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John Feinstein's Syracuse Regional Analysis

Heels' March Starts With Lowest Seed

Monday, March 14, 2005; Page G12

The first question regarding this regional is one only a few of us truly care about: If Illinois is the No. 1 team in the field, then why does North Carolina, the No. 2 seed in the field, play the winner of the play-in game -- Oakland-Alabama A&M -- because those are presumably the two lowest-seeded teams in the field. What's more, it would have been an easy drive from Dayton to Indianapolis for the play-in winner, instead of a plane flight to Charlotte to play the Tar Heels. I know, who cares?

Well, the winner of Oakland-Alabama A&M cares. And, while we're at it, let's get this annual rant out of the way: If the committee is determined to continue this play-in sham, why can't it send the last two at-large teams to Dayton rather than continually humiliating two one-bid conference winners for whom this is a once in a lifetime chance? How about UCLA-UAB as a play-in game with former Bruins and Blazers Coach Gene Bartow tossing up the first ball? Now that might get a rating. Winner goes into the field as a No. 11 seed.


Matt Walsh (44), Anthony Roberson and Coach Billy Donovan celebrated two victories over Kentucky in eight days to earn a No. 4 seed. (Steve Schaefer -- Reuters)

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When the Colonials go over tape of Georgia Tech, they'll see a team that is a lot like themselves.
At Oklahoma State, JamesOn Curry is making the most of a second chance.
Top-ranked Illinois was rewarded for its near flawless season with the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
Michael Wilbon: There ought to be a lot of early-round stunners.
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_____ Conference Breakdown _____
Big East: 6
Big 12: 6
ACC: 5
Big Ten: 5
SEC: 5
Conference USA: 4
Pac-10: 4
Missouri Valley: 3
Big West: 2
Mountain West: 2
West Coast: 2
Western Athletic: 2

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Mike Wilbon talked brackets in The Chat House. Read the transcript.


Carolina isn't losing in Charlotte. After it beats the play-in winner, it gets Minnesota-Iowa State. The Tar Heels aren't losing to either one of these teams, although Iowa State might scare them for a while. Prediction: Only one Big Ten team (Illinois) makes the round of 16.

There are two great dark horses in the top half of this bracket: Florida (4) and Villanova (5). Both teams were hot at the finish, playing themselves from not in the tournament to high seeds the last few weeks, especially Florida, which beat Kentucky twice in eight days. The Gators have been an early-round washout the last four years but are experienced and should be ravenous for some success. They should handle Ohio, and Villanova should take care of New Mexico to set up the best second-round matchup this side of Georgia Tech-Louisville. Whichever team comes out of that game will give Carolina all it wants in the round of 16. The Tar Heels are going to need the Sean May of the regular season, not the Sean May of the ACC tournament, if they want to make the Final Four.

The bottom of this bracket is really loaded. Connecticut may be a questionable No. 2 but no one doubts the Huskies' ability to reach another Final Four, especially if Rashad Anderson can get healthy. The Huskies have a quick, scary inside game and is there a better big-game coach anywhere than Jim Calhoun? Trust me, Carolina will be pulling for the defending champions to get knocked off before the regional final. The only team that could knock off U-Conn. before the final is Kansas, a team that faded down the stretch. The Jayhawks will beat Bucknell, which really got short shrift with a 14th seed; apparently beating Pittsburgh and Saint Joseph's on the road meant nothing. And don't be shocked if Northern Iowa wins a game. There's a lot of controversy about the Panthers getting in, namely Conference USA's foolish decision to have NIU Athletic Director Rick Hartzell referee the Louisville-Memphis game when a Memphis win would have eaten up an at-large berth, not to mention selection committee chairman Bob Bowlsby being a former AD there. But this is a good basketball team that is probably deserving of the pick and not of the controversy.

Kansas will advance to play Connecticut and might find its stride in the round of 16. This is a veteran team with a lot of pride; three seniors are on their last go-round. The chalk pick is U-Conn., the Jayhawk pick would be Kansas. Right? The winner should get Carolina in the final, but Florida would be a very dangerous round of 16 game for the Tar Heels. Still, this is the most talented Carolina team since 1998, and it is tough to pick against them.

Most likely first-round upset: Northern Iowa over Wisconsin.

Most over-seeded team: Minnesota.

Most under-seeded team: Bucknell -- by a mile. Kornheiser disclaimer: "He wrote a book on the Patriot League."

Best story likely not to get written: The play-in game. Always a story what the committee does to these kids.

Team that looks at this bracket and wants to scream: Maryland, which should have been no worse than a No. 6 seed.


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