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March Madness: Let The Mayhem Begin

By Rory P. Pheiffer

Many of you are itching as Spring Break is only a week away. But if any of you are die-hard college hoops fans like myself, your real treat came last Sunday as March Madness officially kicked off with the unveiling of the brackets.

Looking at the field, no team jumps out as the favorite. Some people like Stanford, who dropped only two tough games all season long. Others feel Duke, Arizona, and Maryland, who all finished the season strong, will continue the pace into the tournament.

So who’s going to take it all this year? To be honest, I’m not so sure myself. But in the process of trying to figure out who it will be, we’ll take a strong look at each bracket and see what we can surmise.

East Region

The East is once again arguably the toughest region of the bunch. This region features four of the six major conference tournament winners in Duke, Kentucky, Boston College, and Iowa.

If you’re looking for an upset, start first with the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although they played well last weekend in the Big Ten tournament, prior to the tournament they struggled without their star Lou Recker. With Recker, Iowa was a potential top ten team, but without him they are mediocre.

Another Big Ten team, Ohio State, faces a tenacious defense in Utah State. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the overachieving Bucks make an early exit this year.

Next, there is a very interesting 6-11 match-up between USC and Oklahoma State. USC has played pretty well all season in a conference with the likes of Stanford, Arizona, and UCLA. Oklahoma State has been playing inspired ball since their tragedy a few months back. This could be one of the tightest games in the tournament, and although it has upset potential, I think that USC’s toughness after playing their Pac-10 schedule should help them in the end.

As for the other first round match-ups, I see both Duke and Missouri winning their games to face each other in the second. UCLA, Boston College, and Kentucky should all also advance.

In the Sweet Sixteen will be Duke, UCLA, and Kentucky, with the fourth spot going to either Boston College or the winner of the USC/OSU game. Look for Boston College to advance as they continue to prove all of their doubters wrong.

West Region

This region features some of the most overrated teams in the field, namely Indiana and Cincinnati, but also features the most underrated team: St. Joesph’s.

There should be some exciting first round match-ups in this region as well. Wisconsin has been struggling as of late, but aside from that defensive collapse against Indiana, the Badgers play tough, consistent defense and a slow offense. This method of play wears on opponents, and should be enough to advance.

I will pick BYU over the Cincinnati Bearcats. Sure, Cincinnati won their regular season this year, but Conference USA was incredibly weak. The Bearcats are not nearly as impressive as they have been in previous years, and are hardly worthy of a five seed.

As with most eight-nine games, the West region’s should be a good one. St. Joseph’s, the Atlantic 10’s regular season champion, does not deserve such a low seed. But regardless of where they should be seeded, the Hawks were not fortunate in drawing Georgia Tech in round one. Tech has been playing well all season and their fast-paced offense will be difficult for St. Joe’s. The underrated Hawks will lose.

Stanford, Iowa State, and Maryland should all coast through their first round match-ups. Although I tab them as overrated, Indiana should coast through as well. Finally, Arkansas, one of the hotter teams in the tournament, should beat Georgetown, who are not playing nearly as well as they were in the first half of the season.

The hot teams will continue to prevail into the Sweet 16, as I look for Stanford, Maryland, Indiana, and Arkansas to advance.

Midwest Region

This quarter of the draw is stacked with typical big-name programs and a few potential sleepers.

Illinois, Arizona, and Mississippi, like most one through three seeds, should coast through their first round games.

Many experts are claiming that the next seed, Kansas, will struggle against their first round opponent, the Cal State Northridge Matadors, but I disagree. The Jayhawks are a very good four seed, and being known as a team to choke early, Roy Williams will have his boys prepared to take it to the Matadors.

Sitting in round two for Kansas should be Syracuse. Syracuse’s opponent, the Hawaii Rainbows, are starting to put it all together, as was shown by winning their conference tournament. But Syracuse has too much firepower for Hawaii.

Moving on to the 6-11 game, we have what appears to be a very attractive match-up, pitting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish against the Xavier Musketeers. This should be an easy win for the Irish. Xavier hasn’t beaten any team that is really good, and it will show here.

Last year Butler took Florida (the eventual national championship runner-up) to the buzzer. This year Butler returns hungry for a bit more. This is bad news for the Demon Deacons, who have been struggling as of late and will likely lose here.

Finally, Tennessee will face Charlotte. The game is completely dependent on which Tennessee team shows up to play, but I expect the Vols to win since it is March and they should come with their best.

In round two, I see the top four seeds advancing without much trouble, but if you want a sleeper team, look for Butler to hang with ’Zona.

South Region

Perhaps the most wide-open region, the South seems to be everybody’s favorite to pick a dark horse from.

People seem to think Gonzaga and Temple will make big runs and that North Carolina and Michigan State are ripe to be upset early.

I do not agree with this sentiment actually. If anything, what this year’s college basketball season has shown me is that there is not one truly great team that everybody is striving to beat. Instead, the top teams are all really good and they will be tough to knock out. I don’t foresee too many upsets between the high and low seeds.

Anyway, moving on to the picks for the South. The top seeds should again find little problem in their opening games. I honestly doubt North Carolina will have much trouble with Princeton, though Western Kentucky might put a scare into Florida before Florida pulls away. Also, Oklahoma should not see Indiana State as much of a threat.

As I said, Gonzaga seems to be a popular pick this year, since the Zags have asserted themselves as a tournament-caliber team in the past few years. Virginia is a talented team though, and because of the level of competition they faced this season, they should win this tough game.

The South contains another great 6-11 match-up, this one featuring two defensive juggernauts. Temple has been 1-8 against teams that have qualified for the tournament. Texas, on the other hand, is 8-6. Even though the numbers say go with Texas, I believe that John Chaney, as always, will have his team ready to frustrate the Texas offense. Look for Temple to pull the upset in a low scoring, slow-paced game.

Penn State and Providence provide for an interesting match-up. Providence’s team leader, John Linehan, leads an exceptional defense, one that should be good enough to stop standout guard Joe Crispin, and with it, PSU’s dreams.

Finally there is California squaring off against Jerry Tarkanian’s Fresno State Bulldogs. These two teams both play similar pressure defenses. I look for Fresno State to battle past California in a fast-paced game filled with scoring.

Squaring off in Atlanta should be MSU and the Sooners and then UNC and Florida, though both UNC and MSU will have to fight hard to do so.

Final Four

Since I have run out of room for my column, I cannot further analyze the brackets. Let me say a few things though. If Duke gets past UCLA, they should win it all. My other Final Four teams include Stanford, Florida, and Arizona. Some of these teams will struggle more than others, but I’ll go into more detail next week. A few sleepers to think about in your Final Four include UCLA, Kansas, Arkansas, and Wake Forest. In the end, look for Duke to beat Arizona in the final.