March Madness is finally here, and we now know the 68 teams that will be competing for the title. Fans have been feverishly filling out their brackets, and teams are preparing themselves for their first-round matchups. If there’s one thing that everyone who follows March Madness knows, though, it’s that every team doesn’t get an equal road–even those on the same seed line.
In 2023, that sentiment holds true once again. Some teams managed to receive favorable paths through their region, but others weren’t so lucky. With that, we’re going over two teams who got easier paths to the Final Four, and two who got it much tougher.
Before we dive into the list, there’s an important disclaimer to get out of the way. Obviously, the teams seeded lower down will have a much tougher road to the Final Four by virtue of having to beat many higher-seeded teams. For that reason, we’re limiting this list to top-four seeds to make it a bit more interesting than just naming two 16 seeds.
With that said, let’s get into the list.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Unsurprisingly, the tournament’s top overall seed got a generous road in its region. Alabama has been one of the most dominant teams in the country this season, tallying a record of 29-5 and winning the SEC regular season with a tournament title. As their reward, the Crimson Tide earned the top seed in the South region, and judging by their +190 odds to win the region, they got a favorable draw.
Alabama’s first break comes in having the two 16 seeds, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Southeast Missouri State, play each other just to earn the right to face Alabama. After that, the Crimson Tide face either Maryland or West Virginia, both of which they should be heavy favorites against. The same should also be true for their Sweet 16 opponent, like Virginia but could be someone else.
The Tide’s road should only start getting tough at the Elite Eight, where their most likely opponent is Arizona. If they can get that far while hardly breaking a sweat, though, then their path through the region is pretty manageable.
1. Houston Cougars
Despite losing to Memphis in the AAC Championship and finishing behind Alabama in the overall seeding, Houston probably got an even better path to the Final Four. The Cougars may have been the most dominant team in the country, entering the tournament at 31-3 and being the No. 1 team in NET rankings. As a result, they have +120 odds to win their region, the best of any team in the tournament.
Houston kicks off March Madness against Norfolk State, a game in which they are favored by 19.5 points. The Cougars’ next matchup, against either Iowa or Auburn, should also be a very favorable one for them, as should their Sweet 16 matchup. In fact, the Cougars are a whole six spots ahead of the next team in their region in NET rankings, that being two seed Texas at No. 7.
If Houston can play up to its potential, then it should have an easy road to the Final Four. The Cougars are the odds-on title favorites, and it’s easy to see why with their upcoming road.
2. Xavier Musketeers
After winning the NIT last season, Xavier has drastically improved this season and become a dangerous tournament team. The Musketeers enter the tournament at 25-9 after making it to the Big East Championship but losing to Marquette. However, the selection committee did them no favors despite giving them a three seed.
Xavier starts out against a team making its first tournament appearance in Kennesaw State. While the Musketeers are a 10.5-point favorite, they shouldn’t overlook a team playing with nothing to lose. A potential second-round matchup with Iowa State could present some issues, as the Cyclones are very battle-tested. If the Musketeers can get past that, their reward is likely a matchup with Texas, the champion of the toughest conference in the country.
Xavier is a very talented team and has enough in place to feasibly make a run, but the matchups are just too tough to count on it.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia earned a share of the ACC regular season title and made it to the tournament final before falling to Duke. This team won the national title only a few years ago, and has still been a great team since then. That said, the road to getting back there this year will be very tough.
The Cavaliers don’t even get a break in the first round, as they drew a very dangerous opponent in Furman. The Paladins are a very strong offensive team, and if the Cavaliers aren’t ready, they could be a quick out. Should they win, they then have another tough matchup against either San Diego State or Charleston.
Even if they make it out of the first weekend, they will likely face Alabama in the Sweet 16. This team did not get any breaks in the bracket, and arguably has the toughest road to the Final Four.