Selection Sunday winners and losers: Kentucky, Duke get rough roads to Final Four

The 2018 NCAA tournament field is set. There was suspense on the bubble, then both snubs and celebrations. Oh, and a lot of complaining.

But now it’s time to get down to business. It’s time to assess that beautiful, linear construction that maps out the road to San Antonio. It’s bracket time.

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It’s time, specifically, to look at who got gifts from the selection committee and who got jobbed. Because the NCAA tournament is all about matchups. Some matchups are favorable; others are less so; and Kentucky’s are always the worst of anybody.

That, of course, is an exaggeration. But it’s what Big Blue Nation would have you believe. And this year, those rabid Wildcats fans might just be right.

It’s time for Selection Sunday winners and losers:


Gonzaga | Seed: 4 | Region: West

Had you offered Mark Few a No. 4 seed and no other information two days ago, would he have taken it? Maybe, maybe not. But if you offered him this draw, specifically? He would’ve snatched your hand off.

Gonzaga got a dream draw. There is nothing even remotely troubling on the first weekend. On the second, the Zags will likely get Xavier, by far the weakest of the top seeds. And not only that, they’ll get them out west. You could not have sketched up a cleaner 4-seed-to-Elite Eight path.

Missouri | Seed: 8 | Region: West

To be completely honest, you could assign the “winner” label to the entire top half of the West region. But Missouri is the other clear choice. The Tigers, who now have top-ranked recruit Michael Porter Jr. back from injury, get an ordinary Florida State team in the first round. They’ll then be a very popular upset pick over Xavier in the second. They themselves have the highest upside of any 8/9-seed.

Cincinnati | Seed: 2 | Region: South

The Bearcats played their way up to the 2-seed line over the final eight days of the season. They beat Wichita State to win the AAC regular-season crown outright, then staved off Houston to win the conference tournament title. And to top it off, they drew a relatively soft half-region.

The “half” part is key, because whoever comes out of the top portion of the South region will be the favorite in that Elite Eight game. But to get there from the bottom, all Cincinnati will have to do is deal with Georgia State, Nevada or Texas, and Tennessee – arguably the weakest of the No. 3 seeds – or Miami.

Kansas | Seed: 1 | Region: Midwest

Kansas isn’t a full-fledged winner – more on that later. But it’s dangerous to think too far ahead. And if we limit our projections to three rounds? It’s very tough to see the Jayhawks being tested. Penn won’t do so. NC State? Maybe, but probably not. Clemson or Auburn? Almost certainly not, especially in Omaha.

So Bill Self and company should cruise to the Elite Eight. But that’s where things get difficult. And that’s where we head to the other end of the spectrum. To the losers …


Michigan State | Seed: 3 | Region: Midwest
Duke | Seed: 2 | Region: Midwest

Neither Duke nor Michigan State can have any qualms about a No. 2 and 3 seed, respectively. What they can have qualms about is their Sweet 16 collision course. Both are among the five or six teams that could be considered legitimate national title contenders. They’ll likely have to go through each other, and then through Kansas, just to get to the Final Four.

That’s why Kansas can’t be entirely pleased, either. The Midwest region, below the top-three seeds, is forgiving. But there’ll likely be a Final Four-caliber showdown one round early.

Kentucky | Seed: 5 | Region: South
Arizona | Seed: 4 | Region: South

John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats often complain about their NCAA tournament draws. But their gripes this year are legitimate. (Getty)

You thought the Spartans and Blue Devils had it tough? Psh. Kentucky and Arizona, two of the hottest and most talented teams in college basketball, will have to go through two Final Four candidates just to get to the Elite Eight.

The Wildcats might have gotten the toughest draw of anybody, relative to expectations. After winning the SEC tournament, they could have realistically hoped for a top-four seed. Not only did they not get one, but they got a surging, upset-minded Davidson in the first round, likely the most talented player in the country in the second, and likely the best team in the country after that.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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