Mar 13, 2007 Sports Editor Uncategorized
Okay folks, I’m pretty sure that many of you will not care one lick about what happens Thursday and Friday during two of the craziest sports days of the year because a certain team in Orange is not part of the party.
Whether Syracuse is there or not, though, the NCAA Tournament remains a jewel, especially in the first round, when fans in arenas get behind the underdog, hoping for upsets that tear up brackets all across this great land of ours and make this Dance so special in the first place.
With that in mind, cnylink.com will offer some exclusive looks at the field, starting with the East Regional, where a familiar shade of blue sits atop the bracket.
Before this season even began, North Carolina was supposed to be in this position. Blessed with more talent than anyone else in this field, the Tar Heels used its depth and frantic style to get to the top of the rankings early.
Carolina also showed the curse of its youth by stumbling enough times to nearly throw the ACC regular-season title away. It got bailed out by Virginia’s late loss to Wake Forest, but needed no fortune to prevail in a wild and wooly ACC Tournament.
Now, as the top seed, Carolina has the good fortune of playing in front of thousands of friendly folks in Winston-Salem. It should have no trouble getting through tough-minded Ohio Valley champion Eastern Kentucky, but the second round is another matter.
Marquette can scare Tobacco Road denizens if Jerel McNeal comes back from that thumb injury to join Dominic James and his band of intense guards. Michigan State is here mostly because of a stiff schedule, but in Drew Neitzel, it possesses the type of player that can take over any close contest, if need be. My hunch is that he does just that to take out the Golden Eagles, earning Sparty a fun date with Carolina.
Of all the no. 4 seeds, Texas has the best chance to get to Atlanta, and it provides the most entertainment value of anyone in the field, so consider the Spokane population spoiled this weekend.
Watch Kevin Durant now, before he gets buried in NBA dollars. Nobody in the college game can adequately defend him — he’s easily the National Player of the Year. Now if guards B.J. Augustin and T.J. Abrams simply get the ball to Durant and get the heck out of the way, the Longhorns could hook everybody in its path.
Reggie Theus has done wonders turning New Mexico State around in just two years at the helm, but the WAC champions might prove to be nothing more than another victim of a Durant outburst — Can Theus still suit up?
Southern California is still a rising presence as Tim Floyd establishes himself in the college ranks again after two miserable NBA coaching stints. If Floyd had O.J. Mayo now, the Trojans could dream even bigger.
As it is, USC would gladly settle for a first-round win over Arkansas. More than anyone else, the Hogs must prove its worth in the field after a sub-.500 SEC record. At least it saved Stan Heath’s job — it was too soon to let him go anyway.
Unlike Arkansas, Vanderbilt’s presence in the Dance is justified. The Commodores, led by SEC Player of the Year Derrick Byars, can shoot and drive you crazy.
Still, Vandy is vulnerable, and Atlantic-10 champion George Washington knows it. GW got hot at the end to take the A-10 Tournament and might not stop there, using its past NCAA experience to cause some bracket trouble.
America, let me to introduce you to Washington State, the season’s best turnaround tale. Picked dead last in the Pac-10 at the start, the Cougars finished second as Tony Bennett, inheriting the coaching reins from his father Dick, rode crushing defense and clutch shooting to Wazzu’s best conference finish ever.
Yet the Cougars might not last long in Sacramento. Oral Roberts is the no. 14 seed most capable of shocking someone — it already won at Kansas this year. In Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, the Golden Eagles don’t need any faith-healing miracles to beat good foes.
You could argue, with merit, that Georgetown is playing as well as anyone in the country going into the tournament. The Hoyas have won 15 of 16 (wonder who they lost to?), crushed Pitt in the Big East Tournament final, and is playing the lights-out defense John Thompson (father or son) could be proud of. Plant Roy Hibbert in the paint, or Jeff Green anywhere on the floor, and Georgetown can win it all.
Once the Hoyas get rid of Atlantic Sun champion Belmont on Thursday in Winston-Salem, it can worry about Texas Tech or Boston College.
Bob Knight, on his way to the record for coaching victories, got everything possible out of these Red Raiders, sweeping Texas A&M and shocking Kansas. Jarrius Jackson might need to win games by himself if the Knight crew wants to get anywhere.
BC bravely hung in there in the ACC race and has quite a core trio in conference Player of the Year Jared Dudley, Sean Marshall and Tyrese Rice. The Eagles can topple Texas Tech, but an old Big East rival will gladly end their run.
So I have North Carolina, Texas, Washington State and Georgetown punching tickets for the Meadowlands next weekend. The chalk holds up through one weekend, anyway.