Well, my favorite time of the sports year is here -- March Madness! I truly believe itís the greatest event in sports, topping the bowl games, the World Series, Super Bowl, etc. You can sit down and watch basketball all day long for those first four days. And the upsets just make it that much more exciting. I mean, even if it ruined your bracket on the first day last year, how could you not be a little excited when Hampton knocked off Iowa State (unless youíre an ISU fan)? Thatís what makes this such a great time of the year. And you donít know whoís going to win it. Unlike in football, when you know whoís playing for the National Championship more than a month in advance, each team has to earn its way to the Finals, which are in Atlanta this year. By the way, did you hear that theyíre going to set the Georgia Dome up to hold 60,000 people? Thatís awesome, but you canít tell me that persons 50,000-60,000 arenít going to need some binoculars to see the action. Anyway, one to some notes and opinions about March Madness.....
If you donít habla espanol, thatís the number ones, as in the number one seeds. So the three teams we all knew were getting number ones, Duke, Maryland, and Kansas (even after losing to Oklahoma), got them. And that final mysterious #1 went to Cincinnati, surprisingly to me. At least at first. I thought OU had a slight advantage going into the conference tourneys. Cincinnati won theirs, so I felt they probably took the advantage. But then amazingly enough, OU knocked off #1 Kansas and took back their number one seed, or so I thought. I was shocked at first when I saw the Cincy had taken the fourth #1 seed. But when you think about it, it makes sense. The Bearcats not only won their conference tournament but also their regular season conference title. OU finished 2nd in their conference, and that is what made the difference in my opinion. But itíll all be okay in the end because, barring upsets, Cincy and OU will meet to go the Final Four. Itíll be decided on the floor, during a game (hear that BCS people?). Maryland didnít help themselves by losing to NC State, but it didnít really matter because they had already convinced everyone they deserved a #1 with a commanding win over Duke a few weeks ago. Duke was the ACC conference tourney champions, but they, of course, had their #1 seed locked up long ago as well.
This topic goes a couple different ways:
Gonzaga as a #6 seed? What else does this team have to do to prove themselves worthy of a high seed? Over the past three seasons, theyíve been seeded 10, 10, and 12. They've done alright, just going to the Elite 8, Sweet 16, and Sweet 16. And this season, they go 29-3 and get a 6 seed. What is the committee thinking? They should have gotten a 4 seed at worst, and probably a 3 seed. This team should have two fairly easy games to go to the Sweet 16, but instead, theyíll likely have to play Arizona in the second round. Itís not like the ĎZags have a terrible RPI. Itís 21 to be exact. So the committee actually gave them a worse seed than their RPI would indicate. What were they thinking?
Charlotte is in the NCAA Tournament? I was not impressed with this team at all this season. They finished the season with less than 20 wins, an 18-11 record to be exact. Their RPI was decent, in the 40ís but they had lost 3 of their last 5 and 5 of their last 9 games. Not exactly an impressive run to end the season. I definitely think Butler, with 25 wins, would have been a better choice. They actually have a history of being a competitive team in the Tournament.
There is a team or two in each region that the big boys better watch out for. This may
be a team who has come on strong lately or just quietly had a good season or maybe has a
history of being a Tourney upsetter. Hereís a look at the possible upsetters in each
KENT STATE: This team pulled off an upset just last year as a #13 seed. This year they're up to a #10 seed and take on an Oklahoma State team that has been up and down this season.
GONZAGA: We talked about them earlier, and thereís no doubt this year that theyíll be madder than before. They feel that if they prove it once again, they might get some respect from the NCAA Committee. The polls have had them in the top 10 for several weeks now. A big 2nd round game against Arizona is likely.
HAWAII: This team is the WAC conference champions and actually beat Tulsa on their homecourt to win the conference tournament. After making an appearance last season, the Rainbow Warriors are ready to make a run this year.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: This team hasn't been to the Tourney since Ď95, which capped off a 3 year run in the Tourney for them. However, they were unable to win a game in any of those three years, seeded in double digits everytime. Theyíre back this year as a #11, having a 26-7 record. They take on a Texas Tech team in the first round that was demolished by Kansas 90-50 just a few days ago.
NC STATE/MICHIGAN STATE: This game should be a war, and whoever survives will likely take on UConn in a fabulous 2nd round game. NC State has been good all year and capped it off with a victory over Maryland. Meanwhile, MSU struggled all season until the middle of the conference season when they made a run into the Tourney. This game should be awesome!
WESTERN KENTUCKY: The Hilltoppers won their conference this year while also defeating Kentucky in Lexington on their way to a 28-3 record. If they get by Stanford, theyíll likely take on Kansas, a team with a reputation of blowing a tire in March.
PEPPERDINE: The Waves have played well this season, their only conference loss coming to Gonzaga in Washington. They pulled off an upset as a #11 seed in 2000 and have a chance to do the same to Wake Forest in 2002. Playing in Sacramento, they should also have a nice home crowd behind them.
Hereís a look at the regions and why I think they are strong/weak (from strongest to
WEST: This region has 16 teams, 11 of which were the champions of their conference tournaments. Thatís amazing in itself. Also, it has 2 of the top 5 teams in the country (even if it is #ís 4 and 5). Cincinnati and Oklahoma are basically even, and OU fans have no reason to complain. If they take care of their business, theyíll get to settle it with Cincy on the court. A strong Miami team is the #5 seed, and they take on #12 Missouri, one of the final at-large teams in but dangerous anyway. Also, Ohio State, champions of the Big Ten Tournament are the #4 seed. Arizona, champions of the PAC 10 Tournament, are a #3 seed. Hawaii might as well be a #7 seed. I think theyíre that good. Also, Gonzaga is here. They might as well be a #3 seed. Theyíre that good.
MIDWEST: Kansas is probably the #2 team in the country, arguably. Oregon is a team a lot of people still donít believe in, but theyíve earned their #2 seed. Mississippi State is one of the hottest teams in the country, coming off three consecutive victories in the SEC Tournament and 8 straight victories overall. Illinois and Florida are very good #4 and #5 seeds. Texas has the potential to make some noise, especially playing in Dallas. Pepperdine, Western Kentucky, and Creighton all have the potential to pull upsets.
EAST: Maryland is the #1 seed, and Connecticut is on a roll as the #2 seed, winning the Big East Tournament. Georgia is a weak #3 seed, and I also feel Kentucky is a weak #4 seed. Marquette has played well this season, and their seed and KYís might as well be swapped around. Texas Tech is a team that played well this season. The most intriguing thing in this region is the first round game between NC State and Michigan State. Both of these teams could have been big surprises, but unfortunately one of them is going to be gone after the first round. Tulsa, Valpo, and we all remember Hampton from last year, are potential upset teams.
SOUTH: This is Dukeís to lose. Alabama is coming off losses to Mississippi and Mississippi State recently. Pitt may be without their best player. Southern Cal, if on the bottom half of the bracket, could make a run in my opinion. Indiana is a good #5 seed, and Cal a decent #6 seed. Oklahoma State is unpredictable. Notre Dame and Charlotte is probably the weakest 8-9 combo in the Tournament. Utah, Penn, and Kent State each have upset opportunities.
The #9 seed actually beats the #8 seed more often that the 8 beats the 9? Over the past 12 years (since 1990), the #9 seed has won 56% of the games against the #8 in the first round. So, this game is an upset more often than the team thatís supposed to win does. Also, a #12 seed is actually more likely to beat a #5 seed in the first round that a #11 seed is to beat a #6 seed (33% of the time compared to 25% of the time), which may surprise you.