Volume 95, Issue 84

Wednesday, March 13, 2002
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Western women taste the ultimate CIS success

Breaking down the bracket

Mayhem and madness - it must be March

Breaking down the bracket

By Jordan Bell and Ryan Hickman
Gazette Staff

Fasten your seat-belt kids – it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

March gives us a glimpse of a warmer climate and the end of a grueling year of academia. More importantly it gives us the madness that is the NCAA basketball championship.

Beginning this week, 65 battle-hardened NCAA men's basketball teams will lace up their dancin' shoes and prepare to tango at the "Big Dance."

March Madness is an opportunity to win some dough while watching the greatest tournament on the globe. The wise old guru (actually a prepubescent little boy) and the new kid on the block with illusions of grandeur are here to save your souls and teach you the essentials of breaking down the NCAA's first two rounds.

Class is now in session.

Bell Tolls

The West portion of the bracket is downright nasty. Six of the teams were victorious in their conference tournaments while squads like Missouri and UCLA will give any foe nightmares.

Missouri was a pre-season pick to finish top five in the country, but struggled early. They have regrouped and guard Kareem Rush (yes, the one who gave Duke fits last year) will advance them to play perennial chokers Cincinnati.

The possibility of an Arizona versus Gonzaga second round contest is intriguing and could easily be the most exciting game of the first weekend. Look for the disciplined Zags, led by Steve Nash clone Dan Dickau, to knock out Arizona.

Hawaii will register slight tremors on the Madness Richter scale with an upset over Xavier, but won't have enough left for Oklahoma in the second round.

Kent State was placed in the South bracket and is the tournament sleeper. They opened the season 0-4, but have been pristine since. Oklahoma State and Alabama will learn this the hard way.

Penn will upset putrid California, but it's obvious the seeding committee stacked this portion of the bracket in Duke's favour, giving them an assortment of cream puffs. Their only challenge will come in the Sweet 16 when they meet mighty USC.

Struggle doesn't begin to describe the fate Bobby Knight has met in recent tournaments, guiding his Indiana squads to early exits seemingly every year. A change of venue to Texas Tech will reverse his fortunes and the Red Raiders will win two games in the East bracket.

Oh, visions of Valparaiso's Bryce Drew dance in my head. Fortunately for Kentucky, Drew is gone to the professional circuit. Unfortunately, the Wildcats will still be full of tears after Drew's successor Lubos Barton demolishes their chances.

St. John's will come away victorious against Wisconsin in a game of tournament malcontents, while Tulsa will pull off the typical five seed versus 12 seed upset.

Now let me get this straight – Georgia is a three seed in a weak conference while Gonzaga is a six seed in the toughest bracket of the tournament? The basketball Gods don't look highly on corruption of this magnitude and Murray State will utilize the powerful hand of Steve Nash and Jimmy Chipwood (who are my basketball Gods) in ousting the Georgia Bulldogs.

In the Midwest, it's possible to place names in a hat and still pick your winners successfully. Parity is at its finest in this portion of the bracket.

Picking Kansas is like choosing between a roasted chicken or a cold cut trio at Subway – way too hard to call. However, this year I envision great things for the Jayhawks, who will cruise by Stanford in the second round.

Contrary to popular belief, Florida and Illinois will advance, with Florida squeaking out a second round victory when these two evenly matched teams meet.

I will be the first to admit I knew absolutely nothing about Oregon before the tournament – other than the fact their football quarterback is the best in the nation. Nonetheless, they definitely seem "for real" and will wreak havoc on Wake Forest.

Shootin' from the Hick

Stop logging onto the Internet, put down your Sports Illustrated and turn off Headline Sports. Thursday tips off the biggest basketball extravaganza in the world – the NCAA tournament – and all you need to know for your bracket is listed below.

As much as the NCAA wants to discourage it, the tournament attracts much of its attention from the buzz around office pools, Internet contests and random dudes trying to snake your money to join their pool. The constant question is "Who are you taking?" For the purposes of this weekend and the first two rounds, I'm going to tell you who not to take.

For the past couple of years in March, "Gonzaga" has gone hand-in-hand with the word upset. The Zags have made their past runs as underdogs, sneaking up on people with a brigade of overachieving no-names. This year they have a bona fide star – Dan Dickau – and face a good Wyoming team in the first round. Gonzaga will be gone in the first round.

In the West region, look for two underachievers with loads of talent to make runs – UCLA and Missouri.

Duke, the defending national champion, headlines the South region and is an annual pencil-in for the Final Four. The Blue Devils are the Yankees of the college basketball world – huge name talent that spurs you to plot their demise in your bracket. Easy money puts them deep in the tourney.

Oklahoma State, fuelled by senior guard leadership and legendary coach Eddie Sutton, is a prime candidate for the Sweet 16. Stay away from Pittsburgh, Alabama and Notre Dame. Indiana versus Utah in the first round should be a good one to watch.

The East is thick with mid-level teams. Keep Georgia off your second round bracket, leaving the path clear for Bobby Knight's Texas Tech Red Raiders. A juicy first round match-up in this region is North Carolina State versus Michigan State on Friday afternoon.

Kansas, fresh off a loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament, should not be on your brackets into the second weekend. Roy Williams' teams are like Kevin Costner flicks – all hype and no substance. The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky will bounce Kansas in the second round.

The Midwest reeks of upsets. The appealing possibility of a second round Florida versus Illinois match-up is not going to happen. Coach Steve Fisher's San Diego State Aztecs will oust Florida in the first round.

The urge to put the higher seeds into the later rounds is tough to fight, but don't pencil Texas, Wake Forest or even second ranked Oregon into your Sweet 16's. Troy Bell, who can fill it up with the best of them, will take Boston College to the regional.

You will probably want to throw your own bracket out after the first marathon day of hoops, but the NCAA tournament is still a hard-on for anyone who loves watching obscene amounts of good basketball.

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Copyright The Gazette 2002