The Big Dance begins, and a billion brackets wait to be broken
It begins again in earnest, the event that brings commerce to a grinding halt. Starting Thursday, the NCAA tournament seizes hold of our lives and doesn’t let go until April 5. It makes bracketologists of us all and household names of schools we couldn’t have located with a GPS. (Coppin State? George Mason? Davidson?)
Even the worst installments of the sprawling event — to be blunt, the past few haven’t been vintage — offer the most riveting viewing in North American sports. It’s March and it’s mad. It’s a rite of spring. It’s the Big Dance, and 64 pep bands are ready to blare. As you’re reaching for the earplugs, here’s a quickie guide to Round 1.
The 5 most likely upsets
- No. 13 Siena over No. 4 Purdue (Friday, 2:30 p.m.): So many people are picking this one it shouldn’t even be considered an upset.
- No. 13 Murray State over No. 4 Vanderbilt (Thursday, 2:30 p.m.): The quick Racers from the Ohio Valley Conference are a bad match for the Commodores.
- No. 12 Utah State over No. 5 Texas A&M (Friday, 5 p.m.): In a match of Aggies and Aggies, beware the good-shooting crew from Logan, Utah.
- No. 13 Wofford over No. 4 Wisconsin (Friday, 3 p.m.): The Terriers played road games against five teams from power leagues — and went 2-3.
- No. 11 San Diego State over No. 6 Tennessee (Thursday, 9:55 p.m.): Don’t look now, but the Mountain West has as many teams in the Big Dance as the SEC.
The 5 examples of joyless seeding
- No. 8 UNLV versus No. 9 Northern Iowa (Thursday, 7:10 p.m.): The Rebels would be a chic pick to make a deep run; so, alas, are the Panthers.
- No. 5 Butler versus No. 12 UTEP (Thursday, 4:45 p.m.): Butler is the epitome of the classy mid-major; UTEP won 16 in a row before losing in the Conference USA final.
- No. 5 Temple versus No. 12 Cornell (Friday, 12:30 p.m.): Big Red would have been a hot pick against an unsteady opponent; the Owls are steadiness personified.
- No. 7 Richmond versus No. 10 Saint Mary’s (Thursday, 3 p.m.): Two very good mid-majors, but one has to lose in Round 1.
- No. 8 Texas versus No. 9 Wake Forest (Thursday, 9:45 p.m.): Two underachievers from major conferences, and one has to win in Round 1.
Derrick Favors: Almost the ACC MVP. (AP photo)
The 5 most talented teams
- 1. Kentucky: NBAdraft.net lists four Wildcats as lottery picks this June or next.
- 2. Kansas: NBAdraft.net lists three Jayhawks as first-rounders in the 2010 draft.
- 3. Georgia Tech: The nation’s best set of big men. (Don’t forget Zachery Peacock.)
- 4. Ohio State: National player of the year Evan Turner is complemented by William Buford.
- 5. West Virginia: Big-time bookend forwards in Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks.
The 5 best players
- Evan Turner, Ohio State: A 6-foot-7 point guard from Big Ten country; the closest thing to Magic Johnson since Earvin himself.
- John Wall, Kentucky: Derrick Rose almost led Memphis to the 2008 title as a freshman; Wall is even better than Rose.
- Scottie Reynolds, Villanova: Knows something about winning in March. Beat Pittsburgh in a epic regional final last year.
- James Anderson, Oklahoma State: Scored 31 points against Baylor and Missouri, 27 against Kansas, Kansas State and Texas A&M.
- Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech: Would have been MVP of the ACC tournament had the Jackets won.
The hottest young coaches
- Brad Stevens, Butler: The latest and best in a line of fine Bulldog coaches; his career record is 84-14.
- Frank Martin, Kansas State: Inherited the job when Bob Huggins bolted for West Virginia in 2007; has lifted K-State to a No. 2 seed.
- Scott Drew, Baylor: Inherited the mess left by Dave Bliss in 2003; had the Bears in the NCAA by 2008 and has them as a No. 3 seed today.
- Tony Barbee, UTEP: A former player and assistant under John Calipari, Barbee has the Miners back in the Dance in Year 4 on the job.
- Steve Alford, New Mexico: Resurrected his career in Albuquerque after leaving Iowa in 2007; is 75-25 with the Lobos.
The great John Wall of Kentucky. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)
The best Round 1 games
- No. 7 Oklahoma State versus No. 10 Georgia Tech (Friday, 7:15 p.m.): A clash of styles — a great guard in James Anderson against the Jackets’ massive front line.
- No. 8 Gonzaga versus No. 9 Florida State (Friday, 7:10 p.m.): The tall Seminoles were the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament but are the lower seed in this one.
- No. 8 California versus No. 9 Louisville (Friday, 9:55 p.m.): Note the difference in leagues. The Bears won the Pac-10 regular-season title; Louisville finished sixth in the Big East.
- No. 7 Brigham Young versus No. 10 Florida (Thursday, 12:20 p.m.): The Cougars need two wins to advance to the West Regional, which will be played in Salt Lake City.
- No. 1 Syracuse versus No. 16 Vermont (Friday, 9:40 p.m.): A No. 1 seed has never lost in Round 1, but in 2005 No. 4 Syracuse lost to No. 13 Vermont.
The 5 best teams
- 1. Kansas: Played 13 games against the RPI top 50, won 11.
- 2. Kentucky: Team with three freshman starters lost only twice.
- 3. Ohio State: Lost seven games; three came when Evan Turner was hurt.
- 4. Syracuse: Uncertainty about Arinze Onuaku’s status clouds Orange sky.
- 5. West Virginia: Hardest-working bunch in the nation.
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