Let's cut to the chase: Kentucky in the Midwest, Syracuse in the East, Maryland in the South and Duke in the West are my Final Four. It carries a heavy Eastern bias, I'll admit. It's also biased toward the big conferences. It's way too familiar, as well, picking four coaches I know and like. It's flawed, okay, you've got me.
But it's as reasonable a Final Four grouping as anything else I'm hearing. Let's face it: You can stay up all night Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday studying the polls, the RPI ratings, the Sagarin ratings, the BCS and the Dow Jones and still come up with none of the four teams that will make it to New Orleans. Picking the top four seeds -- Texas, Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma -- is a waste of time because at least two of them and maybe more will be knocked out. You can go with regional diversity, or go with an exotic pick such as Xavier or Marquette to go deep into the tournament. Still, in the end, it won't matter.
This NCAA men's basketball tournament is what the street corner gamblers call "a crap shoot." It's as wide open as we've ever seen a tournament. It's bound to surprise and confuse us and make folks reconsider everything they thought they knew for sure about this season.
In the conference tournaments that were completed just before the selections were announced, 18 No. 1 conference seeds lost before the finals. Asked last night what all the conference tournament upsets of the past week might suggest for the Big Dance, Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said, "I think it could mean we're going to see the same thing in the NCAA tournament, lots of upsets . . . A lot of high seeds are going to go home early. That's what the conference tournaments kind of show you."
Yep, we're looking at possible anarchy. Analysts who have seen, oh, 75 or so games in person this year, not to mention several hundred on the satellite dish, will tell you that there are no fewer than 20 teams that could win the national championship. Kentucky, which has won 23 straight games, appears to be the best team in the field; the Wildcats haven't lost since Dec. 28, to Louisville. They went through the very tough Southeastern Conference undefeated, 16-0. Still, could Kentucky lose its second-round game to Oregon? Of course they could. The Ducks just won the Pac-10 tournament.
Lots of folks like Texas's chances, right? Texas is a No. 1 seed in the south. Boeheim thinks they could very well win it all. You know how soon Texas and its fabulous point guard, T.J. Ford, could be sent packing? As soon as the second round when the Longhorns might have to play Louisiana State. Last year, when Maryland was a No. 1 seed, there was no doubt they'd beat Wisconsin. None. This year, each No. 1 could face a perilous situation in the second round against a No. 8 or No. 9 seed.
And the number of high seeds that fall in the second or third round should surprise nobody. The No. 12 versus No. 5 matchups, like Mississippi State against Butler, might as well be toss-ups. Weber State, which went undefeated in the Big Sky Conference, is a No. 12 seed. The opening two days of this tournament, Thursday and Friday, ought to be as entertaining as any opening round we've seen simply because no team (with the possible exception of Kentucky) has earned the benefit of the doubt.
This is a particularly good thing because the men's selection committee goofed up in so many ways. The committee did a sloppy job that wasn't up to its usual standards, including assigning Brigham Young to a region with a Sunday regional finals. But that's small potatoes relative to other stuff that can't be switched out or changed.
Start with Arizona and Kentucky being put in regions that, should both teams win four games, would pit them against each other in the national semifinals, not in the championship game. How silly. The two teams people really want to see, the two teams coaches and analysts have said all season are the best teams in the country are Kentucky and Arizona. So why have them play Saturday night and not Monday night?
Wait, there's more.
If Kentucky is the top-ranked team in the country, on a 23-game roll and clearly the top seed in the tournament, why is Texas playing the 64th team, the Texas Southern versus North Carolina Ashville winner? Texas, unlike Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona, has no history of success in this tournament. Yet, Texas was treated like a two-time national champ, even though the Longhorns did not win the Big 12 regular season (Kansas did) and even though the Longhorns did not win the Big 12 tournament (Oklahoma did).
We're not sure why the committee made the decisions that it made because the chairman, Jim Livengood, didn't speak specifically to any of the questions directed toward him or the committee's thinking. In interviews Sunday night, he wasn't forthcoming, wasn't expansive and shed light on nothing.
Somebody in that war room needs to explain why Boston College was left out of the tournament field despite winning the Eastern Division of the Big East with a regular season record of 10-6, while the committee took an Auburn team that lost to Western Kentucky by 19 points and at home to Western Michigan by 18 points.
The committee overloaded the West (poor Arizona), left the South vulnerable to a good team with tournament experience such as Maryland and gave favorable treatment to Syracuse (which will play close to home in Boston and then Albany, N.Y.) even though Pitt finished higher than Syracuse in the conference and won the Big East tournament.
Fortunately, the committee's work is done, and the teams in this field are so incredibly even that for the next three weekends the competition, tension and drama should obscure the committee's decisions and leave college basketball's strange season with a memorable swirl of activity.