|By-the-book brackets produce few surprises, controversies in NCAA men's basketball tournament|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 16 March 2008 23:07|
The chairman of the selection committee said nobody called him to complain.
The defending national champions missed the tournament, and even that didn't cause any stir.
If the madness of March is supposed to begin on Selection Sunday - well, it didn't. Basketball fans can only hope the committee's wish comes true, and it's the action on the court, not in the room where they fill out the bracket, that brings about the real excitement.
``The real thing is playing the games with the kids on the court,'' said Tom O'Connor, chairman of the selection committee.
Among the possible first-round gems the committee served up include a meeting between two of the nation's best freshmen, O.J. Mayo of Southern California and Michael Beasley of Kansas State.
Surprising Drake will play Western Kentucky in a classic 5-12 matchup - though on first glance, its hard to know which team is which.
Notre Dame and its star, Luke Harangody, plays George Mason, the team that captured America's heart with its 2006 Final Four run.
``George Mason is this year's George Mason,'' read one sign this week.
The top seeds were not controversial picks: North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas and UCLA were almost universally regarded as deserving, and there were few good arguments to put anyone else in their place.
``These guys have worked very hard all season long to get to be a No. 1 seed,'' Bruins coach Ben Howland said. ``Nothing is guaranteed. Anybody can beat anybody. We continue to talk about that.''
Arizona State and Virginia Tech were the bubble teams with the biggest gripes.
Tech coach Seth Greenberg sort of took the bait: ``I think the tournament does need to at least look at expanding, it's that simple,'' Greenberg said, recasting an argument heard every year around this time.
But Arizona State coach Herb Sendek was more into looking in the mirror.
``If our initial reaction is to point the finger, let's first take inventory of some of the opportunities that we had along the way that we could have taken better advantage of,'' Sendek said.
Two-time defending champion Florida got left out and had very little to complain about, Completely rebuilt after winning two straight titles, the Gators were written off well before Sunday, after losing their last four games, including the first round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
``You can't lose five NBA players and the all-time 3-point field-goal maker in NCAA tournament history and expect not to miss a beat,'' Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
With the Gators gone, the most recent titlist is North Carolina (32-2), which won in 2005. Led by Tyler Hansbrough, the Tar Heels earned the overall top seed in the tournament and won't have to leave their home state on the road to the Final Four in San Antonio. Carolina's first two games are scheduled for Raleigh; its next two would be in Charlotte.
``I think it's good they'll be there for us, but we're also going to have to play,'' Hansbrough said.
In a tournament known for its unfamiliar newcomers (Maryland-Baltimore County and Portland State, for example) and 1-in-a-million longshots (see Coppin State at 16-20), maybe it's Georgia - yes, the big, bad Bulldogs from the big, bad SEC - who have the best tale to tell.
They won four games at the SEC tournament - including two in one day after a tornado ripped past the Georgia Dome and postponed their quarterfinal - to turn a disappointing season into something much more.
Losers of 10 of 11 at one point this year, Georgia is in with a No. 14 seed, a 17-16 record and a first-round date against No. 3 Xavier.
``We showed everybody what we were made of,'' Bulldogs guard Billy Humphrey said. ``Right now, I feel like we can beat anybody.''
Georgia's surprising run might have cost Arizona State a spot, as the selection committee juggled to place a team in the bracket that wasn't on its radar.
Instead, the final bubble spots went to Villanova, a 12th seed in the Midwest, and 11th seeds St. Joseph's, Baylor, Kentucky and Kansas State.
But was K-State really a surprise with freshman-of-the-year candidate Beasley, who now gets a chance to go against Mayo and USC?
``It's still Kansas State vs. USC - two good teams, two teams that play hard,'' Mayo said. ``We'll get a crowd there, it should be exciting.''
The top-seeded teams offered no surprises or outrage, the way, say, Washington did three years ago when the Huskies were No. 1 in the West.
UCLA has been a top team all season and won the Pac-10 tournament to get the nod in the West. Kansas beat Texas in the Big 12 final Sunday, in a game almost everyone agreed would be for top seeding in the Midwest. Memphis is from the less-prestigious Conference USA and lost to Tennessee in the regular season, but the Tigers (33-1) won their conference and the Vols (29-4) helped smooth things out by losing in the SEC semifinals.
The tournament begins Tuesday when Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion Coppin State, the first team to make the tournament with 20 losses, plays Mount St. Mary's in an opening-round game. The winner gets North Carolina.
With eight teams, the Big East placed the most schools in the tournament. The Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC followed with six each, while the Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten had four apiece.
For the second straight year, only six of the 34 at-large bids went to teams from smaller conferences. That included St. Joe's, which earned one of the brackets' final spots but didn't include Illinois State. But how to argue against snubbing a team that lost by 30 points its last time out in the finals of the Missouri Valley Conference against Drake?
Yes, Drake. Making its first appearance at the NCAAs in 37 years, the Bulldogs were picked to finish near the bottom of the MVC this season.
``I tend not to get too nervous for games, but there were butterflies tonight,'' Adam Emmenecker said of waiting to see his school's name come up in the bracket. ``It's a little bit different of a feeling.''
Same could be said for last year's national runner-up, Ohio State, which missed the tournament. That means both of the previous season's finalists will miss the tournament for the first time since 1980, the year after two guys named Bird and Magic left their schools - Indiana State and Michigan State - for the NBA.
``It shows you about how much things change,'' Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.