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MIDWEST REGION ANALYSIS By John Feinstein

It's a Power Play, but Watch for Gators and Ducks

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Let's cut right to the chase: The committee has gone back to being the committee again. As in playing politics and taking care of the power conference schools. Six bids for the Big Ten? Purdue? Illinois? Who is kidding whom here? Purdue, which will play Arizona in the 8-9 game in this region, won two road games -- beating traditional Big Ten powers Northwestern and Penn State and won one game against teams in the RPI top 25 (at home, of course, over No. 24 Michigan State).

Wow, what a résumé. Compare that with Drexel, which beat Syracuse, Villanova, Creighton and Saint Joseph's on the road and won -- wait for it -- 14 road games. That might be more road wins than the entire Big Ten outside of Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Pathetic. When a mid-major accomplishes what Drexel accomplished and is left out in favor of teams that pad their records with home victories, as Purdue and Illinois did, a serious basketball crime has been committed.

No doubt Drexel Coach Bruiser Flint and Missouri State Coach Barry Hinson were thrilled to hear chairman Gary Walters talk about the "empathy" he and the committee have for the teams left out.

Okay, on to the bracket. Florida has to be the clear favorite, although Arizona is the kind of No. 8 seed no top seed wants to face in the second round. The committee also decided in its wisdom to pair two mid-major at-larges in the first round -- the better to avoid upsets of the big-name teams? -- in Butler and Old Dominion.

The Terrapins have a great first weekend draw as long as they pay attention because Davidson Coach Bob McKillop is very good at what he does and he has smart, tough kids. Still, Maryland's talent should wear down the Wildcats and they ought to beat the Butler-Old Dominion winner and head for St. Louis to play Florida. Is that game winnable? Yup -- but it will take a near-perfect performance and Maryland's big guys better not do one of their disappearing acts. Florida is not going to give its title away to anyone -- the Gators will have to be knocked out.

The bottom half of the bracket is intriguing because people already are picking Winthrop to beat Notre Dame in the first round. There's good reason for that: The Eagles are good and they have a lot of tournament experience. Gregg Marshall has had his team in the tournament seven of the past nine years. This could be his time to win a game.

If he does, he won't win a second game. It says here the team with the best chance to upset Florida might be Oregon, the No. 3 seed. The Ducks probably will play Wisconsin in the round of 16 in a speed (Oregon) vs. strength (Wisconsin) game. A lot of people will pick the Badgers to go down to either UNLV or Georgia Tech in the second round. It won't happen. Check Bo Ryan's tournament record: He rarely loses to a lower-seeded team.

When the dust clears, Florida should play Oregon in the final. That's a dangerous game for the Gators but it is tough to pick against them right now, although Joakim Noah needs to shut up with this "no respect" garbage.

Drexel doesn't get any respect.


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