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AROUND THE COLLEGE NATION
March 10, 2005

THE MADNESS HAS BEGUN

Though not even a dozen conferences have crowned a tournament champion, the madness of college hoops that always comes around each March has already begun. We've seen big-time upsets, last-second shots, and overtime thrillers over the last few days, and nearly twenty different leagues from around the nation will decide their tourney title winner between now and Sunday afternoon.

It all started last Sunday with a day full of upsets around the country. Ohio State came from behind in the last few minutes to knock off top-ranked and previously unbeaten Illinois. Buckeye forward Matt Sylvester rammed home a three with just seconds remaining to clinch the victory.

Later in the day, Missouri took down Kansas in the Big XII, while Kentucky fell on the road at SEC East rival Florida. The much-anticipated Duke / North Carolina showdown was everything we had hoped for and more. The Heels came from down nine in the final three minutes and knocked off the rival Blue Devils by two.

The final game of the day, another ACC battle, had Wake Forest's Chris Paul score a buzzer-beating basket at in-state rival NC State. Though this game was exciting, a possible matchup in the ACC Tourney later this week could be just as thrilling. That's because Paul was suspended for the Deacon's first game this week after delivering a low-blow to the Pack's Julius Hodge during the game last week. If NCSU can get past Florida State in round one, the two teams will do battle for the second time in six days on Friday.

A couple of the conference tourney title games have been heart-stoppers as well. Old Dominion, the top seed in the Colonial Athletic Association, came from behind to take down Virginia Commonwealth in overtime on Monday. ODU got the game tied up with less than a minute left in regulation and then outscored VCU 18-11 in the extra period.

Tuesday saw two great title games that each went down to the final seconds. The first saw Oakland, the seventh seed in the Mid-Con Tourney, knock off top-seeded Oral Roberts in the final second. After a back-and-forth contest most of the way, the Grizzlies got a huge three from the left corner from Pierre Dukes to go up by one point with just over a second left. At just 12-18, Oakland will enter the NCAA Tournament with one of the poorest records in forty-five years.

Also on Tuesday, Wisconsin-Milwaukee was able to overcome the fiesty Detroit defense to capture the Horizon championship. After trailing by a half-dozen at the intermission, UWM senior forward Adrian Tigert hit the second of two free-throws with four seconds left to lift the Panthers to a one-point win over the Titans.

PREDICTION TIME

Who's in and who's out? That's the question on the minds of hoops fans all across the country. In this week's edition, we take a stab at the status of teams on the bubble. In quick fashion, here's a look at how I think the selections should be handed out. Whether or not in pans out this way is a different story.

IN:
  Texas: late win at Oklahoma shows they're still dangerous
  Southern Illinois: one loss doesn't kill a successful season
  Stanford: win over Washington last weekend was huge
  UCLA: big win on the road at Notre Dame was on national TV
  Georgia Tech: 8-8 in the ACC is deserving of a NCAA bid
  Minnesota: clearly the fourth best season in the Big Ten
  Iowa State: up-and-down Cyclones had enough ups to make it
  St. Joseph's: dominance of A-10 helps their otherwise weak case
  UTEP: obviously the WAC's 2nd best squad behind Nevada
  DePaul: ten wins in Conference USA gets the Demons in
  Maryland: wins over Duke are huge; ACC Tourney win assures it
  West Virginia: early-season road wins at LSU, NC State look good
  Virginia Tech: unacceptable to leave an 8-8 ACC team out
  New Mexico: 23 wins, including one over Utah, hard to overlook
  UAB: last year's success and 10 CUSA wins can't hurt

OUT:
  Indiana: Hoosiers have to win games, not just play them
  Notre Dame: couldn't finish what started as a promising season
  NC State: inconsistent and 7-9 in the ACC; league tourney could help
  Texas A&M: program headed in the right direction but not quite there yet
  Georgetown: could not finish the season as strongly as others
  Vanderbilt: one of the last ones left out, even with 8 SEC victories
  George Washington: too many losses in a weak Atlantic 10

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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