Commentary

Before the madness begins

NCAA selection committee delivers unintended intrigue and humor

Originally Published: March 14, 2010
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Between now and when "the ball goes up" -- Jennifer Hudson style this year -- on Thursday, the rosters, statistics and historical successes or failures of the teams in the NCAA tournament will be bisected and dissected until even the most casual basketball fan will know Arkansas-Pine Bluff's nickname (the Golden Lions).

But before we get too serious with the brackets, it's time to have a little fun with the masterpiece the ever-serious selection committee produced for 2010.

On the surface it looks like every other bracket: 65 teams, 64 games in 14 cities. If you dig a little deeper, though, there's always a little drama, intrigue and even some unintentional comedy.

[+] EnlargeBill Self
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesKU coach Bill Self has quite a collection of coaches on his path to Indy.

Pretty impressive company: If you're looking for coaching pedigree, look no further than America's heartland. Kansas may have gotten the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, but Bill Self is going to have to run a gauntlet of who's who among college hoops coaches to bring home his second national championship.

How's this for a murderers' row lineup for Self (one national championship, one Final Four appearance): Tom Izzo (one national championship, five Final Fours), John Thompson III (one Final Four), Gary Williams (one national championship, two Final Fours), Lon Kruger (one Final Four), Thad Matta (one Final Four), Paul Hewitt (one Final Four) and Steve Fisher (one national championship, three Final Fours).

Let us do the math for you. Including Self, that's four national titles and 15 Final Four appearances.

Congratulations with a backhanded compliment: Sitting in their living rooms, bars and dormitories, Syracuse fans celebrated the program's first No. 1 seed in 30 years.

And then after a commercial break they learned their opponent: Vermont.

Suddenly visions of T.J. Sorrentine danced in their heads.

In 2005, the 13th-seeded Catamounts pulled off one of the most stunning upsets in tournament history when Sorrentine drained a game-winning 3-pointer from the top of the key.

This has to be a first: If Kentucky beats East Tennessee State in the first round (in the spirit of sportsmanship we have to say if) the Wildcats will get the winner of the We're Way Too Talented To Be Seeded Here But Our Season Was a Raging Disaster Bowl between Wake Forest and Texas (Texas lost nine of its last 16; Wake five of its last six).

Should the Longhorns and Kentucky tap dance in New Orleans on Saturday, that would mean two teams that were at one time ranked No. 1 in the nation this season would meet … in the second round.

Chew on that for a minute.

Who says the committee doesn't have a sense of humor? Seriously, there had to be a few chuckles when these twisted and even cruel pairings came up on the board:

• Self cannibalization: Pittsburgh plays Oakland in the first round in Milwaukee. The Pitt campus, of course, is located in the Oakland part of the city and the student section is called the Oakland Zoo.

• What are these beads for, anyway? Baylor is the world's largest Baptist university. The Bears' first-round game against Sam Houston State is in New Orleans.

• Nice to see you, mentor: Steve Donahue spent 10 years working at the University of Pennsylvania before finally branching out on his own, jumping to Ivy League rival Cornell. Since Donahue relocated to the shore of Cayuga Lake, his mentor, Fran Dunphy, left the Ivy League and took the head-coaching job at Temple. Both coaches were glad about that. No fun going against your mentor and dear friend.

So imagine the pinched-lemon face both made when the bracket was revealed: No. 5 seed Temple and Dunphy versus No. 12 seed Cornell and Donahue in the first round.

• Can't they just use a high school gym? The Murray State and Vanderbilt campuses are separated by 120 miles. Naturally, their first-round game is in San Jose, Calif.

• Illinois is in: From 1996 to 2000, UNLV's Lon Kruger was the head coach at Illinois. From 2000 to 2003, Self was the head coach at Illinois. The two could meet in the second round.

Illinois is not in the NCAA tournament.

Unfair advantage? Gonzaga will have to travel more than 2,000 miles for its first-round game against Florida State in Buffalo, N.Y., but the Zags might feel right at home. Buffalo, after all, is right across the border from Canada and four of Gonzaga's players hail from the Great White North.

Media members there, meanwhile, may want to employ the mixed-zone policy used at international sporting events. Along with the four Canadians, the Zags' second-leading scorer, Elias Harris, is from Germany. Florida State's top scorer, Solomon Alabi, is from Nigeria and the Seminoles' fourth-leading scorer, Deividas Dulkys, is from Lithuania.

Hey that's my résumé: In 1996, Rick Pitino led Kentucky to a national championship. One year later, he bolted for the NBA. It didn't go so well and after four years he came home to the college game.

To Kentucky's archrival, Louisville.

In 2001, Mike Montgomery led Stanford to the Elite Eight. Three years later he bolted for the NBA. It didn't go so well and after two years he came home to the college game.

To Stanford's archrival, Cal.

Perhaps the two coaches can compare notes when the schools meet in the first round in Jacksonville, Fla.

The place to be: Oklahoma City

In Kansas there's no place like home.

For the NCAA tournament, home means Oklahoma City, where the entire state will temporarily relocate.

Kansas, whose Lawrence campus is a four-hour drive from Oklahoma City, will be there as well as Kansas State, whose Manhattan campus is also four hours away.

Frequent-flier program winners: Congratulations to San Diego State, winner of the longest road trip to the NCAA tournament. The Aztecs will travel nearly 3,100 miles to Providence, R.I., for their first-round game against Tennessee. Not to mention deal with a three-hour time difference not in their favor.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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