SportsPulse: The madness is finally here. USA TODAY’s Trysta Krick breaks down everything you need to know about this year’s tournament.
These five teams have been ranked in the coaches poll throughout this season but are trending in the wrong direction headed into the NCAA tournament.
You might want to stay away from picking these squads for your bracket, even with a favorable matchup:
Marquette (No. 5 seed): Once in contention for a No. 2 seed and in line to win the Big East regular season, the Golden Eagles (24-9,12-6 Big East) plummeted in the home stretch — losing four in a row, all close ones by single digits. Marquette’s national player of the year candidate, Markus Howard (25.0 ppg, 4.0 apg), can work as a double-edged sword in that his production makes this team dangerous but it also leads other talented Marquette players to defer and rely on him too much. The winning formula for the Golden Eagles is more of collaborative chemistry. The real reason not to trust this team is because it’s a No. 5 seed facing a very good No. 12 in Murray State.
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Louisville (No. 7 seed): The Cardinals (20-13, 10-8 ACC) have lost five of their last seven, only beating a Notre Dame team that finished last in the league during that span, and failing to put together a win streak since January. Chris Mack has done a heck of a job with this team in his first year at the helm, but this group is nowhere near the level he had his Xavier teams at heading into previous NCAA tournaments. In a No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup, Louisville could struggle against a Minnesota team that just knocked off Purdue in the Big Ten tournament.
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Washington (No. 9 seed): One reason not to trust the Huskies (26-8, 15-3 Pac-12) even though they’re the best team in a power conference? Try the fact that they lost to the worst team from the Pac-12 — California on Feb. 28 — during a year when the league has been historically bad and ranks as the worst among elite conferences this year. Then they came up short in the conference tournament and allowed Oregon to take the league’s auto bid. More than that, there’s a reason Washington’s seed is closer to the bubble line, and it’s because it hasn’t beaten anybody good — in non-conference or in-conference.
Iowa (No. 10 seed): The Hawkeyes (22-11, 10-10) lost four consecutive games to close out the regular-season, including a home loss to bottom-feeder Rutgers, and then got annihilated by 21 points in the Big Ten tournament to Michigan. That probably didn’t warrant them getting a No. 10 seed (a No. 8 or No. 9 was more realistic based on their profile). But Iowa’s defense is the weak spot, as this group allowed Ohio State and Nebraska to score 90 points in two head-scratching outcomes during their late skid. Look for the Hawkeyes to falter in a matchup against a Cincinnati team that’s way better than a No. 7 seed and playing near its home fanbase in Columbus.
LSU (No. 3 seed): Even though the Tigers (26-6, 16-2) beat out Kentucky and Tennessee to claim the SEC regular-season title, the program is under a cloud of scrutiny that threatens its postseason outlook. Coach Will Wade remained suspended through the SEC tournament in the wake of a report that he’d been caught on a wiretap talking with a person convicted of funneling money to the families of basketball recruits. Interim coach Tony Benford could be tasked with leading a talented-but-disenchanted team at a vulnerable No. 3 seed against scary-good mid-major Yale in the first round and then potentially Maryland or the play-in No. 11 seed next. If the Tigers somehow make it to the Sweet 16, they’ll have found a post-controversy identity – and it’ll still be a team without a high ceiling.