- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Sixteen points on my mind while thinking about the Midwest Regional:
1. By being awarded a No. 1 seed, Duke was given proper credit for winning a share of the ACC title and the tournament championship. Although the Blue Devils' seed isn't a problem, they were placed in the easiest bracket despite being the third-ranked No. 1 seed behind Kansas and Kentucky. Duke also avoided having to be shipped out West. Although it may have taken the Blue Devils all season to receive their proper due, now that they have, they're expected to get out of this bracket and reach the Final Four. A positive development for Duke in the past few weeks has been the play of Kyle Singler, who was named MVP of the ACC tournament.
2. Arkansas-Pine Bluff earned its first NCAA tournament berth. That's why it's a shame and a mockery of its achievement to continue to make these teams play an opening-round game in Dayton, Ohio. Pine Bluff, which will play Winthrop, should be allowed to get the full experience of being a first-timer in the NCAA tournament by getting to play Duke. If the Golden Lions fall to Winthrop in the opening-round game, they will be cheated out of their first NCAA tournament experience.
3. Rarely in the first round do you get something like what will be on display in the 8-9 game between Cal and Louisville, when two of the best coaches in the nation, Mike Montgomery and Rick Pitino, will square off. Despite the coaches' pedigree, however, this game also will be a matchup of two teams that failed to meet expectations this season. That might be unfair to Cal, considering the Bears won the Pac-10 regular-season title for the first time in a half-century. But they came up empty in all their key nonconference matchups during the regular season and had to sweat out the selection process. Meanwhile, despite owning two of the best wins of the season with a sweep of Syracuse, Louisville could never find a consistent streak.
Two players to keep an eye on in this matchup are Samardo Samuels, who despite moments of brilliance has yet to be a dominant force on a consistent basis for the Cardinals, and Cal's Jerome Randle, who's a pleasure to watch when firing away on deep 3s.
4. Utah State coach Stew Morrill is a terrific coach who never receives the publicity he deserves for the job he's done with the Aggies. He's also a bit stubborn when it comes to scheduling, refusing to compete in tournaments at a neutral site or play road games at power conference schools without the promise of a return game. He might never change his scheduling philosophy after this season. The Aggies won the WAC by three games and got an at-large berth as a 12-seed after losing the conference title to New Mexico State.
5. I wish I could be more positive about Utah State's chances, but the Aggies face a tough draw with a hungry and tough Texas A&M team that possesses a big-time breakdown guard in Donald Sloan, a slippery deep shooter in B.J. Holmes and a zone-buster and defender in Dash Harris, who should return from a bone bruise on his right wrist. If Texas A&M can get out of the first round against Utah State and then beat either Purdue or Siena in the second round, it will head to Houston for the Sweet 16 where it likely will face No. 1 seed Duke.
6. The NCAA tournament selection committee clearly felt Purdue isn't the same team without Robbie Hummel. UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, the chair of the selection committee, made that clear in discussing why the Boilermakers dropped to a No. 4 seed after a crushing loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten semifinals. This tournament will be one of Matt Painter's toughest tests as a coach. The onus is on Purdue to perform well against the popular upset pick, No. 13 Siena. Despite being beat-up and bruised, the Boilers are a proud bunch. After everything that has transpired, a first-round win still would be a feat to celebrate.
7. Clearly, Notre Dame was in the field and not teetering on the bubble. But a No. 6 seed is quite a climb for the Fighting Irish, considering they were hardly on the board a few weeks ago after Luke Harangody was injured. In Harangody's absence, the Irish became much more of a ball-control, possession-controlling team, similar to Big Ten squads. It's a quality they've continued since Harangody has returned and one they'll surely continue in the NCAA tournament. But despite their torrid finish to the season, let's slow down on anointing them as a Sweet 16 team.
8. Speaking of Notre Dame, if you're looking for a solid sleeper in the region, look no further than the 11-6 game. In the CAA, one of the most competitive leagues in the nation, Old Dominion won both the regular-season title and tourney championship, which should be applauded. Blaine Taylor is an underrated coach, and the Monarchs, led by Gerald Lee, could be a tough out in the first round.
9. The wild card in the South Regional is No. 3 Baylor. The Bears have the talent to get to the Final Four. LaceDarius Dunn and Tweety Carter are a dangerous scoring tandem, and Ekpe Udoh is a rising star at forward who has made himself quite a bit of money with his recent play. And if the Bears make it to the Sweet 16, they'll play in Houston.
10. The most intriguing first-round game is in Providence between Richmond and Saint Mary's in the 7-10 game. The Spiders have two of the tournament's better guards in Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez. Meanwhile, in Omar Samhan, Saint Mary's has a man in the middle who will be tough to handle for the Spiders. If players such as Ben Allen, Matthew Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell make 3s or face-up shots, the Gaels can win. But can they get those shots off against the Spiders' D? Because of Richmond's guard play, I could see it upsetting Villanova in the second round, but Saint Mary's in Round 1 will not be easy.
11. Villanova's rise to a No. 2 seed is one of the selection committee's more interesting moves. I couldn't have been more wrong about the Wildcats' seeding after they dropped five of their last seven games. VU has the talent and capability of a 2-seed, led by Scottie Reynolds, one of the best big-shot makers in the country. The question is which Nova team will show up: the one that looked like a possible No. 1 or No. 2 seed that took out West Virginia in Morgantown, or the one that lost at home to Connecticut? Taylor King, who didn't play in the Big East tournament, could be a difference-maker. The one undisputed thing is the Wildcats from Reynolds to Corey Fisher to Antonio Pena to Corey Stokes can make shots, and their role players have high-level talent, led by Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek.
12. The popular pick for a double-digit seed to advance to the Sweet 16 is Siena, but I wouldn't be stunned if it ended up being No. 11 Old Dominion. I know that would mean that my sleeper pick, Baylor, would be eliminated, but you can't have both.
13. Will a lower-seeded team reach the Final Four? I was tempted to put Richmond in that category, but I couldn't do it and stuck with Duke as my pick from this region. If you're bolder than I am, take a look at the Spiders. They have the makeup of a sleeper team that could disrupt the entire bracket.
14. I'm just tossing this out there as a possibility, but a sleeper pick for the Elite Eight could be a dream matchup for the Big 12 and Houston's Reliant Stadium. It's not far-fetched to think that if Duke stumbles, Texas A&M and Baylor could face each other in a rocking affair in the Lonestar State.
15. If you want to know why Duke's bracket is the weakest, look at the number of regular-season conference champs among the next six seeds below the Blue Devils. The answer is one, and even that comes with a disclaimer, as Purdue is playing without Robbie Hummel. Conversely, Kansas has Big Ten champ Ohio State and co-ACC champ Maryland in its bracket.
16. I still say Duke is ripe to be taken out of this tournament early, but the bracket begs me to take the Blue Devils to reach the Final Four.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
From the most intriguing players to potential upsets, Andy Katz breaks down the South Regional.