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Biggest Surprise at Big Dance is PAC-10

Column by Thomas Kettler
Staff Reporter

Sunday night the 64-team field was announced for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The biggest surprises were that the Pac-10 had five selections while the Atlantic Coast Conference had only four selections and the Atlantic-10 had only two.

The breakdown of number of selections by conferences with more than three teams are as follows:

Big Ten 6

Big 8 5

Pac 10 5

SEC 5

ACC 4

Big East 4

Great Midwest 3

Metro 3

East Region

First, the East region will be examined. It is the easiest region this year since the NCAA worked hard to avoid having the West the weakest again.

The top seed is Wake Forest, which gained that spot by defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament Sunday afternoon. They will have some problems in their half of the region since they will play the winner of a Minnesota-Saint Louis match, and both are tough teams.

A very good Penn team also sits in this bracket, and should end years of Ivy League heartache by defeating Alabama. Oklahoma State should also provide problems since Eddie Sutton always causes problems in the tournament.

The lower half of the region should be smooth sailing for second-seed Massachusetts. Villanova was lucky in the Big East tournament but did not deserve the third seed. Also, Tulsa is good but not worthy of the sixth seed and could lose to Illinois in the first round. The rest of the teams aren't important enough to consider, and none can beat Massachusetts.

Sweet 16 Teams: Wake Forest, Oklahoma State, Illinois and Massachusetts.

Upset Specials: Penn over Alabama (12 over 5), Illinois over Tulsa and Villanova (11 over 6 and 3).

Final Four Team: Massachusetts.

West Region

The West is the second easiest region, which is a big improvement since it has consistently been the easiest for the past decade. In the top half of the bracket UCLA could have an easy time. However, the winner of the Missouri-Indiana game will play strong defense and could defeat UCLA in the second round.

Santa Clara returns this year for the first time since shocking second-seed Arizona two years ago. However, Mississippi State won't take Santa Clara so lightly this time. Also, Utah and Rick Majerus return to the NCAA as a fourth seed to play Long Beach State, where Jerry Tarkanian started.

The lower half of the region appears set for Gary Williams' Maryland squad, the third seed. They should have no problems making it to the Sweet 16. The same can't be said for Connecticut. As a second seed, they'll have problems with the winner of Temple-Cincinnati. Temple's zone has given teams fits for years while Cincinnati has the second toughest full-court press to Arkansas. Don't be surprised if Connecticut loses in the second round.

Sweet 16 Teams: Maryland, Temple, UCLA and Utah.

Upset Specials: Temple over Connecticut (10 over 2).

Final Four Team: Maryland.

Midwest Region

The Midwest is again the toughest region of all. Although Kansas is a weak top seed, having lost to Iowa State in the Big 8 tournament, Arkansas is the best two seed, Purdue makes a good three seed and Virginia is the best fourth seed.

Kansas should make it to the Sweet 16 without much trouble since neither Western Kentucky nor Michigan have the consistency to defeat a well-coached Jayhawk squad. Arizona is overrated as a fifth seed and could easily lose to Miami of Ohio. Virginia, on the other hand, should have no trouble making it past the first round and into the Sweet 16.

The Memphis-Louisville match-up is interesting since both used to be in the Metro conference and will be conference members again next year in a new conference.

Purdue is led by underrated Cuonzo Martin and should defeat Wisconsin Green Bay but will be tested. Syracuse, an overrated team all year, could have problems against the Southern Illinois Salukis. Finally, Arkansas should have no problems making it into the Sweet 16.

Sweet 16 Teams: Kansas, Virginia, Purdue and Arkansas.

Upset Specials: Miami of Ohio over Arizona (12 over 5) and Southern Illinois over Syracuse (10 over 7).

Final Four Team: Arkansas.

The Southeast

The Southeast is the second most difficult region to the Midwest. Kentucky is a strong top seed while North Carolina and Michigan State are strong second and third seeds, respectively.

Kentucky shouldn't have any trouble making it to the Sweet 16. Oklahoma as a fourth seed shouldn't either although Ball State, David Letterman's alma mater, will defeat an overrated fifth-seed Arizona State, coached by the perennial underachiever, Bill Frieder.

Georgetown Xavier will be a strong game as a 6-11 matchup, with the winner to face Michigan State, headed by All-American Shawn Respert. Two bubble teams, Iowa St. and Florida, meet to face North Carolina, which will seek to start a new string of Sweet 16 appearances since Boston College stopped an old streak at 13 last year. Unlike BC, though, neither team is consistent enough to stop the Tar Heels.

Sweet 16 Teams: Kentucky, Oklahoma, Michigan State and North Carolina.

Upset Specials: Ball State over Arizona State (12 over 5).

Final Four Team: Kentucky.

The games start Thursday on CBS. I hope that you'll enjoy the tournament as much as I will.