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STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
March 2, 2006

SCS.com I spend a good deal of my writing time poring over the profiles of bubble teams this time of year. Fellow SCS.com writer Jeff correctly identified and broke down the runaway one seeds this season earlier this week. But in between the 11 and 12 seed Bubble Boys and Duke, UConn, Villanova and Memphis, a host of teams with real shots to go deep in March lie in wait. There are some 2, 3, 4 and even lower seeds that have their eye on Indianapolis and have the goods to get there. Here are some teams that have the best chances of getting past the ballyhooed one seeds.

HIGH SEEDS, HIGH HOPES

North Carolina
Don't look now, but the defending champs are, well, defending. They are currently 15th in the RPI and boast a 9-1 record in their last ten games. That only loss was to the Dukies in a nail-biter at home. The Tar Heels have a low post beast in freshman Tyler Hansbrough and enough outside shooters to keep defenses honest. They have established themselves as the second best team in the ACC and have a real shot at a 2 or 3 seed if they can finish with a flourish. If UNC somehow gets back to the Final Four, Roy Williams deserves a cookie. A gourmet one.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes were supposed to be really good next year, but that has not stopped them from being the best team in the Big Ten this season. A home win against Purdue is all that stands between them and an outright Big Ten title. They are 22-4 overall and have posted a 6-3 road record. OSU is 10-2 in its last twelve with close road losses at Iowa and at Wisconsin. Like North Carolina, they have a monster post player in Terrance Dials and a nice collection of athletes and shooters around him. The Buckeyes can cement a 2-seed by beating Purdue and being solid in the Big Ten Tourney.

LSU
Tiger coach John Brady has his critics (justifiably so), but LSU has scary talent. The Mitchells (Darrel and Tasmin) can score with anyone, and freshman center Tyrus Thomas has been a huge addition. Glen "Big Baby" Davis is one of the top players in the SEC. There are not many teams in the country that possess this combination of talent, athleticism, and desire. The Tigers rebound well and they defend. The concerns with LSU are outside shooting and depth. Also, I have made a mental note about last year's first-round NCAA game with UAB, the one where LSU chose to run around like mad (just as UAB wanted) and forgot that they had both Brandon Bass and Davis on the block. I love LSU's talent, but they need good game plans and decision-making in the Tourney. The SEC Tourney might tell us a lot.

Gonzaga
Some pundits are criticizing the Zags for all of those close games with "inferior" competition in their league. But, regardless of conference, those who know a team well play them the toughest. These teams know Mark Few, they know Adam Morrison, and they know what the Zags do. Going unblemished in any conference is quite a feat, and Gonzaga did just that. These tough, close battles will serve them well down the stretch in tight games. Add in the fact that they have the best player in the land on their team, and that makes them a threat. Especially when said player has a penchant for making game-winning shots. Adam Morrison has my vote (if I actually had one) for POTY because he is the best basketball player. Redick has had equally great success against tougher competition, and voters may value that. But if the award goes to the best "basketball player," Adam Morrison is the man. Having the best player with a solid supporting cast makes for a dangerous team.

Texas
The Longhorns have been somewhat enigmatic this season. They have been ravaged by Duke (by 31!), Tennessee (by 17 in Austin), and at Oklahoma State (by 21), but also have a number of nice wins and might have the most overall talent of any team in the land. A focused Texas team is as good as anyone, and when the chips are down, they will be tough to handle. Gibson, Tucker, and Aldridge are among the top players at their respective positions.

MIDDLE SEEDS TO WATCH

Michigan State
The Spartans are going to be one scary 4 or 5 seed. They have a premier big man in Paul Davis, athletic wings who can score the ball in Mo Ager and Shannon Brown, and a solid point in Drew Nietzel. Oh, and their coach has led them to four Final Fours in the last seven seasons. Like last year, they are going to be some number one seed's worst nightmare if they wind up as a 4 or 5 seed. The Spartans took out Duke last season as a five seed on their way to the Final Four. That looks like the most likely spot for them at this point, too.

Kansas
The red hot Jayhawks are 11-1 in their last twelve, and although that one loss was an ugly one at Texas, KU is peaking at the right time. They calmly regrouped after the Texas beat down and walloped Colorado by 21 on Wednesday. The young Jayhawks broke into the RPI top 40 with that win (#39) and are speeding up the seeding ladder. Like Michigan State, they could wind up as a nightmarish 4 or 5 seed for a number one.

George Washington
No one wants to play a team that is 29-1, and that will be the Colonials' record if they win out through the A-10 Tourney. That means they could have 30+ wins when they face one of the one seeds. GW's horrendous strength of schedule is likely going to keep them in the 4 or 5 seed range, although they could creep up to a three if things fall just right. Regardless of seed, no top dog wants to face a team with a record of 31-1 in the Sweet 16, and that is quite possible at this stage.

LOW SEED TROUBLEMAKERS

Arkansas
The Hogs have scored some big wins recently, taking care of Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee in the last couple of weeks. In fact, since a disappointing loss at Ole Miss, the Hogs have won four straight in grand style. UA could wind up in an 8/9 game depending on how the SEC Tournament shakes out, and they could pose a serious threat to any one seed that is not on their game.

Alabama
Sticking with the SEC, the Tide has played good basketball for awhile now, but those ten losses will likely keep their seed down. They also could cause problems as an 8/9 game winner due to their excellent size (namely Jermareo Davidson) and their top-flight point guard Ronald Steele.

The MVC Field
The Missouri Valley may put as many as six teams into the bracket, and none may receive a seed higher than a seven. That makes for some dangerous 8/9 opponents for one seeds. For my money, Bradley has the best talent and is the hottest right now, so keep an eye on the Braves. If you have not seen Marcellus Sommerville and Patrick O'Bryant play, make it a point to catch Bradley this postseason. Wichita State has been the steadiest, so I like the Shockers chances to cause trouble as well.

The Cinderella discussion will have to wait for another day, but these teams have real chances at causing some strife for the runaway one-seeds. Actually, by the end of next week, one of the one seeds may not seem like such a runaway. That's not a prediction of any kind, but it is the nature of this wonderful game.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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