Wednesday, March 15, 2006


It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Sixteen first-round NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament games tip off today, perhaps after many of you have picked up this paper. For the next three weeks, the eyes of college basketball fans and compulsive gamblers will be glued to TV sets across America (except for the lucky few who get witness the games in person.) No doubt, some school no one’s ever heard of—or, at least, never heard of a basketball team from there—will ruin the gamblers’ brackets.

Before I get to my own futile guesses, let me encourage all of my readers to hand a tissue to fellow “Chimes” writer Mike Ott as his beloved Michigan Wolverines didn’t make the tournament. Poor Mike (fake sympathy.)

As last year’s Lohman Complex bracket champion, here’s how I see the field of 65 unfolding:

Notable first-round picks

I am looking for two big names to fall early: Indiana and Syracuse. The Hoosiers may be playing well lately, but they’re still playing for a lame-duck coach, Mike Davis, who I don’t think can motivate them to play San Diego State. Look for the pumpkin never to turn into a coach for the fashionable “Cinderella” pick Syracuse. The streaking Texas A&M Aggies will knock them off, and Montana will bump Nevada out, putting two 12-seeds into the second round.

The Sweet 16

In Atlanta, I like Duke, Iowa, Texas and, a Cinderella, Texas A&M. The Aggies’ key strength is their depth as nine players average over 13 minutes per game, and they have won eight of their last nine games.

Oakland’s sweet 16 representatives will be UCLA, Pittsburgh, San Diego State and Bucknell. Notice I left both Memphis and Gonzaga out of the mix. Though the Bulldogs have star Adam Morrison, their tendency to let weaker opponents hang around will catch up with them. Likewise, Memphis has a tremendous amount of talent, but on the premise that upsets will happen, I have a hunch the Tigers are the first top seed to fall. Bucknell has an experienced team that upset Kansas last year. Look for everyone in the country to know the name Brandon Heath, San Diego State’s leading scorer.

The Washington D.C. quartet will be Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan State, and Seton Hall. The Spartans’ experience will reign supreme in a second-round match-up over the inexperienced defending champions, North Carolina. The enigmatic Tennessee Volunteers may have drubbed Texas in Austin earlier this year, but lately, the team’s inconsistency has shown. Seton Hall is a tested, Big East team who could easily pull the upset. In Minneapolis, I’m going with the top four seeds: Villanova, Boston College, Florida and Ohio State.

The Elite Eight

Duke and Texas will vie in Atlanta for a bid to the Final Four. Though I’m lukewarm on Texas, a team who lost to Tennessee and Duke by a combined 48 points, the post play of P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge make them a fairly safe bet to get this far. I would like to take Iowa, who as impressed me all year in the Big Ten, but a second-round match up with West Virginia is a complete toss-up. Better to have Texas playing Duke because no matter who square off with Duke, it will be the Blue Devils going to the Final Four.

I like the Pitt Panthers and center Aaron Gray in a mild upset over the UCLA Bruins in the Oakland final. Sure, the Bruins have the location advantage, but from a basketball standpoint, Pitt has played well away from home all year, and the Panthers never get blown out. In Washington D.C., the Connecticut Huskies will edge Michigan State, ending another impressive run by the Tom Izzo-led Spartans.

In a blatant homer pick, I will take the Buckeyes to beat Boston College in the Minneapolis final. Though the Buckeyes were not impressive in their loss to Iowa in the Big Ten championship, they are still 25-5. Their terrific guard play and senior leadership give them, in my opinion, as good as shot as anyone else in that bracket, that is if Terence Dials can stay out of foul trouble. Supposedly, Villanova guard Allan Ray will recover from his eye injury and play in the tournament, but his effectiveness is too uncertain for me to take the Wildcats to the Final Four. Plus, Boston College has taken Duke to the final possession in two close losses.

The Final Four and National Champion

Of Duke, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Ohio State, I see the two top seeds being too much for the Panthers and the Buckeyes. Connecticut wins three straight games over Big Ten opponents. I guess I am going with most of America by picking a Duke/UConn final, but to me, these two really are a cut above the rest. In the final, a determined J.J. Redick leads the Blue Devils to their first national championship since 2001.

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