By Randy Horick
If madness is the usual fare for the NCAA basketball tournament, perhaps this year’s competition should be christened as “March Schizophrenic Bipolar Disorder.” No one emerges as a favorite to win. And every time a legitimate contender appears, it reveals itself more as a pretender.
Teams dropped opportunities to claim the top seed like it was a radioactive potato. Undefeated Stanford looked good for a while. Then the Cardinals lost in the last week of the regular season. Undefeated St. Joe’s was king of the hill for barely a week before being crushed by Xavier. Duke took the top spot before losing in the ACC Tournament final. Mississippi State could have claimed a No. 1 seed by winning the SEC Tournament. They didn’t.
So we have the most unlikely four No. 1’s in history. Two lost their last game. Two are widely perceived as overrated. And one wasn’t even among the top six in the polls a week ago.
Obviously, the committee of way, way insiders at the Scene Sports Desk at McCabe Pub had its work cut out for it. Picking such a schizo field is a little like planning for all the things that could go wrong on a mission to Mars. This is why it helps to do the picking in a pub.
In the end, we emerged with selections that include an all-SEC championship, early exits for two top seeds, and a Dukeless Final Four. The insiders followed a proven bracketological formula here: Where reason fails, beverages prevail.
Vandy’s Chances—In a tourney format, the Commodores can be enigmatic. They own victories over Kentucky and Mississippi State but lost ignominiously to Georgia in their regular-season finale. They won only twice on the road in SEC play.
On the other hand, for two-and-a-half games during the SEC Tournament, they played their most consistently strong basketball of the year—and have shown they can win even when Matt Freije scores below his average.
On the other other hand, they drew one of the most dangerous 11th seeds in the tournament—a 26-4 Western Michigan team from a conference that often makes noise in March. Don’t be surprised if Vandy loses in the first round. But don’t be shocked if they’re still around next weekend.
Why Kentucky Will Reach the Final Four—The Wildcats, frankly, don’t have Final Four talent—at least not compared to some of their earlier editions. But the way, way insiders recognize something that Tubby Smith’s many critics among the Blue Mist do not: Tubby teams peak around tournament time. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that, by having the tourney’s overall top seed, the Wildcats have the easiest path to San Antonio.
Top Seeds Least Likely to Succeed—Easy: Stanford and St. Joseph’s. Analyst Billy Packer, for one, suggested on CBS that St. Joe’s was undeserving. (When was the last time a team that trailed 74-37 in a conference tournament loss drew a No. 1 seed?) St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli, ever the Philadelphian, angrily called Packer out. Though the Hawks are a sentimental favorite, Packer’s probably right. After two rounds, St. Joe’s is on borrowed time.
Stanford, despite its nearly spotless record, played in a Pac-10 that was at a low ebb this season. How they’ll fare against the best of the rest of the country is an open question. We think they won’t survive the round of 16.
Upset Specials—If you’re gutsy enough to defy the NCAA seed-makers (most of the insiders at McCabe were not), here are the most intriguing possibilities. Round One: Pacific over Providence; Manhattan over Florida; ETSU over Cincinnati; Western Michigan over Vandy; Dayton over DePaul.
Round Two: Charlotte over St. Joe’s; Wisconsin over Pitt.
The Women’s Bracket—We’re glad you asked. Unlike most male March Maniacs, our insiders actually pay attention to the women’s field.
If the seedings hold—and they more often do in the women’s tournament—this could be the most incestuous Final Four ever. In the regular season, Duke beat UConn in Connecticut. UConn beat Tennessee in Knoxville. Tennessee beat Duke in Durham. See what we mean?
Somehow, though, the tourney selection gods seem to have smiled on Connecticut again. The Huskies, as a No. 2 seed, appear to have the least mine-strewn path of any of the top contenders. UT, by contrast, must negotiate a bracket laden with five very dangerous lower seeds—Vanderbilt, Oklahoma, Baylor, Florida and Stanford—that leave the Lady Vols little room for error.
In the end, Geno Auriemma’s team may not need the help. UConn, for once, seems human. But they’re still UConn.
HOW IT LOOKS FROM THE LA-Z BOY
Men’s TournamentSt. Louis Regional
First Round: Kentucky over Lehigh or FAMU; Washington over UAB; Pacific over Providence; Kansas over Illinois-Chicago; Boston College over Utah; Georgia Tech over Northern Iowa; Michigan State over Nevada; Gonzaga over Valparaiso.
Second Round: Kentucky over Washington; Kansas over Pacific; Boston College over Georgia Tech; Gonzaga over Michigan State.
Sweet 16: Kentucky over Kansas; Gonzaga over Boston College.
Elite Eight: Kentucky over Gonzaga.
East Rutherford Regional
First Round: St. Joe’s over Liberty; Charlotte over Texas Tech; Florida over Manhattan; Wake Forest over Virginia Commonwealth; Wisconsin over Richmond; Pitt over Central Florida; South Carolina over Memphis; Oklahoma State over Eastern Washington.
Second Round: Charlotte over St. Joe’s; Wake Forest over Florida; Wisconsin over Pitt; Oklahoma State over South Carolina.
Sweet 16: Wake Forest over Charlotte; Oklahoma State over Wisconsin.
Elite Eight: Oklahoma State over Wake Forest
First Round: Duke over Alabama State; Arizona over Seton Hall; Illinois over Murray State; Cincinnati over East Tennessee; North Carolina over Air Force; Texas over Princeton; Xavier over Louisville; Mississippi State over Monmouth.
Second Round: Duke over Arizona; Cincinnati over Illinois; Texas over North Carolina; Mississippi State over Xavier.
Sweet 16: Duke over Cincinnati; Mississippi State over Texas.
Elite Eight: Mississippi State over Duke.
First Round: Stanford over Texas-San Antonio; Southern Illinois over Alabama; Syracuse over BYU; Maryland over Texas-El Paso; Vanderbilt over Western Michigan; NC State over Louisiana-Lafayette; Dayton over DePaul; Connecticut over Vermont.
Second Round: Stanford over Southern Illinois; Syracuse over Maryland; Vandy over NC State; UConn over Dayton.
Sweet 16: Syracuse over Stanford; UConn over Vandy.
Elite Eight: UConn over Syracuse.
Final Four: Kentucky over Oklahoma State; Mississippi State over UConn.
Championship: Mississippi State over Kentucky.
First Round: Penn State over Hampton; Virginia Tech over Iowa; Notre Dame over SW Missouri; North Carolina over MTSU; UC-Santa Barbara over Colorado; Houston over Wisconsin-Green Bay; Auburn over NC State; UConn over Penn.
Second Round: Penn State over Virginia Tech; Notre Dame over North Carolina; Houston over UCSB; UConn over Auburn.
Sweet 16: Notre Dame over Penn State; UConn over Houston.
Elite Eight: UConn over Notre Dame.
First Round: Duke over Northwestern State; Old Dominion over Marquette; Louisiana Tech over Montana; Texas Tech over Maine; Ohio State over West Virginia; Boston College over Eastern Michigan; Minnesota over UCLA; Kansas State over Valparaiso.
Second Round: Duke over Old Dominion; Louisiana Tech over Texas Tech; Ohio State over Boston College; Kansas State over Minnesota.
Sweet 16: Duke over Louisiana Tech; Kansas State over Ohio State.
Elite Eight: Duke over Kansas State.
First Round: Tennessee over Colgate; DePaul over George Washington; Florida over New Mexico; Baylor over Loyola-Marymount; Stanford over Missouri; Oklahoma over Marist; UT-Chattanooga over Rutgers; Vanderbilt over Lipscomb.
Second Round: Tennessee over DePaul; Baylor over Florida; Oklahoma over Stanford; Vanderbilt over UT-Chattanooga.
Sweet 16: Tennessee over Baylor; Vanderbilt over Oklahoma.
Elite Eight: Tennessee over Vanderbilt.
First Round: Texas over Southern; Michigan State over Arizona; Miami over Maryland; LSU over Austin Peay; Temple over TCU; Georgia over Liberty; Villanova over Ole Miss; Purdue over St. Francis.
Second Round: Texas over Michigan State; LSU over Miami; Georgia over Temple; Purdue over Villanova.
Sweet 16: Texas over LSU; Purdue over Georgia.
Elite Eight: Texas over Purdue.
Final Four: UConn over Duke; Texas over Tennessee.
Championship: UConn over Texas
Final Four: UConn over Duke; Texas over Tennessee.
Championship: UConn over Texas