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Monday, March 12, 2012

Stop! Bracket Time!

It is here! It is time! Cue "One Shining Moment"! MARCH MADNESS IS HERE!!!


Another Selection Sunday has come and gone. Much of what was expected happened. As usual, there were a few unexpected surprises.

The University of Washington, the Pacific 12 Conference regular season champion, was the first ever team to be excluded from the Big Dance after winning the regular season championship of one of the power conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big East, SEC, ACC, Big XII). Drexel, regular season champion of the Colonial Athletic Conference, was snubbed in spite of a 27-6 record after losing to 2011 Final Four participant Virginia Commonweath in the CAA Tournament Championship Game.

Southeastern Conference teams Ole Miss and Mississippi State, both with 20+ regular season wins, did not receive an invite to the Big Dance. South Florida and Seton Hall, both with 20 wins from the hyper-competitive Big East did not get their tickets punched to the field of 64 (USF has to play in a First Four game, Seton Hall was eliminated). Marshall, in spite of being the runner up in the Conference USA tournament, regular season wins of invitees Cincinnati, Iona, a close loss to Syracuse,  and an RPI ranking better than 50, did not receive a bid.

Colonel Reb needs consolation. 1


In spite of losing their conference tournament championship games, Kentucky, Syracuse, and North Carolina received three of the four #1 seeds in the tournament, with UK and the top overall seed. This all came as a surprise to nobody, which may be, in large part, why their opponents had windows of opportunity to beat them in their conference tournaments. What few people, except for yours truly, saw coming was Michigan State claiming the fourth #1 seed, as I projected on Thursday.

Conventional wisdom dictated that Kansas, ranked #3 after the conclusion of their regular season, would claim that fourth #1 seed. In the event of Kansas losing unexpectedly early in the Big XII Tournament, as they did to Baylor in the semifinal round, many expected that a Missouri victory in the Big XII tourney would send the #1 seed over to Mizzou. Neither would happen. Instead, Michigan State would beat #7 Ohio State for the second time this season in the third meeting between the teams. The result would be MSU winning the Big Ten Tournament and a #1 seed.
A walking, fighting orange. Yep! It's March Madness! 3


Bubble team or not, top seed or not, what happens, going forward, will be entirely determined by what 68 teams do in 67 games on the hardwood over the next three weeks. With inspiration from NFL wide receiver Randy Moss, my projections for the Final Four in New Orleans: "Straight chalk, homie!"

I expect #1 seeds Kentucky and Syracuse to be in the Final Four and would be stunned if either of them failed to do so. While I would not be surprised to see both North Carolina and Michigan State in Big Easy, either, I think that a number of teams could give them the slip.

In the Midwest Region, I think that Michigan could present a big problem for UNC in the Sweet 16, though I expect Carolina to survive. I do think that a motivated Kansas team, barring injury to Tyshawn Taylor (17 PPG, 5 APG) or Thomas Robinson (18 PPG, 12 RPG), will be able to outlast North Carolina or any other opponent in the Regional Final in St. Louis.

In the West region, there are several good teams that will take aim at Michigan State and could hit the target. Marquette, Florida, and Missouri could all pose matchup issues for MSU. In the end, I expect an experienced Missouri team, on a mission since a premature exit from the 2011 tournament, to emerge from the West Regional Final in Phoenix.

Get your popcorn ready and fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a fast, wild ride!!!

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