There isn’t any doubt that Syracuse earned the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament and the chance to go through Pittsburgh and Boston to get to The Final Four.
That said, the committee didn’t do Jim Boeheim and the Orange any favors in the draw. Could it be that our image-conscious friends aren’t all that excited about listening to the folks from CBS fall all over themselves in New Orleans to not mention all the off-court troubles that have taken place in Boeheim World this winter? After all, CBS still hasn’t gotten around to mentioning that last season’s national champions played the tournament while on probation.
Syracuse’s first game isn’t even that easy. UNC Asheville is a veteran team that was in the tournament a year ago and has a coach in Eddie Biedenbach who will almost certainly win the Wednesday news conference in Pittsburgh and send a loose team onto the court Thursday. That’s not to say the Bulldogs will be the first 16th seed to beat a No. 1 seed, but the game could be interesting for a while.
The second round could be even more interesting. The committee never seems to give the Big 12 the respect it deserves — no No. 1 seeds for Kansas or Missouri while North Carolina gets one out of the clearly inferior ACC — and Kansas State will be a tough out for Syracuse after it beats Southern Mississippi (which should send a Christmas card to SMU Athletic Director Steve Orsini for getting Conference USA a second bid).
If Syracuse survives that game, it will probably get Wisconsin in the round of 16, although Vanderbilt could take the Badgers out in the second round. That said, Vanderbilt might not make the second round. In one of the most blatant among many made-for-TV matchups, the committee pitted Vanderbilt against Harvard in the first round (sorry, you can’t call it a second round when 60 teams are playing their first game; the four games in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday are “play-in games” regardless of marketing labels). Oh gee, look: kids who can read, write and graduate playing against one another. The over-under on “student-athlete” mentions during the broadcast of this game is about 57. Bottom line: Harvard can play. It is tough to believe even if it has a post-Kentucky letdown that Vanderbilt won’t win this game. Still . . .
The bottom half of the draw starts with Ohio State. A lot of people question the Buckeyes’ depth, but with the 47 TV timeouts per game in the tournament, depth isn’t a major issue. The only team that can prevent OSU from making the region final is Florida State. Loyola will scrap hard, and Jimmy Patsos will provide every writer in Pittsburgh with great pre-game fodder, but that won’t be enough to deal with Jared Sullinger and company. Gonzaga should beat West Virginia, but neither team will have enough to beat the Buckeyes. Meantime, Mark Schmidt (who played for Gary Williams at Boston College) deserves some national coach-of-the-year consideration for getting St. Bonaventure back to the tournament for the first time in 12 years. The Bonnies will get beaten down by Florida State, which, unless it gets cocky after beating both North Carolina and Duke twice, should handle the Cincinnati-Texas winner. Here’s to a Texas win in that one if only to quiet the Big East apologists a little bit.
Smart money says Syracuse-Ohio State in the region final. Gut feeling says Florida State gets to that game and perhaps becomes the only ACC team in New Orleans. Syracuse faces a lot of tough outs to return to the site of its national title nine years ago. But we all know politics never comes into play.
To quote Gilbert and Sullivan (H.M.S. Pinafore): “What never? . . .