When I initially got a look at this bracket, my first thought was, "Did everyone on the committee feel horribly guilty for how the NCAA has handled the Miami investigation??"
At a glance, this is by FAR the friendliest bracket for the top two seeds. There's no such thing as a cakewalk in this tournament, but Indiana and Miami have absolutely nothing to complain about.
The only vaguely threatening team to IU before the Regional Final is probably Syracuse, and that depends on which version of the Orange shows up; the one that beat Louisville earlier this year and was beating them by 16 in the Big East title game or the one that lost 4 of their last 5 regular season games (albeit to ranked opponents) and blew said lead to lose to Louisville by double digits.That zone is always prone to give people fits, though Indiana likely has the shooters to negate it. LIU-Brooklyn, NC State and Temple all like to push the ball and score; something which Indiana does better than all of them. UNLV is as athletically gifted a team as there is in this region and rebounds the hell out of the ball but likely lacks the discipline necessary for a significant run.
On Miami's side, it's all about the guard play. Durand Scott and Shane Larkin are the best 1-2 guard combo in the tournament outside of Louisville and containing them is the key to have a shot at the Hurricanes (easier said than done, certainly). They are both excellent defenders, as well, so they will put tremendous pressure on the other team's backcourt going in both directions. Illinois is very similarly guard oriented, but less of a complete team. Marquette, for all that I think they are horribly and inexplicably overseeded, could actually give Miami a tough game. In that matchup, the talented perimeters might very well cancel each other out, at which point Kenny Kadji's stretch 4 skill set would be pitted against Devonte Gardner's round mound of field goal percentage. It would also be very, very foolish to sleep on Butler. Brad Stevens can coach 'em up with the best and the Bulldogs have some big-time wins including 3 against teams in this region: Marquette (their potential second round opponent), Indiana, UNC, Vanderbilt and Temple (3 of their 8 losses came against Saint Louis, everybody's favorite dark horse 4-seed.)
Indiana and Miami both showed some vulnerability in the stretch run of the regular season, just not enough for any of these teams to likely take advantage.
Best First Round Matchup - This depends on whether you define "best" as merely "competitive" or "entertaining". If it's the former I think Butler/Bucknell, Illinois/Colorado and Marquette/Davidson will all live up. But If I had to pick one game to watch, it would be NC State vs.Temple. Both of these teams can fill it up and neither are particularly great defensively. It should be fun to watch and competitve. We'll see if NC State can avoid adding a first round flame-out to their year of unprecedented underperformance.
Dark Horse - It's got to be Butler, without really a close second. They have a great, tournament tested coach ,are as well disciplined team as you will find, and go 9 deep into a roster that includes one of the better scoring guards in the tourney in Rotnei Clark. They've shown that they can play with and beat the big boys and there's no one in front of them that will scare them.
The "Who ?!" Award - The Bucknell Bison (though, to be fair, unless you have a short memory you will remember them from their upset of 3-seed Kansas in 2005). Despite a great year last year, they were knocked out of a chance to get into the NCAA tournament by Lehigh in the Patriot League finals (and we all know what Lehigh was able to do). Their leading scorer, 6-11 Mike Muscala, is also the school's all-time leading scorer. They finished the year 28-5.
The All -Atlas Squad (guys who can carry their teams) - Jamal Olasewere, LIU Brooklyn (19 ppg); Mike Muscala, Bucknell (19ppg, 11rpg); Allen Crabbe, Cal (19ppg, 6rpg, 3apg); Khalif Wyatt, Temple (20ppg, 4apg); Anthony Benett, UNLV (16 ppg, 8rpg); Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse (12ppg, 5rpg, 8apg); Shane Larkin, Miami (15ppg, 4rpg, 4apg, 2spg); Cody Zeller (18ppg, 8rpg).
Upset Special: Bucknell will be the popular pick here. I'm going to go with Davidson over Marquette. Bob McKillop is a fantastic coach, and though the Wildcats play in a weak Southern conference, they come into the tournament having won 17 (!) straight. De'mon Brooks and Jake Cohen are both potential matchup problems for the Eagles. To me, this is more accurately an 11-v-6 type of game.
Best Potential Second Round Matchup: If Illinois plays Miami, we might see 50 3-point attempts, and if Syracuse plays UNLV we will have an interesting stylistic contrast , but NC State vs. Indiana would be an incredible up-and-down game.
The All-Digger-Phelps Team (names most likely to be mispronounced): Jamal Olasewere (LIU) Raphael Akpejiori (Miami)
God Shammgod Award (Best Name): This was a triple tie between Bak Bak (Cal) (Thanks easter bunny!!); Dalton Pepper (Temple) (Seriously, Mr. and Mrs. Pepper? That had to be on purpose, right?); and the always awesome Vander Blue. Honorable Mentions to Booker Hucks (LIU), Spencer Dinwiddie (Col), and Daniel Dingle (Temple).
The Gates/Gonazalez Award ( Player who could seek NFL employment): Davante Gardner (Marq) 6-8 290 lbs (That's more O-lineman than TE...); Reggie Johnson (Miami) 6-10 292 lbs; Richard Howell (NC State) 6-8, 257.
The Tyrion Lannister Award: Tyler Lewis (NC State) His listed height is 5-11. That would only be true if he was wearing 4-inch heels when he was measured.
The Home Cooking Award (Beneficial Geographical placement): I would think Butler has to be pretty damn happy to be in Lexington for its first two games.
The Cold Wendy's Fries in the Lobby of the Comfort Inn Award (Getting Screwed with your Geographical Placement): Miami plays in Austin and then potentially in DC, neither of which is particularly close. But that's what you get when you have your school at the the end of a peninsula.
The Best Coach you Don't Know About: Bob McKillop, Davidson. In his 24 years at Davidson, Coach McKillop has a 414-256 record. This guy knows what he's doing.