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Posted: March 16, 2011 4:09 p.m.

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It's time to dance once again

It’s that time of year again, March Madness. The brackets are set and the bubbles have been burst. The NCAA Division 1 basketball tournament starts tomorrow. The No. 1 seeds were really no surprise, as No. 1 ranked Ohio State (East Region), last year’s national champs Duke (West), powerhouse Kansas (Southwest), and Big East power Pittsburgh (Southeast) are the teams to beat. However, there was plenty of controversy on selection Sunday, which I must address before we get into my picks.

The bracket’s release drew the ire of many basketball experts, including former college coach and hall of fame analyst Dick Vitale and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who played at Duke. Bilas was so shocked he interjected, “I wonder if the committee even knows the ball is round.” Brutal, but understandable words were flowing from the mouths of the experts. Virginia Commonwealth (VCU), who went 1-3 versus top 50 ranked teams, got in the tournament over a Colorado team that went 6-7 versus the top 50. On an interesting side note to VCU getting in, I actually talked to a VCU assistant coach the day after they lost in their conference tournament game, and he completely expected their team would not make the NCAA field. He told me they would probably get an invite to the NIT tournament instead. I think some of them were probably the most surprised people in the country when their names appeared on the bracket on Selection Sunday.

Further confusing things, Alabama, who beat Georgia twice in the last week of the regular season, was snubbed for the Bulldogs, who got in with ease it appears, as a No. 10 seed. There were other surprise choices as well, like Alabama-Birmingham who got in unexpectedly. The baffling field, which now includes 68 teams, was set by supposed experts who make up the NCAA tournament selection committee. Unfortunately this panel is actually made up of college executives, led by Ohio State’s athletic director Gene Smith, and apparently these guys did not do their homework. This scenario is not working.

After the 31 automatic bids are established by way of conference tournament championships, it is the panel’s job to add the 37 best at-large teams left in NCAA Division 1 level. By excluding teams such as Colorado, Virginia Tech, Alabama, St. Mary’s and others, for not even bubble teams such as VCU and UAB, the lack of common sense of the NCAA committee has become embarrassingly apparent. Clearer, now more than ever, future committee members should be basketball experts, such as former coaches and current analysts who watch and study teams all year long, not just execs who don’t have enough time to follow basketball alone throughout the year.

Now that that is behind us, let’s look at the positives of the bracket and breakdown the teams who have a chance to make some major noise and get to the coveted Final Four. In the East Region, No. 1 seed Ohio State is primed to make a run to the Final Four. Last time they were a high seed a couple of years ago, they underachieved, so look for them to make up for that this time around. They have perhaps the most talented freshmen in the country and this team is looking to win it all, so expect them to at least get to Houston, the site of the Final Four, if not the championship game. The Syracuse-North Carolina winner will be their only road block in the Elite 8 game.

In the West Region, the defending national champion Duke Blue Devils, fresh off their ACC tournament championship, will have to get past Connecticut or San Diego State in the Elite 8 game, but I do see them at least getting back to the Final Four. Doubt they will win it all again however. My bracket has OSU beating them in the national semi-finals.

In the Southeast Region, No. 1 seed Pittsburgh will have the easiest road of the four No. 1 seeds, beginning in the second round with Butler, last year’s runner-up, then either Wisconsin or Kansas State in the Sweet 16, and then a good Florida team in the Elite 8. The best news for them in that they aren’t any Big East teams in their bracket.  Most of these teams aren’t even as good as the rest of their conference games. The question is will they get caught looking past of these other quality programs.

In the Southwest Region, Big 12 power Kansas is primed to get to Houston. They won the national title in 2008 and are my pick to do it again. Notre Dame or Purdue are their only road blocks. I see them beating Pittsburgh in the Elite 8 then Ohio State in the National Championship game and Coach Bill Self cutting down the nets again for the second time in four years.

If you haven’t noticed, I have all four No. 1 seeds advancing to the Final Four. Where might I go wrong? Ohio State has not done well recently in the tournament when expected to do so. They are not really known as a basketball school per say, so they couldn’t stumble again, but I think perhaps this is their year to fulfill their potential. Another potential No. 1 seed who could go out earlier than expected are the Blue Devils. Sometimes it is hard to emulate what you did the previous year, and again Duke is not the most talented team in the tournament. On a night when their 3 pointers are not falling, they could “go gentle into that “bad” instead of good night”, excuse me Dylan Thomas.

What upsets might fans look for in this year’s tournament? If you want a major upset, look to the Southeast and little Wofford College, SC, a No. 14 seed who no one is giving a chance. The experts might be right, but the Terriers nearly beat Wisconsin in the opening round last season and return a hungry, senior-laden team, while their opponent BYU recently lost their third best player to off court issues and just got blown out by San Diego State in the Mountain West conference championship. Another possible upset is 11th seed Marquette over 6th seed Xavier in the East and Georgia over Pac-10 tournament champs Washington. Gonzaga could also upset No. 6 St. John’s in the Southeast and make a run to the Elite 8. Another possible upset could be No. 2 seed San Diego State, going down in the second round to Temple or Penn State, and probably to Connecticut in the third round. Although they are a talented team, the Aztecs are 0-6 in tournament history. Their players don’t have the tournament experience of their coach Steve Fisher, who led Michigan to the National Championship in 1989 as the interim coach and then the Fab Five to two runner-up finishes in 1992 and 93. It will be interesting to see how they handle being a No. 2 seed.

Well bracketologists, it’s time to dance. Only time will tell who cuts the nets down in Houston on April 4th. Get our picks in quick, as the tournament starts tomorrow.

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