This is one of the two brackets that all those teams not seeded No. 1 aspired to be in. Why? Because neither Kentucky or Arizona is in the region. Going through Oklahoma -- or Texas in the South -- is a far less daunting task than facing the Wildcats or the Wildcats.
The coach who might have the least to complain about is college basketball's best-known whiner, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. If he can get his team through two games in Boston as a No. 3 seed, he gets to play a regional in Albany, just a hop, skip and a gripe down the New York State Thruway from his campus.
Having said that, the Orangemen had better make sure to show up for their first-round game against No. 14 Manhattan, an aggressive team with a truly gifted scorer in Luis Flores that won't be intimidated by playing Syracuse. The better upset possibility on Friday in Boston may be Oklahoma State, the No. 6 seed, taking on No. 11 Pennsylvania. The Quakers love to shoot three-pointers and if they get hot (the way they did when they made 21 of 24 in a half at Southern Cal) they can beat the Cowboys. Eddie Sutton's teams play great defense, but they have struggled down the stretch.
Wake Forest has to be loving life as a No. 2 seed in this region. After losing in the ACC semifinals, the Deacons easily could have been shipped West as a No. 3, but the committee chose to make the regular season the criteria (in this case) and keep them East where they should handle East Tennessee State before probably facing Saint Joseph's in the second round.
Oklahoma got the No. 1 seed over Kansas, the committee this time going with the tournament champion over the regular season champion (as opposed to what it did with the ACC teams) and the Sooners get to open in Oklahoma City against MEAC champ South Carolina State, which is coached by Cy Alexander, one of the most underrated coaches going. Put this on a neutral floor, and it could be a game. But it won't be at this site. The second-round matchup for the Sooners is a lot tougher: California or N.C. State. That first round 8-9 game is a tossup if the Wolfpack can bounce back from the shock of blowing a 15-point lead against Duke in the ACC final yesterday.
Mississippi State and Butler is another intriguing first-round game although the Bulldogs (Midwestern version) will have a tough time guarding Mario Austin of the Bulldogs (Southern version). And on the subject of Butler, let's pause to give the selection committee credit for being fair to the mid-majors in taking Butler, Gonzaga and Southern Illinois.
No one will ask the committee this, but what the heck did Austin Peay (23-7) do to rate a No. 13 seed -- ahead of all the 14s, every one of which has better credentials than Austin Peay. Is Fly Williams making a comeback? Or did the committee want to give Little Ricky Pitino and Louisville a virtual first-round bye. If the committee had a sense of humor (unlikely), it would have sent Pitino to Boston to be greeted by all those Celtics fans who remember him so fondly. The Cardinals could lose to Mississippi State in the second round. If they do, you can bet one thing: It won't be Pitino's fault.
Oklahoma must be the favorite to come out of here. The Sooners are experienced and well-coached and have that X-factor kind of player in Hollis Price. But Syracuse certainly has a shot if it gets to Albany, and there's something about Mississippi State that makes it a real live dark horse to advance to New Orleans.
Most likely first-round upset: Penn over Oklahoma State.
Best story: Manhattan.
Best cheer involving team in the bracket (circa 1973): "Fly is open; Let's go Peay!"
Worst story: Anything involving Pitino.