This region is personal for me, and not because of the selection committee. Providence, the team I rooted for as a child, is the 10th seed. Missouri, my alma mater, is in the field. Xavier, where my son went as a freshman, is the top seed. (He came home to attend UB, which I see as a win for the mid-majors.)
John Beilein, the pride of Newfane and former head man at Canisius, has Michigan in the region as a very live Final Four possibility. Beilein is as good a college coach as I've ever seen. He should be in the Hall of Fame one day.
Beilein has taken four teams to the NCAA Tournament. A year ago, the Wolverines were a sympathetic favorite after their team plane skidded off the runway and crashed through a fence before takeoff to the Big Ten tourney. They won the league title, then went to the Sweet 16 before losing by a point to Oregon.
Michigan won the Big Ten again early this month, needing four wins. Beilein is a master in March. He rarely loses to an inferior team and has pulled some memorable upsets in the NCAAs: His first Richmond team won as a No. 14 in '98, his 2005 West Virginia team came within an OT of the Final Four as a 7 seed.
This year's Wolverines have exceeded expectations after being picked fifth in the Big Ten. They're peaking at the right time, as usual. The question is whether they'll be rusty from a long layoff after an early Big Ten tourney in New York. My guess is that more time off makes a Beilein team even more dangerous. I could see them winning it all.
Game to Watch
Missouri vs. Florida State. Star Michael Porter Jr., who was suupposed to challenge Ayton for national freshman of the year, is back for Mizzou after missing almost the entire season with a back injury. It'll be must-watch TV, like following Tiger Woods in his return. Florida State is typically athletic. Missouri is 25th in scoring defense, reflective of their head coach, Cuonzo Martin, played in his days at Purdue.
NC Central or Texas Southern over Xavier. What the heck. As I said, it's got to happen some day, and Xavier is one of the weakest No. 1 seeds to come along in awhile. They can really shoot and score, but they're average on defense and vulnerable in the front court. They get careless with the ball at times, too. I'm hoping it's NC Central, because my dear departed pal, Allen Wilson, would love to see me picking his alma mater for a historic upset.
South Dakota State. Ask UB if this team is dangerous. The Jackrabbits beat them by 14 in the Cayman Islands Classic in November, shooting 60 percent. They're back in the field for the third year in a row and due for an upset. They do everything well and have a star in Mike Daum, who is sixth in the nation in scoring (23.8ppg) and 15th in rebounds. State will be a trendy pick, and No. 12 seeds have a nice trend. They're 18-22 against No. 5 seeds in the last 10 NCAA tourneys. They could make a run in a fairly weak bracket.
Kassius Robertson, who led Canisius in scoring last year, was Missouri's top scorer at 16.2 ppg.
Missouri, South Dakota State, Michigan, North Carolina.