This is the bracket where committee chairman Jeff Hathaway really earned whatever money the Big East paid him to be a “consultant” this year after he retired as athletic director at Connecticut in August.

The Big East was founded on the (correct) notion that TV matters above all other things, and this is the ultimate TV bracket. A potential Kentucky-Duke region final? On the 20th anniversary of Christian Laettner’s shot, even though as the overall No. 6 seed in the tournament Duke should be playing in Michigan State’s or Syracuse’s region? The committee boys (and one girl) fooled themselves, though, because one of those teams won’t be in the regional final. (Hint: It’s not Kentucky.)

Connecticut, which could easily be playing in the NIT — as should Iona, Southern Mississippi, California and South Florida (Marshall, Drexel, Oral Roberts and perhaps even Miami were more deserving) — happens to get into an 8-9 game, which just happens to mean it would play Kentucky in the second round if the Huskies beat Iowa State.

If his team can beat the Cyclones, Jim Calhoun against John Calipari? Remember when Calipari was at U-Mass.? Coach Vacancy vs. Coach Probation? (Oh wait, we aren’t going to bring any of that up). To quote Keith Jackson, “These two folks just plain don’t like one another.” You think there’s any chance that game won’t be in prime time? If you believe in anything good at all, pull like heck for Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team to beat U-Conn., if only to make the committee boys (and girl) and their TV cronies sick to their stomachs.

Wichita State-VCU is one of the best first-round games going. The Missouri Valley and the CAA are the two conferences that always produce upsets along the way. The committee limited those opportunities this year by putting two of the three teams from those conference against one another and by leaving Drexel out. Please do not talk RPI or any other statistic here. The next time a committee member tells you the “eye test” has anything to do with this at all, give him (her) the name of a good eye doctor.

The Wichita State-VCU winner will probably play Indiana, although the Hoosiers have not been a dominant team outside of Assembly Hall in Bloomington and will have to work to beat New Mexico State. Of course, if Indiana gets to the Sweet 16, who will it play? Why Kentucky, of course. You can bet that potential matchup was on the board before those darn Vanderbilt Commodores took away a week’s worth of, “And now Kentucky gets to play the one team it couldn’t beat in the regular season.”

That game will be in Atlanta, not Bloomington, so don’t expect a repeat of the game in December.

If Duke isn’t going to be Kentucky’s opponent in the region final, who will it be? How about Baylor, which has size and tournament experience (it went to the regional finals two years ago). Duke will not waltz through its first-round game against Lehigh — one should watch if only to check out C.J. McCollum, who may be the country’s best unknown player — and, in yet another coincidence, Duke will probably play Notre Dame in the second round in a teacher vs. pupil matchup (Mike Krzyzewski vs. Mike Brey). Xavier could easily mess that one up by beating Notre Dame. The Musketeers seem finally to be past the fight with Cincinnati and have Tu Holloway and plenty of size. They could also take Duke down.

Baylor-UNLV ought to be a fabulous second-round game, and the winner of that game — look for overtime — will likely play Kentucky in the region final.

Kentucky isn’t losing that game, either. In fact, unless Laettner shows up, they’re close to a lock for New Orleans. Still, the MVP of this region is already decided: Hathaway.

John Feinstein