NCAA Tournament Location Winners and Losers
While the focus in the aftermath of Selection Sunday is often on seeds and the matchups, many coaches might prioritize the venue draw in those announcements as the programs scramble to make travel arrangements and hope to get fan support thrown into often random location assignments. The committee allegedly only makes location concessions for the top handful of seeds but certainly there were winners and losers in the location assignments.
Hartford, Connecticut (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Villanova: Playing just over 200 miles away the Big East champions have a great location draw in Hartford to easily calm any hostility regarding being a surprising #6 seed, especially with the Marquette team they topped for the Big East title being a #5 seed. Saint Mary’s is playing nearly 3,000 miles away from home for this contest though the Gaels at least avoided being handed a daytime slot. Villanova should have the bulk of the audience in this pod as by far the closest of the top seeded teams in this grouping while also getting the primetime time slot Thursday night.
Loser – Purdue: A Purdue squad that was the regular season co-champion of one of the top conferences in the nation didn’t land either of the two Midwestern sites in Des Moines or Columbus. They also pull a late night time slot and will deal with a Big East heavy crowd following up the Villanova contest Thursday night. Norfolk isn’t exactly close to Hartford but #14 seed Old Dominion has a much shorter trip to this site as Purdue certainly could have had a better draw in this pod. Staring at the defending national champions for a potential Round of 32 Saturday matchup is also daunting particularly given how the makeup of the crowd will likely look. A Florida State squad that was in the ACC title game also failed to land a preferable spot in Jacksonville or Columbia.
Jacksonville, Florida (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Maryland: Jacksonville is a 10 hour drive from College Park but Maryland has to feel good about this draw, landing a #6 seed despite a late season slide. Teams that win the First Four games can often be dangerous but that Tuesday victor is going to go from playing a late night game in Dayton to facing an early afternoon game Thursday in Jacksonville for a difficult turnaround. This pod also lacks a local favorite with Florida State and the other ACC powers sent elsewhere. Kentucky fans will dominate the stands but all things considered Maryland landed in a decent spot.
Loser – LSU: The Tigers, not the Wildcats were the SEC regular season champions yet LSU will share this venue with the rabid Kentucky fanbase. Baton Rouge is technically a bit closer to Jacksonville than Lexington but while Kentucky gets the Thursday night primetime billing, LSU has a very early start game vs. Yale on Thursday with the Ivy League teams being very dangerous in recent years. Kentucky will be almost three times as big of a favorite as LSU in the opening round despite these teams only being one seed apart.
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Des Moines, Iowa (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Michigan: Much is being made of Michigan getting the more favorable bracket draw than Michigan State and both of those teams will land in Des Moines for the opening rounds. Ultimately the committee likely locked in their choices when Michigan had a double-digit lead in the second half of the Big Ten championship. Both teams are heavy favorites Thursday but while Michigan State plays an under seeded Bradley team that is less than four hours away from Des Moines, Michigan draws an injury depleted Montana squad that makes a long trip. Michigan would have a bigger location edge Saturday in a potential round of 32 game vs. Florida or Nevada as well while Michigan State would draw Louisville or Minnesota who both have reasonable trips to Des Moines.
Loser – Louisville: The Cardinals had a much closer option in Columbus in its sights and despite the selection committee handing out three #1 seeds to the ACC, Louisville was dropped to the #7 line even with a win over Michigan State plus ACC road wins over North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Add that the committee had to have a laugh in engineering a matchup of Richard Pitino against his dad’s former school and the Cardinals have a tough opening draw. The Gophers also are playing in the closest possible venue for them fewer than 250 miles away and then if Louisville wins they likely pull the Michigan State team they beat in overtime in November to provide plenty of motivation for the Spartans.
Salt Lake City, Utah (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Baylor: Gonzaga was a natural fit for Salt Lake City even though Spokane is still over 700 miles away. Waco is more than 1,200 miles away but this is a good draw for a slumping Bears team that most pegged for an even lesser seed. The Bears get to face a zone team that they will be comfortable with and an east coast Syracuse team faces longer travel west and will face the late night start time to give the Bears a bit of an edge in the timing and location. The status Tyus Battle, the best player for the Orange, is also unclear and putting Syracuse in a Thursday group makes for one less day for his recovery. A Bears team on a four-game losing streak, while just 4-7 in the past 11 games, didn’t deserve these potential breaks.
Loser – Auburn: A dominant SEC championship game victory Sunday didn’t boost Auburn’s stock much nor did it provide a favorable venue as Salt Lake City would not have been high on Auburn’s first travel choices. Auburn will also draw an early game Thursday for a quick turnaround with long travel after Sunday’s win in Nashville. New Mexico State is a dangerous team with great depth and while Las Cruces isn’t exactly close to Salt Lake City, it is about half as far as Auburn has to travel. Auburn fans will also be drowned out by Gonzaga and Kansas fans that figure to take over this arena.
Columbia, South Carolina (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Mississippi: The Rebels have only defeated three teams that made the NCAA Tournament this season but with a #8 seed Ole Miss doesn’t appear to have been remotely close to the bubble despite losing five of the final seven games of the season including three losses to non-tournament teams. Mississippi draws an Oklahoma squad that most also expected to be closer to the cut line and a team that hasn’t been at its best in recent weeks. Opposing a Virginia program that has struggled in the NCAA Tournament in recent years is also the path most #8/#9 seeds would likely choose. Ole Miss also played in this arena in February as they will have some familiarity with the court.
Loser – Virginia: Columbia is the venue Virginia would have chosen but the selection committee isn’t giving the first team ever to lose as a #1 seed in the Round of 64 a free pass the following year. Gardner Webb is only 112 miles away from Columbia and Virginia is going to have to deal with Duke being in this pod as well. UCF and VCU should also get decent support in this group as the Cavaliers will have plenty of folks cheering against them on Friday and Sunday in this venue. Virginia also failed to land a spot in the East region where Washington D.C. will host the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games. Instead will have to potentially face a team playing very close to home in Louisville should Cincinnati, Purdue, or Tennessee advance to the regional final. In a potential Sweet 16 game Virginia could also pull a Wisconsin or Kansas State team that is more than comfortable at a deliberate pace.
Columbus, Ohio (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Cincinnati: The American champions have a right to complain about being a #7 seed but looking at the draw and not the seeds there are a lot of things working in favor of the Bearcats. Cincinnati is one of only a few teams playing in their home state and they are barely 100 miles away from Columbus. Iowa is also a team that has played as poorly as any team in the field in the last month for a favorable first matchup. Tennessee is waiting as a difficult Round of 32 game but the big picture path is favorable with the South bracket leading to Louisville, a city less than 100 miles away from Cincinnati.
Loser – North Carolina: A one-point loss to a Duke team they beat twice last weekend flipped the Tar Heels out of more favorable venues in the bracket, missing out on Columbia or Jacksonville while also not placed in the East region that winds up in Washington D.C. While Chapel Hills is only 450 miles from Columbus the Tar Heels haven’t had to leave the Carolinas the past three years in the opening round games. If North Carolina makes the Sweet 16 they could wind up facing Kansas in Kansas City for a big potential disadvantage.
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Tulsa, Oklahoma (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Houston: The Cougars lost by double-digits Sunday in the AAC final and despite using an incredibly weak non-conference schedule to help create the 32-3 record but stayed on the #3 line in a favorable venue. This pod will have some Big XII support but the Cougars get a Friday game unlike some of the other teams that played on Sunday and now face a Thursday game. The Tulsa/Kansas City path would have been where Houston would have placed itself in the bracket given the choice. Likely opposing Houston in the Round of 32 would be an Iowa State team that mostly struggled in the last month might be a bit over seeded from its Big XII tournament championship, a run that didn’t include facing the top Big XII team Texas Tech.
Loser – Buffalo: Getting a #6 seed is a big deal for a MAC team but Buffalo has the disadvantage of not knowing who they will play until late Wednesday night. They also could wind up facing Arizona State, coached by Bobby Hurley, the former Buffalo coach who gave Nate Oats his entry to the division I level and will be intimately familiar with how the Bulls play. The Bulls also face a long trip to Tulsa when far more attractive venues were available in terms of travel distance. With Houston, Iowa State, and Texas Tech playing relatively close to home in this draw the Bulls might not get the support they expected.
San Jose, California (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – UC Irvine: The Anteaters haven’t lost since mid-January and won’t have to leave California for the NCAA Tournament unless they win twice. They also get to face a wounded Kansas State squad that appears to possibly be playing without Dean Wade in the tournament for the second straight season. Add that this team lost 71-49 at Kansas State early last season and Russell Turner’s team has a lot to work with to try to engineer an upset bid.
Loser – Virginia Tech: The Hokies have some good news with Justin Robinson cleared to play but Virginia Tech is getting sent out west and has the late night draw with a game starting around 10:00 PM Eastern Time. Saint Louis won four games in four days to win the A-10 tournament but getting a Friday draw helps the Billikens who won that title game on Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn. The Hokies played only one non-conference road game this season and lost it and actually has never left the Eastern Time zone all season. A squad reliant on 3-point shooting could have trouble in an unfamiliar venue at an irregular time slot. The Hokies also land in the grouping with #1 overall Duke should they advance to the Sweet 16 though that opportunity would come in a favorable Washington D.C. venue.