Tuesday, March 14, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: March 12, 2006
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Welcome to the "Tourney Quickie" special edition!
There isn't a more nationally shared moment among sports fans as the hours after the NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed.
The most incredible part is that my bracket is already busted. I don't know how it happened, but I find myself already out of my pool.
Maybe it happened when I did my first "gut" pass-through of the bracket and found myself with three No. 1 seeds in the Final Four. Where's the fun in that?
My picks were easy ... too easy. That and the unprecedented level of parity this season are a sure sign that this year's bracket is harder than ever to predict.
Keep reading for the scoop on all the big story lines -- Cinderellas to watch (and Chokers to avoid) and even a complete bracket selection, all the way through -- if you're looking for early guidance.
Remember, as usual, all discussion of the bracket in this column is for, um, "recreational" purposes only. Yes: "Recreational."
No. 1 Seeds
Is it me, or do the No. 1 seeds all look more vulnerable than usual?
Duke: Despite the Blue Devils' ACC tourney title, if BC could give them a down-to-the-wire game, there are 10 other teams that could, too.
UConn: Playing down to your comp and not being able to put teams away is a formula for a pre-Final Four exit. Hey, just like last year!
Nova: Was all set to pick 'em all the way. Love the Wildcats' bitterness over last year's tournament ending. Then, that injury to Allan Ray...
Memphis: Does anyone really take the champion of C-USA seriously? The Tigers will be the hot pick to be the first No. 1 to lose.
No worries about picking all four No. 1 seeds to reach the Final Four this year (a classic bracket no-no). Who's gonna pick none of them?
MVC Joins Big Boys
Congrats to the Mo Valley, which got an unprecedented four teams in the field. You could make a good argument for the two that were left out (Missouri State and Creighton), but the conference's last team in was a 13-seed, the traditional indicator of being the very last team accepted.
Watch for other mid-majors to try to replicate the MVC's success next season by loading up on a tough nonconference schedule -- that is, if power conferences (many of which got the same four bids as the MVC) even want a taste.
1. Villanova in Philadelphia
2. Duke in Greensboro
3. Florida in Jacksonville
4. Texas in Dallas
5. UCLA in San Diego
6. Ohio State in Dayton
1. BC in Salt Lake City
2. GW in Greensboro (vs. UNCW)
3. UNC in Dayton
4. Kansas in Detroit
Duke should roll: The Blue Devils have those first two games in Greensboro, where they just won the ACC tourney. Will be interesting if they meet up in the Sweet 16 with Syracuse, which is riding so much momentum.
GW must be L-I-V-I-D: The Colonials went from a Top 10 national ranking to a No. 8 seed playing UNC Wilmington in Greensboro, with a second-round pairing with Duke. Maligned, motivated or just doomed to fail?
Upset potential: Who is this year's West Virginia? Why not West Virginia? The Mountaineers' style could be enough to give Iowa fits and get to the Sweet 16, and they lost to Texas by a mere point in December.
Don't buy Memphis! If I had any courage, I'd take them to lose to 16-seed Oral Roberts. But I don't. Still, there are at least four teams (UCLA, 'Zaga, Pitt, Kansas) I'd take winning the region over Memphis.
Bucknell, The Sequel? You probably missed Bucknell over Kansas on your bracket last year. Hard to believe the Bison will repeat, given Arkansas in Hog-friendly Dallas, then top-seeded (if vulnerable) Memphis.
Upset potential: The first weekend of this region won't hurt you if you play favorites; your pick for region winner will be the pool-breaker. Take Kansas' youth over Memphis' youth and UCLA's D over Gonzaga's O.
Dayton? Damn! Defending champ UNC vs. fellow 2005 Final Four team Michigan State in the second round is a make-or-break choice, given the favorable potential matchups in the Sweet 16. Izzo's revenge!
Mo Valley Power: If any of the four MVC teams is going to get out of the first round, it's Wichita St., favored but facing a Seton Hall team that has no business with something as high as a 10 seed.
Upset potential: If any team has no fear of UConn, it's UAB. Still, UConn's size will be tough to overcome. However, both Washington and Illinois have the inside game to compete with the Huskies.
Call the doctor: Villanova's Final Four aspirations go as far as Allan Ray's eye injury. If he's healed up, the Wildcats remain the region's team to beat. If he's iffy, Nova might not get out of the Sweet 16.
Study up: Know nothing about Montana? Pacific? Northern Iowa? South Alabama? UW-Milwaukee? Study up: Just playing the percentages, one of them will pull off an upset. (But personally, I'm not bold enough to take any.)
Upset potential: Georgetown is one of those teams that doesn't blow opponents out. If the Hoyas can slip by UNI (another team that plays at a deliberate pace), they could give Ohio State trouble.
The 12-5 game always has been a reliable place to mine for upsets. So who do the 12 seeds play this year?
South: (12) Texas A&M
Upset vs.: Syracuse? Nope!
Other: 13 Iona over 4 LSU
West: (12) Kent State
Upset vs.: Pitt? Nope!
Other: 11 SD State over 6 Indy
East: (12) Utah State
Upset vs.: Washington? Nope!
Other: 9 UAB over 8 Kentucky
Midwest: (12) Montana
Upset vs.: Nevada? Nope!
Other: 11 UW-Milw over 6 Oklahoma
Upset upshot: Could this be the year the 12-5 Curse is broken? Looks that way from the matchups. Maybe 11-6 is the new 12-5.
Looking Down the Road
AKA "Bracket Porn": Those tantalizing fantasies of potential matchups down the road that show the tourney gods have a sense of humor (or at least irony).
Here are some of this year's most intriguing regional-final possibilities (though, given the tournament's uncertainty, totally unlikely):
Duke-Texas regional final! They played back in December in New Jersey and Duke waxed the Horns. Duke isn't the same team as it was then.
UCLA-Pitt regional final! UCLA coach Ben Howland would go up against his ex-team and protege Jamie Dixon.
UConn-UNC regional final! The past two years' champs.
Nova-G'town regional final! It would take you about 24 hours before you were sick of the comparisons to the 1985 teams.
And that's the last you'll hear about...
Missouri State and Creighton (apparently, 4 MVC bids were quite enough) ... Hofstra (odd team out in CAA) ... Cincy, FSU and Michigan (major-conference powers that were probably one conference tourney W away from getting an invite).
Overall? Zero sympathy! All of them had chances to avoid this fate. Enjoy the NIT!
Taking my cue from the age-old bracket-picking wisdom that your most reliable picks come on your first sweep through the bracket, and you have your "insta-gut" reactions:
1st Round: Duke, GW, Cuse, LSU, Texas, Cal, Iowa, WVa.
2nd Round: Duke, Cuse, Texas, WVa
Reg. Semi: Duke, WVa
Reg. Champ: Duke
1st Round: Memphis, ARK, Pitt, Kansas, UCLA, Marq, Zaga, SD St.
2nd Round: Memphis, Kansas, UCLA, Zaga
Reg. Semi: Kansas, UCLA
Reg. Champ: UCLA
1st Round: UConn, UAB, Washington, Illinois, Tennessee, Wichita St., UNC, Michigan St.
2nd Round: UConn, Illinois, Tennessee, Michigan St.
Reg. Semi: UConn, Michigan St.
Reg. Champ: UConn
1st Round: Nova, Wisco, Nevada, BC, OH St, G'town, FLA, Okla.
2nd Round: Nova, BC, G'town, FLA
Reg. Semi: Nova, G'town
Reg. Champ: Nova
Duke d. UCLA, Nova d. UConn
Champ: Nova d. Duke
(3 No. 1 seeds? I feel so dirty.)
(All picks subject to change before Thursday as I overthink, doubt, second-guess and otherwise betray my original thinking.)
Looking for the best advice? Skip the "experts" and rely on the national "consensus" bracket aggregating all fans' picks. Last year, fans' collective wisdom outperformed 90 percent of all individual entries.
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