Gannett News Service
INDIANAPOLIS – So this is March, with its extraordinary heroics, its baffling twists, its shocking turns.
But enough about the SEC men’s basketball tournament.
For dramatic effect, the NCAA Tournament might not be able to match an audience composed mostly of tuba and trombone sections, or making a team play twice in one day.
But it’ll probably come up with something.
Matter of fact, now that the names are ready for the office pool – for recreational purposes only, of course – we can serve up a few of the juicier plot lines by region.
North Carolina. First week in Raleigh, second week in Charlotte. How nice in these times of exorbitant fuel prices that the Tar Heels are not only the tournament’s top seed but can get to the Final Four on one tank of gas.
Tennessee. Foul luck for the Volunteers, who are too good to be shipped to this region, possibly forced to meet North Carolina in front of so many Tar Heels. But to do that, they would have to get to the regional championship. Know how many times they’ve been that far in their history? Zero. All they want in Knoxville is a men’s showing that the women’s program can be proud of.
Butler. A midmajor darling, but under-seeded at No. 7. The Bulldogs get South Alabama in Birmingham and then Tennessee. So much for being cute.
Indiana. The Hoosiers were 22-4 before the Kelvin Sampson issue blew up, and 3-3 since, with the look of a team in emotional disorder. “There are no ifs, ands or buts,” interim coach Dan Dakich said of the urgent need to move on from Sampson, “because he isn’t coming back.”
George Mason. Strange, but that name seems to ring a bell.
Kansas. No reason to believe the Jayhawks can’t have a big showing. Bill Self could use a trip to the Final Four. In case anyone has forgotten – and around Lawrence they probably haven’t – Roy Williams went to four.
Wisconsin. They’ve won 23 of 25 but stayed under the national radar, as usual. The Badgers won the Big Ten tournament shooting 40.1 percent, which tells you something about the Big Ten tournament. This league, getting worse press lately than the former New York governor, badly needs at least one of its brethren to have a good run.
Davidson. Sure to be the flavor of the month for sleeper shoppers, with 22 straight wins and losses of only four points to North Carolina and six to Duke. But assigning the Wildcats Gonzaga in the first round and Georgetown in the second is like trying to lock Cinderella in the cellar.
USC vs. Kansas State. Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo, you’re ready for your close-ups.
Maryland-Baltimore County. Not every year you can jump on the bandwagon for a team nicknamed the Retrievers.
Memphis. The Tigers are a four-point loss away from being 34-0. But how long before that 59.6 percent free-throw shooting dooms them? And how much fun will it be to play Texas in the Houston regional?
Stanford vs. Cornell. Probably top game in the bracket, if you mean SAT scores.
Mississippi State. The Bulldogs endured the embarrassment of the weekend. They couldn’t beat Georgia, a team playing its second game in nine hours. Maybe they’ll do better against rested Oregon.
Kentucky. So the Wildcats go from losing to Gardner-Webb at home to making a 17th straight tournament. But with Marquette ahead, how long will the Wildcats stay?
UCLA. Kevin Love’s back is hurting. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s ankle is sore. The Bruins have had to become escape artists – five of their past six games were won by three points or less or in overtime – and they might not get the candy and roses they’ve gotten lately from Pac-10 officials. Still, the committee gave the Bruins a manageable regional.
Duke. It has been ages since Mike Krzyzewski has gone to the Final Four. Well, four years, actually. But then, he’d been to 10 in the previous 19 seasons. And last March, the Blue Devils lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the first round. Natural order needs to be restored.
Heart. The West has more cuddly stories than a Rocky movie marathon. Drake’s MVP is a former walk-on, the pre-season conference poll had the Bulldogs ninth, and the last time the Bulldogs were in this tournament, the president was Richard Nixon. Georgia fought through the SEC on will, as its home state reeled from killer tornadoes. Arizona kept its 24-year tournament streak going despite the personal crisis of Lute Olson. Baylor has been reborn from a horrific scandal.
Before we go, we should mourn the missing.
Florida and Ohio State. Last time both teams from the national championship were left out of the next tournament was 1980, with post-Magic Johnson Michigan State and post-Larry Bird Indiana State.
Virginia Commonwealth beat Duke in the first round last year, nearly beat Pittsburgh in the second, and went 24-7 this season. Not good enough.
And Virginia Tech. “Certifiably insane,” coach Seth Greenberg said Saturday of anyone who would not think the Hokies worthy of the field. Well, the committee has been called worse.