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SOUTH REGION ANALYSIS By John Feinstein

Ohio State Looms Large in a Mediocre Field

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Monday, March 12, 2007

This is easily the weakest of the four brackets. Whom, exactly, has No. 2 seed Memphis beaten? Texas A&M, the No. 3 seed, has been a great story all season but hasn't played well down the stretch. Virginia should be sending bouquets to the committee, including Athletic Director Craig Littlepage, who was out of the room when his team was being discussed but probably went around hugging people when he came back and saw where his team had been placed as a No. 4 seed.

Let's say this straight out: If there is a No. 1 seed that looks like a lock to make Atlanta, it is Ohio State. To start with, the Buckeyes are really good and seem to keep getting better -- although the one caveat is that they won a mediocre conference. Brigham Young and Xavier, the 8-9 seeds, are nice teams, but neither is beating the Buckeyes in the second round.

The real threat might be Virginia in the round of 16. The Cavaliers need to pay attention against Albany, a team that had Connecticut down 12 in the second half a year ago, but should go on to beat Tennessee in the second round -- unless Long Beach State upsets Tennessee, which is possible. The Volunteers were an awful No. 2 seed a year ago; they're not much of a No. 5 seed this year.

The Cavaliers, in spite of their ACC tournament flame-out, have the key ingredient to March success: experienced guards. Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds should be good for at least two wins -- no small thing considering the last time Virginia won a tournament game was 1995.

Memphis could struggle with either Nevada or Creighton in its second-round game if only because the Tigers haven't played anybody who is any good since December. Nevada-Creighton should be one of the best first-round matchups out there, and let's go out on a bit of a limb and say the winner takes out Memphis.

Let's go out on another limb and say that Louisville, playing close to home (Lexington), takes out Texas A&M after beating Stanford, another power-conference team that sneaked into the field with a shaky résumé. Rick Pitino coaching on the court where he became a legend? CBS has got to love that one. Heck, it might make Pitino an honorary "corporate champion" before it is all over. Pitino did one of his better coaching jobs this season with a young team that came on late. Louisville easily could reach the round of 16 and could make the region final. The run will end there, though, against Ohio State.

It's interesting that the committee clearly took strength of conference into consideration in seeding Ohio State No. 3 overall in the field behind Florida and North Carolina, but then ignored all that to stick six Big Ten teams in the field. The Big Ten this year was the Big Two and the Little Nine, but there's no doubting Ohio State is good enough to win the whole thing.


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