a team of cold, efficient shooters. As a team, the Broncos are 75 percent from the line, 39 percent from three and 46 percent overall. A sophomore duo of Australian Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks pace them, leading with 17.3 and 16.3 points per game, respectively. Jeff Elorriaga is shooting 45 percent from three on a little over six attempts. They hold wins over Creighton and UNLV, and have the shooting to be very scary for anybody they play.
Fun Fact: This will be Boise State's sixth NCAA tournament appearance, and the Broncos are looking for their first win.
Personal Threat Level: If they get to the Badgers? I'm a little worried. They may not be a great rebounding team, but they are second in the country at limiting an opponent on the offensive glass. A warm shot, and they could well get two wins for their tournament record.
13(B). La Salle Explorers
If you're looking for an experienced and quality backcourt? Ramon Galloway and Tyreek Duren both average above 15 points per game. Tyrone Garland's averaging almost 13. Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack both average over six boards per game, but they have not much beyond that. Fact of the matter? La Salle has to score to win.
Fun Fact: This is La Salle's first visit to the NCAA tournament since the 1991-92 season. Put it another way, the entire modern history of the Badger football hadn't been written yet. They were still the crappy team that was digging out from the Don Morton era. And gas was a nickel.
Personal Threat Level: Low. Boise State's got more efficiency on offense. And if they get past them, it's a better match-up for Kansas State.
14. Harvard Crimson
It's almost impressive they got back into the tournament this year. They lost leading scorer Kyle Casey and a solid point guard in Brandyn Curry in the offseason due to a cheating scandal. Wesley Saunders and Siyani Chambers have stepped up to replace the lost scoring, but there is no real rebounding threat. Chambers and Saunders have had issues with turnovers, as well. They're a young team. They're not likely to shock the world this year.
Fun Fact: Harvard is one of the only teams in the tournament that has lost to both a 20-loss team and the cellar dweller of their conference (9-22 Pennsylvania and last-place Columbia, respectively). Just goes to show its inconsistency.
Addendum: No. 15 seed Iona lost to 10-21 Marist, and MAAC cellar dweller St. Peter's. Liberty went and lost to the two other 20-loss divisional cellar dwellers in the Big South in Presbyterian and Longwood. LIU-Brooklyn lost to a 10-21 Sacred Heart, the self-same St. Peters and inexplicably, a 3-27 Lamar.
Personal Threat Level: That whole thing about only having one senior starter bodes well for their future, but the youth and aforementioned inconsistencies means the Crimson will not have a long tournament stay.
15. Iona Gaels
Call Night Ranger, because these guys are motoring. Pomeroy has them 17th in tempo. They put up 80 points a game overall. Lamont "Momo" Jones is putting up 23 points per game. His wingman Sean Armand is putting up 16.6 points per game, and over 41 percent from beyond the arc. David Laury averages a double-double with almost two blocks per game. Thing of it is, they've never faced a defense quite like Ohio State all season.
Fun Fact: A Gael is someone who speaks one of the Goedelic languages. These originated in Ireland and spread to parts of the Isle of Man and Scotland.
Personal Threat Level: This is the same team that had a 15-point halftime lead against Brigham Young in last year's First Four and ended up losing by six. Being in Harvard's addendum also does not bode well. They may scare the Buckeyes for a while, but they won't see the Badgers.
16. Southern Jaguars
Malcolm Miller is a fun player. Sixteen points-per-game, about six boards and he hit about 46 percent from beyond the arc. He is joined by Derrick Beltran, who's a less efficient scorer but scores roughly the same amount. Brandon Moore is a former SEC recruit that's averaging seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. The Jaguars are also third nationally in shutting down an opponent from three. For a 16 seed, there is something interesting here. But it would take something ridiculous for this to be more than, "Oh hey, Southern kept it under 10 a really long time," right?
Fun Fact: If you hear a mention of a Madut Bol, he is the son of noted NBA Cult Hero and fighter for the well-being of Sudan, Manute Bol.
Personal Threat Level: Obvious 16 seed is obvious.