The Minutes' bracket breakdown
Sixty-five names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (lids from the rims of the Big 10 Tournament not included):
Some people like Christmas. Others will take Fourth of July. Thanksgiving is always popular, too.
But if you're right here, right now, chances are strong that today -- Selection Sunday -- is your favorite holiday of the year. Forde Minutes, expanded from 40 to 65 in honor of the occasion, joins you in celebration.
Don't even bother trying to live in the real world for the next three weeks. Have your mail forwarded to a Bracketville address instead. From now through an April Monday night in Indianapolis, this will be a full-body immersion in Madness.
And the uninitiated are welcome to join us for a crash course in hoops higher ed.
You might not know Clark Kellogg (1) from a wild hog (Arkansas Razorbacks (2)). But you'll become acquainted with underdogs (Hampton (3), at No. 284 in ESPN's DailyRPI, maybe the worst team ever in the field); big dogs (the Albany Great Danes (4)); fast dogs (the Southern Illinois Salukis (5)); sled dogs (UConn (6) and Washington (7) Huskies); and Bulldogs (Gonzaga (8)).
You'll see a 3-point-shooting center whose wife recently had a baby -- West Virginia's Kevin Pittsnogle (9) -- and a three-bills-weighing center they call Big Baby -- LSU's Glen Davis (10).
We'll gaze upon Ursa Major -- the UCLA Bruins (11) -- and Ursa Minor -- the Belmont Bruins (12). On the all-time ledger, tourney newbie Belmont is only 38 appearances behind UCLA.
And on April 3, we'll crown a national champion. Make your selections now, then enjoy the holiday.
Will the Big East devour this tournament (13)? With a record eight bids, including a pair of No. 1 seeds, the 16-team Godzilla has a chance to live up to a season's worth of hype. This is the league's chance to reenact its 1985 domination of the sport, when it had three-fourths of the Final Four and all of the title game to itself.
Are we headed for Duke-UConn III (14)? Connecticut won its two national titles in 1999 and 2004. Both times, it needed to vanquish Duke in epic Final Four battles. If form holds, the only two teams that have been ranked No. 1 all year will collide at that point again this year. Winner can call itself the elite program in college basketball (at least until next year, when North Carolina's babies are a year older).
Do the little guys back up their breakthrough bids (15)? The Missouri Valley Conference got a league-record four bids. The Colonial Athletic Association earned its first at-large bid since 1986. Memphis got a No. 1 seed out of Conference USA. Gonzaga got a No. 3 out of the West Coast Conference. The Minutes applauds the distribution of power. But now it's time for the off-Broadway leagues to perform. (Last time someone from a non-BCS conference won the title: UNLV, 1990.)
Does the Redick-Morrison Show still have legs (16)? Duke's J.J. Redick and Gonzaga's Adam Morrison have been Bird-Magic redux, holding America's attention all season. If the two brilliant scorers are going to have a meeting like the one in Salt Lake City in 1979 that melted down the Nielsen ratings and changed the future of basketball, it will be in the Final Four. The question is whether Redick's weary body can get the Blue Devils there, and whether the Zags' iffy defense can get Morrison there. (It should be noted that Bird's Indiana State team was a No. 1 seed in 1979; Magic's Michigan State Spartans were a No. 2.)
Villanova's Adventures in Small Ball -- how far can it go (17)? The Wildcats have ridden four go-for-the-gusto guards to a No. 1 seed. Averaging 6-foot-3 in the starting lineup, 'Nova now takes aim at becoming the shortest national champion in at least four decades. Pull it off, and the college game might never look the same again.
T-Mac is great. J-Mac was inspirational. But does March belong to G-Mac (18)? Gerry McNamara's insanely clutch play in the Big East Tournament vaulted Syracuse off the bubble and into the Dance, and makes the Orange as likeable as they've been in 30 years. Does the gimpy-groined hero have enough mojo in him for another big tournament run?
North Carolina's title defense is suddenly legit (19). After losing their top seven scorers, the defending champions were supposed to be breaking out their NITting needles about this time of year. Instead, the Tar Heels are in, possess a high seed and have at least a chance at what would be an astounding repeat Final Four run. Tyler Hansbrough is the hands-down Freshman of the Year and Roy Williams is the Coach of the Year.
Does the Big Ten have six really good teams or none (20)? Widely regarded as the nation's second-best league, the boys from the Midwest have beaten each other into a bloody mess all season. That's especially true in their brass-knuckles tournament, where every basket should be followed by a standing ovation. The question is whether they'll beat the rest of America into a bloody mess when freed from competing against each other.
Questions for the student-athletes (21). During all tournament interview sessions, the NCAA insists on referring to the players as "student-athletes," no matter how oxymoronic the term might be in some instances. After several recent major newspaper stories about sham prep schools that provided grades, but little actual knowledge to basketball players, the student-athletes at some schools might face hard questions.
How long does a lame duck dance (22)? Mike Davis is out as coach at Indiana. But don't be surprised if he squeezes a bit more drama out of the season before saying goodbye.
Since it is the sworn duty of every American man, woman, child and household pet to enter an NCAA Tournament pool (for entertainment purposes only), The Minutes is here to provide some basic bracket handicapping advice.
(You can thank The Minutes later, when Hampton wins it all.)
* There are 32 first-round games (not counting the odious play-in game Tuesday). Roughly one-fourth of them will be upsets. Over the past five years, there has been an average of just more than seven first-round upsets by lower-seeded teams. Prepare accordingly.
For the past five years, at least one No. 12 seed (23) has beaten a No. 5 seed (24). Most often, that's the champion of a smaller conference whacking an also-ran from a power conference.
For your Final Four, think chalk. But not straight chalk (25).
Picking all-out anarchy is fun, but rarely profitable. At least one No. 1 seed has made each of the past 25 Final Fours.
Then again, picking nothing but favorites won't win the prize, either. Since the NCAA began seeding teams in 1979, all four No. 1 seeds have never made it. (Three have only made it three times, all in the 1990s.) In 26 out of 27 years, at least one team seeded third or lower has made the Final Four.
If you throw out two fluke years (1980 and 2000, each of which had three teams seeded fifth or lower) and one super-chalky year (1993, when three No. 1s and a No. 2 advanced) the average Final Four seeds have been remarkably consistent. They have ranged from 1.8 to 3.8 per team.
So after you pick your Final Four, do some quick addition on the seeds of those teams. If they add up to less than seven (say, two No. 2s and two No. 1s) or more than 15 (say, a No. 8, a No. 5, a No. 2 and a No. 1), start over.
Keep an eye on medical updates concerning the following very important players:
Allan Ray's eye (26). The Villanova guard nearly had it gouged out in a gory Madison Square Garden accident Friday night. Reports are that, miraculously, he's OK, but wait to see film of Ray practicing before penciling the Wildcats into Indianapolis.
Robert Vaden's ankle (27). The versatile Indiana forward went down late in the Big Ten semis against Ohio State and left the arena in a wheelchair. Davis was downplaying the injury Saturday afternoon, but it didn't look good. If Vaden cannot go or his ability is compromised, the Hoosiers are much less dangerous.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu's knee (28). George Washington lost last week for the first time since December without its high-energy center, who had surgery to correct a meniscus tear in early March. He has missed the Colonials' last four games, and even his expected return should be viewed with caution. How rusty will he be?
Tyrus Thomas' ankle (29). LSU held its impact freshman forward out of its last four games as a precaution after he sprained an ankle. The time for caution is now over. The Tigers need him in the lineup.
Adam Morrison's upper lip (30). Covered by the lamest mustache this side of The Minutes' great aunt Hilda, it will receive inordinate media attention as the scramble for story angles intensifies.
Some of the more prominent sideline stalkers of Marches past will not be with us this time around. Among them:
Rick Pitino (31). Pitino became the first coach ever to take three schools to the Final Four when he got Louisville there last year. Now he's in the NIT after a humbling season for his young, injury-prone, underachieving Cardinals.
Bob Knight (32). The General's surprise Sweet 16 appearance last year was followed by a 15-17 bust this year.
Bob Huggins (33). Took Cincinnati to 14 straight NCAAs, but today he's Unemployed Floyd.
Eddie Sutton (34). Even if Oklahoma State had won the Big 12 tournament and gotten in, son Sean would be doing the coaching with Eddie on medical leave.
Five coaches who have proven they know how to reach the last weekend:
Mike Krzyzewski (35), Duke: 10 Final Fours, three national titles, an NCAA-record 66 tournament wins.
Lute Olson (36), Arizona: Five Final Fours (don't forget the one at Iowa in 1980), one title, 45 tournament wins.
Roy Williams (37), UNC: Five Final Fours, one gorilla-off-the-back title and 41 tournament wins.
Tom Izzo (38), Michigan State: Four Final fours, including a surprise appearance last year, one title, 23 tournament wins.
Jim Boeheim (39), Syracuse: Yeah, he lost in the first round last year to Vermont. But he's also been to three Final Fours, grabbed one brass ring and won 40 tournament games.
Five coaches with high seeds who would like to outperform their personal pedigree:
John Brady (40), LSU: Won two games in his first trip, in 2000, and probably thought this was going to be easy. Hasn't won one since. In fact, hasn't come close, losing by 24 points to Purdue in 2003 and by 14 to No. 11 seed UAB last year.
Steve Alford (41), Iowa: NCAA victory meter still stuck on one after six years in Iowa City.
Al Skinner (42), Boston College: Six career NCAA appearances as a head coach, zero Sweet Sixteens. That includes last year's second-round loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Bill Self (43), Kansas: Current owner of the Best Coach Without a Final Four label. Losing in the first round to Bucknell last year didn't help.
Billy Donovan (44), Florida: That 2000 Final Four was supposed to be the start of something big, not the high water mark. Since then, the Gators have lost to a lower-seeded team every year.
When you absolutely, positively have to have ...
... A 3-pointer: J.J. Redick (45), Duke. Nobody in the history of the college game has made more of them.
... A free throw: Steve Novak (46), Marquette. He's 72 of 74 this year, and has missed only 18 in four years.
... Points in the paint: Leon Powe (47), California. If you saw him hang 41 points on Oregon, then 20 rebounds on USC in the Pac-10 tournament, you know why.
... A loose ball: Kyle Lowry (48), Villanova. Goes after them like his meal money depends on it.
... A pinpoint pass: Marcus Williams (49), UConn. No point guard drops better dimes on his big men.
... A steal: Squeaky Johnson (50), UAB. Fast hands, fearless mind-set.
... A brick-wall screen: Kevin Bookout (51), Oklahoma. It takes 10 seconds to get around him. And that's if he's stationary when he sets the screen.
... A last-second shot: Gerry McNamara (52), Syracuse. Naturally.
Four players you might not have seen yet, but don't want to miss this week:
Ibrahim "Ibby" Jaaber (53), Penn. The junior guard will take your rock (3.5 steals per game) and deposit it in the basket (18.4 points per game, 54 percent shooting).
Christian Maraker (54), Pacific. The 6-9 forward was part of an ensemble cast last year, but now he's the leading man for the Tigers. Swedish import averages 17.2 points and 8.9 rebounds for a dangerous first-round opponent.
John Goldsberry (55), UNC Wilmington. Nothing glamorous about the kid's game, but he's the Colonial Athletic Association's two-time Defensive Player of the Year, and he had 20 assists and three turnovers in the CAA semis and final.
Steve Burtt (56), Iona. Son of a former NBA guard is a high-volume shooter who could eliminate a team by himself if he gets hot. Averages 25.2 points per game and has been shooting an improved percentage down the stretch.
The Minutes offers seven teams it believes could be holding the hardware in the RCA Dome on April 3:
Florida (57). The Gators have a recent history of gagging in the Dance, but this team will be a matchup nightmare for a lot of opponents. Great size and athleticism and good inside-outside balance will make them a tough out. Only concern: Nobody on this team has ever had to play a starring role in the NCAAs before.
Boston College (58). Experience, size, improved guard play and two guys who can score the tough points, Craig Smith and Jared Dudley. The Eagles had one bad week in January and one bad trip to Charlottesville, Va., but other than that, what's not to like?
Ohio State (59). When the Buckeyes shoot well, they're dazzling. When they don't, they're ordinary. That's a dangerous m.o. for domes and big-game pressure, but The Minutes believes the Buckeyes will thrive once they get away from Big Ten defenses for a few rounds. And Thad Matta has done well in March before.
Villanova (60). The Wildcats need Ray healthy and could have some difficult matchups against big teams (hint: they don't want any part of LSU). But nobody will want to match up with them, either. The experience and toughness of this team, plus its ability to make shots, puts them squarely on the contender list.
Duke (61). Depth is a real issue, and so is Redick's productivity. But it's hard to see him going out with a whimper. The combination of two big-time talents (Shelden Williams being the other), the best coach in the land and program pedigree means the Blue Devils must be on your list.
Memphis (62). In terms of talent, the Tigers won't trade rosters with anyone. They have size, athleticism, a dominant point guard, shooters and a coach with a Final Four to his credit. The only two questions: Did playing in lousy Conference USA soften them up, and are the freshmen and sophomores ready to discipline their shot selection for close games?
Texas (63). NBA draft picks in the paint (LaMarcus Aldridge) and on the perimeter (Daniel Gibson), and neither is the most important Longhorn. That would be undersized and overproductive power forward P.J. Tucker. Texas also has all the ingredients you look for in a champion: Size, depth, athletes, shooters, upperclassmen and a coach with a Final Four on his résumé. Just wonder whether the Big 12 is good enough to produce its first champion in 18 years.
Connecticut (64). If the Huskies focus, this tournament should be theirs for the winning. Of course, that's slightly harder than it sounds, given UConn's occasional lapses this season, most recently in the Big East tournament against Syracuse. But from one through five and on down the bench, all the key parts are in place. Keeping point guard Marcus Williams healthy and out of foul trouble will be paramount, since the rest of the roster is shaky handling the ball. But this is your favorite.
A Minutes salute to the Kentucky Wildcats for beating Mississippi -- no matter how lethargically -- in the first round of the SEC tournament. That assured the Cats' presence in the Big Dance, and that should ensure Ashley Judd (65) will be in the house and on camera for at least One Shining Moment during this NCAA Tournament. Bring it on.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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