The West Region in the 2023 NCAA men's basketball tournament gives us an important lesson about draws, especially when it comes to top-seed Kansas.
A year ago, KU followed a painless path to the Final Four, then emerged victorious in New Orleans for its first national championship since 2008.
This year, the Jayhawks are back as the No. 1 seed in the West, but their draw is anything but friendly: The next four seeded teams in the draw are all ranked in the top 11 according to analytics site KenPom.com.
The odds reflect that: While Kansas is the regional favorite at Caesars Sportsbook, it's only at a +320 price. That's barely better than No. 2 seed UCLA and No. 3 seed Gonzaga, who are both listed at +350. Not far behind at +375 is No. 4 seed UConn.
It's rare to have four teams with better than +400 odds to win a regional, but this bracket is stacked — so much so that St. Mary's, the No. 11 team in the country according to KenPom, is the No. 5 seed here and has just +1200 odds to win the regional.
There are some sleepers around, too. Arkansas had a tough season in the SEC but has talented freshman Nick Smith Jr. back in the lineup and could make a run. The same goes for No. 6 seed TCU, which comes from the same rough-and-tumble Big 12 Conference as Kansas, and actually routed the Jayhawks 83-60 at home in January.
Of course, you shouldn't discount Kansas despite the tough region. Bill Self has taken the Jayhawks to the Final Four four times and plans to coach the tournament despite a health scare that kept him from the Big 12 tournament. At his disposal are elite two-way player Jalen Wilson and sharpshooter Gradey Dick.
On the other half of the bracket are two of college basketball's most accomplished players: Jaime Jaquez Jr. of UCLA and Drew Timme of Gonzaga are seniors who have already played deep into the NCAA tournament before.
So who emerges from the region of death? And will they have anything left for the Final Four in Houston?
Best regional value: (4) UConn +375
Biggest first round upset: (12) VCU over (5) St. Mary's
Regional final: (4) UConn vs. (3) Gonzaga
Headed to Houston: Gonzaga