Villanova Will Capture East, Go to Final FourColumn by Bo Light and Brian Petersen
Lock the doors, pull down the shades, order some pizza, call in sick to work and punt all your classes, 'cause it's tournament time. The road to the Final Four has been a rocky one; the Selection Committee considered a whopping 85 teams for entry into the 64-team field, and several very good squads were left out.
Iowa, shockingly, did not receive a bid, even with an extremely impressive end-of-season run, and Bobby Cremins was shut out for a second straight year as Georgia Tech will be going to the National Invitational Tournament despite a fifth-place Atlantic Coast Conference finish.
On the whole, however, the Selection Committee did an excellent job with the bubble teams, giving some lesser-known but talented teams the opportunity of a lifetime.
Anyway, on to the picks. We spent literally minutes poring over the entries, debating the finer points of each team, considering injuries, arguing about coaches, and nearly coming to blows over the results of the regional finals.
After much pencil-chewing and bloodshed, we have come up with the following predictions. Hope you like 'em.
Wake Forest picked up the top seed on Sunday by winning the ACC tournament. In fact, most of this region seems to have been seeded by last-minute decision, which should make it the most competitive field in the tournament.
Look for close games, but not too many big upsets before the Sweet 16, when it becomes anybody's game. The close games could be detrimental to second-seeded UMass, whose top clutch shooter, Mike Williams, has been "suspended indefinitely."
Big Upset: Sorry, we just couldn't find one here.
Teams to Watch: Tulsa and Saint Louis are relatively unheralded teams that could surprise some people. Also, check out Ivy League champion Penn in its tough first game against Alabama.
Regional Finalists: Wake Forest and Villanova.
Regional Champion: Look for shooting star Randolph Childress to finally burn out in the final, sending Kerry Kittles and 'Nova to the Final Four for the first time since 1985.
Normally, the number one team in the country gets a gift-wrapped region, but UCLA has probably the toughest run to Seattle of any top seed we've ever seen.
Not to worry, Bruins fans, Ed O'Bannon and Co. should be able to weather the storm, despite having to fight off the likes of Indiana and Mississippi State.
Big Upset: Eleventh-seeded Texas should send sixth-seed Oregon packing in the first round. We wanted to pick Long Beach State over Utah, but then we caught a glimpse of the Big West championship. One word: ugly.
Teams to Watch: Keep an eye on Utah and Mississippi State, the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively. They are destined for a second-round matchup, and the winner will give UCLA fits.
Regional Finalists: UCLA and Maryland.
Regional Champion: This could well be the best game in the tournament. The O'Bannon brothers, Tyus Edney, and George Zidek match up very well with Joe Smith (our player of the year), Exree Hipp, Johnny Rhodes, and Keith Booth. The advantage in the final goes to UCLA, which doesn't have the letdown problems. Maryland sometimes suffers (see their season finale vs. Virginia).
The Midwest, as usual, seems to be the best region to find upsets. The talent in this region is better than in years past, but very little separates the top four seeds from the rest of the pack. We predict at least three games in this region will be decided by buzzer-beaters.
One of the big stories of the past week is the suspension of Arizona guard Damon Stoudamire by the NCAA for possible eligibility violations. Even if Stoudamire is cleared to play, the suspension could have psychological effects on the high-scoring star or his teammates.
Big Upsets: Mid-American champ Miami (Ohio), led by junior point guard Landon Hackim, are ready to knock off the perennially hapless Lute Olsen and the Mildcats. Also watch for sixth-seed Memphis to beat Big Ten champ Purdue in the second round.
Teams to Watch: Memphis and Western Kentucky are highly underrated teams from mediocre conferences. The Hilltoppers' eighth seed puts them in a tough spot (Michigan, then Kansas), but Memphis is in position to cause real trouble to the top seeds.
Regional Finalists: Virginia and Arkansas.
Regional Champion: The Cavaliers will run out of gas after an emotionally draining win over top-seeded Kansas, paving the way for the Razorbacks to return to the Final Four after a frightful start to their season.
Finally, we reach the Southeast, annually the toughest draw in the tournament.
This year is no exception, as names like Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, and Oklahoma dot the seedings. These are probably the toughest games to call, but the winner of this region will have the best shot at the championship, having already played the toughest competition possible.
Big Upset: The Mid-American conference strikes again, as surprising Ball State will take down Arizona State with a barrage of treys.
Teams to Watch: Xavier, with a 14-0 conference record, is much better than the eleventh seed they were given. Meanwhile, Florida is looking for a return trip to the Final Four, but first they'll have to get by The Mayor, Fred Hoiberg, and his Iowa State cronies. If Rasheed Wallace is still injured, look for the Tar Heels to have trouble with either one of these teams.
Regional Finalists: Kentucky and North Carolina.
Regional Champion: If Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse are hot, look out. But our feeling is that Kentucky's sharpshooters and superior depth will come through with the win for coach Pitino.
After two weeks of intense competition, we're left with UCLA, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Villanova. The first game, UCLA versus 'Nova, should be anything but easy for the Bruins, but the ghosts of Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton are more powerful than the ghost of Ed Pinckney. Send UCLA to the final.
The other game will be a rematch of the SEC Championship, which Kentucky won in overtime after the Hogs squandered an 18-point lead. This time, well, the 'Cats won't let it get that close, and Arkansas will watch this year's championship from the stands.
The final should be the exciting affair that everyone expects a national championship to be, with several lead changes as Kentucky's shooting runs alternately hot and cold. In the end, though, the game will come down to Kentucky simply having more quality players than the UCLA, and the tired Bruins will have to settle for second place as Kentucky finally claims the title.
The MIT Marathon Club has put forth to us an impassioned plea to help support the Children's Hospital. The club is currently recruiting members to help raise money for the hospital by collecting pledges to run the Boston Marathon; there will be a meeting for interested parties on Friday, March 17 at 5:00 in 66-144. For further information, contact Hyung Kim, Greg Dunn, or Mike Marino at 267-2199.
EA Sports will return to its regularly scheduled time this Friday; we will hold off on the answer to last week's trivia question until then.