Sunday, March 15, 2009

Planting seed of Illinois upset

Four (but a nowhere near final four) observations regarding the NCAA tourney bracket:

1. Of the 5/12 matchups notorious for producing upsets, Illinois will be a popular choice to make an early exit. And it would be hard to blame those who feel that way. The Illini's first-round opponent, Western Kentucky, defeated Louisville on a neutral court and led Florida State midway through the second half before fading. Even if Chester Frazier were healthy - and he isn't - Illinois would have to be considered a shaky No. 5 seed. It says here that all four No. 6 seeds (UCLA, Arizona State, Marquette and West Virginia) are better than the Illini, who defend well but are prone to almost comical offensive swoons.

2. The Penn Staters are upset, but the Nittany Lions have only their own schedule-maker to blame. At least the schools from mid-major and small conferences have an excuse - the big teams won't play them, especially on the road. But what's Penn State's excuse for having one of the softest non-conference schedules in the entire country? It's nice to see the selection committee reward teams that play more than cupcakes. Take heart, Nittany Lions: You'll always have those two wins over Illinois - including that unforgettable 38-33 thriller.

3. Of course UConn deserved to join Big East brethren Louisville and Pitt as a No. 1 seed. No, it isn't Memphis' fault that it's "stuck" in Conference USA while UConn is in the nation's toughest league. It is, however, a fact. While the Tigers' main competition was coming from the likes of Tulsa, UAB, Houston and UTEP, UConn was going to war twice a week. Penalizing the Huskies for a six-OT loss to an excellent Syracuse team also would have been ridiculous. Simply stated, Memphis is a No. 2. Everybody likes to rag on the committee this time of year, but the gentlemen did a superb job this year.

4. I need to do a lot more homework before I fill out my bracket and embarrass myself publicly, but here are some of the lower seeds that intrigue me at first glance: West Virginia (No. 6 Midwest), USC (No. 10 Midwest), Tennessee (No. 9 East), LSU (No. 8 South), Maryland (No. 10 West) and, of course, Marquette (No. 6 West). Hey, I'm a fan, too!

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