For several mid-major teams such as the MAC's Ball State, Butler from the Horizon and Utah State from the Big West, selection Sunday represented a day of March sadness. It was the day they were voted off the island and exiled to the NCAA's version of basketball purgatory, otherwise known as the NIT (National Invitation Tournament). Never have three letters carried the same stigma and ominous sense of foreboding since . the BCS (Bowl Championship Series).
For others, it was second wind and an invitation to the most prestigious tournament in all of college sports. Boston College, Utah, and Missouri were three of the last teams to be given at-large bids. With the field of 64 teams announced, and the games beginning on Thursday (the Alcorn State-Siena instant classic not withstanding), The Spectrum is wondering who can make sense of all this madness? While the winners of the tourney will receive worldwide fame and glory, the winner of this contest will get prizes of value. For those who aren't knowledgeable about NCAA basketball, but still like free stuff, here are a few picks to get you on your way to economic prosperity.
If Jim Morrison's words of wisdom were accurate when he stated the West is the best, then the East is the least. Look for many of the bottom feeders, i.e. Valpo and Hampton to upset some overrated heavyweights such as UConn and Kentucky. Maryland, despite matching up well against Duke, is inconsistent and sometimes plays soft defense. Look for Wisconsin to lull Terrapin stars Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter to sleep with their zone defense and ball control offense. Maryland will be the first No. 1 to fall. That's a guarantee.
Also, one of the most valuable lessons in life is never to bet against a Saluki. Look for Southern Illinois to beat up on Bobby Knight's Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first round - not that big of a feat considering Knight's recent history in the NCAAs, and then beat an inflated No. 3 seed Georgia in the second round.
Marquette and Tulsa pits two entertaining teams that like to run up and down the court. It will be close, but Marquette's guard combo of Cordell Henry and Dwayne Wade is one of the best in the country. Look for them to hit some big shots and give their team a chance to advance to places they're not supposed to go, such as Syracuse or beyond.
Sweet 16 picks: Wisconsin, Marquette, N.C. State and Southern Illinois
Elite Eight: Marquette vs. N.C. State
First of all, what is Boston College doing in the tournament? This team didn't just play badly down the stretch - they folded. That they should be recognized over a team that scratched and clawed all year and then had one bad game, such as Butler, is a poor decision from the committee. Basically, they awarded an average team from a good conference over a good team from a mediocre conference.
If you're looking for a Cinderella, Pepperdine will definitely make some waves in the bottom part of the region. Don't be surprised for them to advance to the Elite Eight. The rest of the region should hold to form. Western Kentucky is loaded and should throw a heck of a scare in a possible second-round match-up against Kansas, but the Jayhawks should prevail.
Sweet 16 picks: Kansas, Florida, Pepperdine and Mississippi State
Elite Eight: Kansas vs.Pepperdine
It kills me to say this, but no one is going to beat the Dukies from this region. That means for the next two weeks, Dick Vitale and various commentators will be drooling over themselves every time Jason Williams or Mike Dunleavy tie their shoelaces the right way.
Utah and USC may be the best game in the first round. I'll pick the Trojans, but it could go either way.
The good news is Kent State drew a No. 10 seed and will play Oklahoma State in the first round. If they win that one, and they should, they will get a crack at Alabama in the second round. The Tide is a tough physical team, but does not have the artistry or finesse of a Duke or Arizona, or any of the other one or two seeds. Kent State has an 18-game winning streak. Look for them to add to that in the tourney and make a surprise appearance in the Elite Eight where Duke will slaughter them.
Sweet 16 picks: Duke, USC, Kent State and Cal.
Elite 8: Duke vs. Kent State
It is a crime that Gonzaga is a No. 6 seed. They drew a tough first-round opponent against Wyoming, an athletic team from the Mountain West that has a lot of senior leadership in Josh Davis and Marcus Bailey. If they survive that game, they will be rewarded against last year's runner up, Arizona, in round two. Somehow, Dan Dickau and company will survive. After all, March Madness without the Zags is like going to prom with your sister. The Zags will throw on their blue suede shoes and find a way to dance their way to the Sweet 16.
The rest of the region is wide open, with the exception of Steve Logan and his Cincinnati Bearcats. No one in the top half of the region presents a real threat to Bob Huggins' Bearcats, although watch out for UCLA. The Bruins have three bona-fide NBA prospects in Matt Barnes, Jason Kapono and Dan Gadzuric. Now, if they only had a point guard. Still, if Steve Lavin could have his team playing on the same page, the way they did when they drilled Kansas, the Bruins could be in business.
Sweet 16 picks: Cinci, Ohio State, Xavier and Gonzaga
Elite Eight: Cinci vs. Gonzaga
Final Four: Duke vs Gonzaga and Wisconsin vs. Kansas
Championship game: Duke vs Kansas - Champion: Duke