College Sports

A few surprises in NCAA bracket, and probably more to come

WEST: Oregon’s Roll Draws Attention

Oregon as a top seed caught some by surprise, but the Ducks are scorching. Winners of the Pacific-12 regular-season and tournament titles – with a 31-point win over Utah in the final – the Ducks are peaking at the right time. The biggest hurdles? They may have to get through Buddy Hield and Oklahoma to reach the Final Four.

The New Glove: The do-it-all star for seventh-seeded Oregon State has a familiar name. Gary Payton II, son of the former Seattle SuperSonics star, averaged 15.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.4 steals this season, leading the Beavers in all four categories – the first Oregon State player to do so in more than 30 years.

Upset Special: No. 12 Yale has size, plays defense (16th nationally in scoring defense) and gets after it on the boards. And it’s also hungry: Yale is in the tournament for the first time since 1962, when only 25 teams made a tournament that was completed in 13 days. No. 5 Baylor, meanwhile, has lost three of four.

Quote: “We will be able to utilize this time to get better and start preparations for next season.” – Johnny Jones, Louisiana State’s coach, on why the Tigers, after failing to make the NCAA field, decided not to accept any postseason invitation.


MIDWEST: Soaring Spartans Are Knocked Down

Despite winning the Big Ten tournament title moments before the bracket announcement, Michigan State was bumped down to a No. 2 seed below Virginia, the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament’s runner-up. Both are worthy selections, but the Spartans are always dangerous in March. Since a sloppy stretch in January, Michigan State has gone 13-1.

Orange Get In: Syracuse – along with Temple, Tulsa, Vanderbilt and Wichita State – sneaked into the field at the expense of hopefuls like Monmouth, St. Bonaventure, St. Mary’s and Valparaiso. “It’s a sad day for midmajors,” Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew said.

Upset Special: Fresno State over Utah will be a popular pick, but Arkansas-Little Rock over Purdue is safer. Arkansas-Little Rock beat San Diego State, Tulsa and DePaul on the road with a top-notch defense (59.6 points allowed per game).

Quote: “This is the happiest I’ve been on Selection Sunday in a long time.” –

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team made the tournament despite a midseason stumble while he served a nine-game suspension for NCAA rules violations.


EAST: Tar Heels Coach Feels the Positives

Did you see Roy Williams dancing Saturday night? He is feeling good about his veteran Tar Heels, who lived up to their billing this season – so far. Top-seeded North Carolina does not rely on the 3-pointer, which could be helpful, and it is playing in Raleigh, which will surely help. But a potential matchup with Andy Enfield’s Southern Cal team looms in the second round, and maybe the Indiana-Kentucky winner after that.

Red vs. Blue: How much fun would a potential matchup between Indiana and Kentucky be? The team’s regular-season rivalry went into storage in a dispute over neutral sites versus home sites, but the selection committee may have made it happen anyway. Get the popcorn ready.

Upset Special: While West Virginia is strong defensively, Stephen F. Austin forces more turnovers per game than any Division I team (18.6), and the Lumberjacks also may just be a little bit better offensively (115.5 points per 100 possessions).

Quote: “If we’re a four seed, it was picked before the game.” – John Calipari, Kentucky’s coach, dejectedly but accurately predicting his team’s placement after it won the SEC tournament on Sunday by beating Texas A&M – which was given a No. 3 seed.


SOUTH: Can Kansas Break Through?

Kansas, the top overall seed, is perhaps the deepest and most talented team in the field. But while the Jayhawks have been a No. 1 or 2 seed each of the last four years, they have not reached the Final Four since 2012. And look out for No. 5 Maryland, possibly, in the round of 16.

Cheesesteaks to Go: Villanova could meet Temple in the round of 32 in Brooklyn, stirring memories of Big Five battles. The teams have been playing each other since 1914, but they have met only once in the NCAA tournament, in 1970.

Upset Special: Hawaii, the 13th seed, went 7-2 on the road this season, and its trips are never easy. Guards Roderick Bobbitt and Quincy Smith ranked 1-2 in the Big West in steals, while No. 4 California’s turnover margin (minus-2.48) was second to last in the Pacific-12.

Quote: “Everybody here probably anticipated being in Philly. We had our chance at that.” – Villanova coach Jay Wright, after his team, which lost in the Big East title game Saturday night, was made a No. 2 seed in the South rather than a No. 1 seed in the East, which will have games in Philadelphia.