Bracket analysis: Even as lower seeds, route to Des Moines isn't far-fetched for Cyclones, Hawkeyes

Danny Lawhon
The Des Moines Register

The conventional road to a geographical kiss from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is simple: Win, and then win, and then win enough to become a top-four regional seed.

The unconventional route, you ask?

Oddly enough, recent history suggests it's right where the Iowa and Iowa State men are projected to be.

The first and second rounds of March Madness return to Des Moines in 2019, and both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones have outside chances to surge into that discussion of the best 16 seeded teams. If they fall short, though, a No. 7 seed has been the under-the-radar prescription to a potential backdoor to Wells Fargo Arena one of the in-state Power Five schools.

On its website detailing the selection process, the NCAA goes to bold type to say that in recognizing "the demonstrated quality of such teams, the committee shall not place teams seeded on the first four lines at a potential 'home-crowd disadvantage' in the first round."

Doesn't say anything about the second round, though, does it? And here's the odd mini-trend that may make all these paragraphs a little less head-scratching: For the past four NCAA Tournaments, anyway, the closest any favored seed has come to facing a "hostile" neutral-court environment has been as a No. 2 seed in the second round.

2018: Last year was the closest the committee has come in recent memory to getting two rounds of geography right. Second-seeded Duke was in Pittsburgh for a game against No. 7 Rhode Island in the Midwest Region. The Blue Devils won 87-62.

Geographical comparison: Durham, North Carolina, to Pittsburgh is 313 miles as the crow flies, or 478 by fastest land route. Kingston, Rhode Island, to Pittsburgh: 448 direct; 531 land.

2017: This is the recent poster child for what can happen with the right draw. Again, No. 2 seed Duke fell victim to a tough assignment, facing seventh-seeded South Carolina in its home state in Greenville in an East Region game. Frank Martin's Gamecocks won the game 88-81 and wound up advancing to the Final Four.

Geographical comparison: Durham, North Carolina, to Greenville: 212 miles direct, 241 miles land; Columbia, South Carolina, to Greenville: 97 miles direct, 103 miles land.

2016: The Big Ten Conference was the beneficiary of a travel wash when No. 7 seed Wisconsin faced No. 2-seeded Xavier in St. Louis. The Badgers upended the Musketeers 66-63 before falling to Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. 

Geographical comparison: Cincinnati to St. Louis: 309 miles direct, 349 miles land. Madison, Wisconsin, to St. Louis: 308 miles direct, 359 miles land; 

2015: There were no losers by miles and hours, but No. 2 seed Kansas received what it thought was a wretched draw in stoking a dormant rivalry with seventh-seeded Wichita State in Omaha, Neb. Coach Bill Self has gone to considerable lengths to avoid in-state games when he can. The Shockers took advantage of the rare opportunity with a 78-65 statement win over the Jayhawks.

Geographical comparison: Lawrence, Kansas, to Omaha: 162 miles direct; 208 miles land. Wichita, Kansas, to Omaha: 258 miles direct, 307 miles land.

The relevance of digging even this deep comes when one examines the current bracket projections by the nation's foremost analysts. Yes, we're two months from Selection Sunday, but Iowa is currently a No. 8 seed in both Joe Lunardi's ESPN projection and Jerry Palm's CBS Sports projection. Iowa State holds a No. 7 seed in both projections, as well. They're both projected in the Midwest Region, which could land them a regional semifinal game in Kansas City if a surprising run were to occur.

Lunardi goes even further, giving the Cyclones the ultimate reward of playing in Des Moines, with a potential second-round game against Michigan State.

You don't need to be a geography major to figure out who that would benefit.

The topper? These projections haven't factored in Wednesday night's positive results: a keep-losing-teams-losing 89-82 survival of Penn State for No. 24 Iowa, and a whale of a 68-64 victory for Iowa State at No. 9 and Big 12 Conference leader Texas Tech.

So with conference records above .500, it's far from panic mode for either the Hawkeyes or Cyclones if the March Madness goal is Wells Fargo Arena.

Recent history even says a No. 7 seed could also be just right.


NCAA NET ranking (as of Thursday morning): No. 16

ESPN projection: Midwest Region, No. 7 seed, vs. St. John's in Des Moines

CBS Sports projection: Midwest Region, No. 7 seed, vs. Minnesota in Columbus, Ohio

Ken Pomeroy ranking, projection (as of Thursday morning): No. 14, 22-9 projected overall record


NCAA NET ranking: No. 25

ESPN projection: Midwest Region, No. 8 seed, vs. Cincinnati in Columbus, Ohio

CBS Sports projection: Midwest Region, No. 8 seed, vs. TCU in Columbia, S.C.

Ken Pomeroy ranking projection: No. 30, 22-9 projected overall record