Looking ahead to the annual March Madness

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Due to the best NBA season in recent memory, the hype has been diminished, but March Madness is finally upon us.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is one of the premier sporting events in North America and is the most exciting sports month in any non-Olympic/World Cup year.

Although there are always exciting and memorable upsets in the tournament, there are only a few teams with a legitimate shot at winning the entire tournament.

East Region
Number one overall seed North Carolina does not play a game more than two hours from its campus until the Final Four. They also get to play the winners of the ‘play-in game,’ where Coppin State is the first team to ever make the tournament with 20 losses.

The Tennessee Volunteers is one team with a valid complaint about the bracket. Although the Vols were a potential first seed, they ended up with the worst possible second seed after an early loss in the SEC tournament.

A game football fans hope for is Boise State and Oklahoma " there would be some bad blood between these two traditional pigskin powers after the Fiesta Bowl of two seasons ago.

Although its bandwagon is still full from two years ago, don’t expect George Mason to make another deep run this year; the team won’t sneak up on anyone this time.

South Region
Even after a 33-1 regular season, the majority of experts are still writing off number one seeded Memphis since it is from Conference USA " not quite a hoops hotbed. The last non-major conference team to win the title was UNLV in 1990.

Stanford should compete with any team down low due to the Cardinal’s twin seven-foot post threats Brook and Robin Lopez. The tournament is primarily based on guard play though, so that will determine how they fare.

Pittsburgh is a sleeper pick for most brackets " legendary coach Bob Knight has even picked them to win the entire tourney.

Kentucky was projected to rebuild this year with a new coach and not even make the tournament. Even though it has before, don’t expect the Wildcats’ pedigree to win any games for them " they just aren’t very good this time around.

Cornell is the Ivy League’s representative, returning to the dance for the first time in 20 years.

Texas-Arlington has made its first ever NCAA tournament, but it will likely be a one-night event, as a 16th seed has never beat a number one seed.

Look for Oregon to lose relatively early. Seen as a bubble team, it actually received a number nine seed, but do not have the horses to keep it.

West Region
Mississippi Valley State’s first round opponent " the fabled UCLA Bruins " won 11 NCAA championships between 1964 and 1975, including 88 consecutive wins between 1971-74. The Bruins have also qualified for the last two Final Fours.

Earlier this year MVSU scored a measly 26 points against another Pac-10 team. Bad news, MVSU: UCLA is better than Washington State.

Cinderella watch! With the exception of last year, almost every year we see the number 12 seed knock-off a number five seed team. While Western Kentucky’s fifth-seeded opponent, Drake University, has been impressive all year, beating the likes of Iowa and Iowa State, does anyone else feel that Missouri Valley Conference teams should never be seeded above number seven?

A first-round upset will likely result in a second round match-up against Connecticut, a team that lost to Providence twice this year.

No intenstinal fortitude with this pick, but UCLA has proven itself all year, dominating the Pac-10 and showing an ability to win close games, something that means so much come tournament time.

Led by Pac-10 freshman and player of the year Kevin Love, the Bruins will be dancing in the Final Four for the third consecutive year.

Midwest Region
Baltimore’s reigning drug kingpin, Marlo Stanfield, once said to his incarcerated predecessor Avon Barksdale: “The game is the game.”

Well, unfortunately, this game happens to be basketball and the 15th seeded Retrievers happen to be from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

A number 16 seed has never knocked off a number one seed in the history of the tournament. Don’t expect the vaunted Portland State attack to make history.

The key to finding a sleeper is to look at how the team performed against major conference competition during the season. Davidson had tight games with UCLA, NC State, UNC and Duke this year.

Plus, it has a favorable first round match-up against former Cinderella (and overrated) Gonzaga Bulldogs. A second-round battle with number two seed Georgetown would be tough, but it has proven all season they can hang with the NCAA’s fiercest hoopsters.

The Big 12 champion Kansas Jayhawks enter the big dance with probably the deepest team in the tournament, with seven players averaging at least seven points a game.

This talented roster led the Big 12 in most statistical categories, including scoring offence, scoring defence and blocked shots.

Wisconsin and Georgetown will contend, but this will finally be the year Kansas head coach Bill Self emerges in the Final Four in San Antonio.

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