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Teams With Easiest And Hardest Paths in NCAA Tournament

The Hardest Paths: Which Teams Face the Toughest Challenges?

The 2020-2021 college basketball campaign managed to get through the regular season and the conference tournaments. Now we get to the good stuff: the NCAA Tournament. March Madness is upon us. In each of the four regions, let’s look at one team with a relatively easy path and a relatively difficult path. That’ll be useful to cross-reference with their college basketball odds.

West Region Easy Path: Gonzaga

The Bulldogs could meet one of two struggling teams, Oklahoma or Missouri, in their second game. In the Sweet 16, they could meet a Virginia team they crushed earlier this season or a Creighton team whose coach, Greg McDermott, got into trouble for insensitive remarks. Creighton was humiliated by Georgetown in the Big East Tournament and does not look ready at all for the spotlight of March. Gonzaga could meet Iowa in the Elite Eight. Gonzaga comfortably defeated Iowa in the regular season. The only other high seed is Kansas, which has some players unavailable for the start of the NCAA Tournament due to COVID-19. The Jayhawks might not have a great rhythm at any point in this tournament. Gonzaga has a path made for success.

Head coach Patrick Ewing of the Georgetown Hoyas and his team huddle as a basket is reviewed in the first half
Elsa/Getty Images/AFP

West Region Tough Path: Virginia

The Cavaliers face a red-hot Ohio team in their first game. If they get by that, Creighton or Santa Barbara could bet tenacious and bothersome in the second game. Then, if Virginia makes the Sweet 16, it would have to deal with Gonzaga again. This is where the team’s road figures to come to an end. If Virginia somehow gets past Gonzaga, the Iowa Hawkeyes clearly would have more talent in a possible Elite Eight game. This is a brutal draw, without question.

East Region Easy Path: Colorado Buffaloes

The Buffs play an overrated Georgetown team in their first game. They then face Florida State (most likely) in their second game. Florida State committed 25 turnovers in its most recent game on Saturday versus Georgia Tech. Colorado has to feel good about the draw it received as a No. 5 seed. If Colorado meets Michigan in the Sweet 16, the Wolverines might be without forward Isaiah Livers. Colorado has a chance to do damage.

East Region Tough Path: Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines’ path is tough mostly because not having Isaiah Livers figures to hurt them, but even if they have Livers healthy, LSU in the second round would be a nasty matchup. The Tigers are athletic and powerful. Florida State and Colorado are both blessed with a diversity of skills and players who can score from every spot on the court. Alabama or Texas in a possible Elite Eight game would be headache-level matchups for Michigan as well.

South Region Easy Path: Baylor Bears

The Bears should be able to handle either North Carolina or Wisconsin, teams that struggled throughout the season. Baylor would then play Purdue, most likely. The Boilermakers don’t have anything close to the athletic ability of Baylor. In the Elite Eight, Ohio State – the No. 2 seed in the South – is a great matchup for Baylor, whose guards could smother the Buckeyes’ backcourt and disrupt Ohio State’s entire half-court offense.

South Region Hard Path: Arkansas

The Razorbacks could face a brutally tough No. 6 seed, Texas Tech, on the first weekend of the tournament. If Arkansas can get by that game, it would likely face No. 2 seed Ohio State in the Sweet 16. If the Hogs are still alive, they would then have to get past Baylor to make the Final Four. There are obstacles everywhere for Arkansas.

Midwest Region Easy Path: West Virginia

The Mountaineers get a No. 6 seed, San Diego State, which is not a great shooting team. That really plays into the Mountaineers’ hands. West Virginia is paired with the weakest No. 2 seed in the bracket, the Houston Cougars. West Virginia has a terrific opportunity to make the Elite Eight. If Oklahoma State beats Illinois, WVU could face the fourth-seeded Cowboys with a Final Four berth on the line.

Midwest Region Hard Path: Oklahoma State

The Cowboys were underseeded at No. 4. They should have been a No. 3 seed. Their No. 4 seed means they have to face top-seeded Illinois (barring an upset) in the Sweet 16. They might then have to play West Virginia or Houston in the Elite Eight, but the early meeting with Illinois is really nasty and, to be candid, unfair for a team this good. OSU should not have had to play Illinois until the Elite Eight. Tennessee could be a tough assignment in the round of 32 as well.

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