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North Carolina Should Feel at Home, Oklahoma May Be Tested in South Region

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By John Feinstein
Monday, March 16, 2009

One of the best stories in this year's tournament is Radford, a school that hired Brad Greenberg as a 53-year-old first-time head coach two years ago.

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Sadly, Greenberg's Highlanders aren't going to be around too long because they have to face North Carolina in the first round in Greensboro. This is like being asked to run against Barack Obama or Oprah in Chicago.

Still, Radford will have its 40 minutes of fame even if some of those minutes will be painful. Roy Williams might even rest Ty Lawson's toe for one more game so he can be fresh and ready to go for a second-round game against the winner of LSU-Butler.

The temptation here is to pick Butler on the grounds that the Southeastern Conference was wretched -- and kudos to conference commissioner Mike Slive who, as basketball committee chairman, did not shove non-deserving SEC teams such as South Carolina, Florida and Auburn into the field.

But Butler isn't as good as it has been in past years, and LSU's quickness might be a little too much for the Bulldogs to handle. Neither team is going to beat the Tar Heels.

North Carolina's round-of-16 opponent will be a mid-major team -- either No. 4 seed Gonzaga (which almost doesn't count as a mid-major anymore) or Western Kentucky, which is under-seeded at No. 12. Look for the Hilltoppers to take out Illinois while Gonzaga beats Akron to set up a second-round game against one another. It's worth noting that for all he's accomplished at Gonzaga, Mark Few hasn't matched Dan Monson's 1999 run to the regional finals.

This year's team has that potential, although Carolina would clearly be a very tough out for the 'Zags. Gonzaga can rebound, and it won't be intimidated playing the Tar Heels. That could be one of the best games of the tournament.

Oklahoma, the No. 2 seed, hasn't been the same team since Blake Griffin's concussion last month, and if the Sooners play Clemson in the second round, they could be in for a long day. Of course, given Clemson's history, losing to Michigan in the first round isn't out of the question especially if the Wolverines hit their threes.

What's weird about Oklahoma is that if it survives the first weekend, it could make the Final Four. Temple will have a good chance to knock off Arizona State in the first round -- some of us are not as enamored of the Pac-10 as the committee apparently was -- and although Syracuse will handle Stephen F. Austin, there's a question as to how much the Orange has left in its tank after playing the equivalent of 14 games in New York. Temple could be Oklahoma's round-of-16 opponent, and even if it is Syracuse, the Sooners should advance to the regional final.

If the seeding holds and it is Carolina-Oklahoma, that means Griffin vs. Tyler Hansbrough. That's worth watching.

Best bet for a first-round upset: Western Kentucky over Illinois. Dark horse to go deep: Temple. Best story: Radford.


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