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Some top seeds could get buried early


The Washington Post

The NCAA tournament has been missing one important ingredient the last few years: upsets.

No, not a 10 seed beating a 7 seed. I'm talking — seeds and 4 seeds hanging on for dear life in the first round, power conference heavies going out to small conference winners who couldn't have gotten a sniff of an at-large bid, and recent national champions being shown the door early by hyphenated little buggers who mess up your bracket 10 minutes after you submit it to the kid who runs the office pool.

Last year, a No. — seed (North Carolina) beat another No. — seed (Illinois) for the championship. There weren't nearly enough of the giant upsets and buzzer beaters that made the tournament irresistible theater. It was entirely too predictable, which isn't what makes folks play hooky from work Thursday and Friday the first week of play.

This year? It looks like the person who wins the office pool is going to have to go out on a limb, figure out what 2 seeds and — seeds might not last the first weekend, even seriously ponder whether more than one No. — will make it to the Final Four. This could be my favorite kind of bracket, the one where there's a premium on picking upsets.

Having said that, I'm already on record as picking Connecticut, a No. — seed, to win the whole thing. No upset there. Connecticut is athletic, long, quick, experienced and expertly coached, by Jim Calhoun. No other team is six players strong, as the Huskies are with Marcus Williams, Denham Brown, Hilton Armstrong, Rashad Anderson, Rudy Gay and Josh Boone. All but Gay were around for the national championship victory two years ago. The one thing Connecticut doesn't want to see along the way is another Big East team (think: Georgetown-Villanova, 1985), but short of that, Connecticut looks like the strongest team in the field.

— Other than that, the other No. 1s look vulnerable. Yes, Duke just won the ACC tournament, but that doesn't mean what it usually does, and while J.J. Redick has rediscovered his marvelous shooting touch at just the right time, there are teams in Duke's region (Syracuse, LSU, West Virginia, Iowa, Texas) who could knock off the Blue Devils off.

In the Oakland bracket, I'd take the UCLA-vs.-Gonzaga winner over top-seeded Memphis in a regional final, and that's presuming Memphis gets past the Pittsburgh-Kansas winner, which I'm not ready to do.

And Villanova, the No. — seed in Minneapolis, simply had the misfortune of Allan Ray suffering an eye injury in the Big East tournament. Yes, Villanova says he'll be back, but how effective? With blurred vision? With goggles? Without having practiced? It's a shame if we don't get to see Villanova at its best, because its four-guard lineup could cause serious matchup problems for most teams, even No. 2 seed Ohio State, but only if Ray is in peak condition, which is very questionable.

This kind of unpredictable bracket maddens the coach who figures his team should have been invited, such as Cincinnati, which should have been. There aren't many teams that have a beef. Michigan and Florida State finished poorly and should have been left out.

Even though CBS seems to be whining over the exclusion of some power conference teams, the only teams I'd lobby for are still the little guys. Missouri State's RPI ranking is 21. I'm sorry, but if this indicator means anything at all, then Missouri State should have been invited; I don't care if that would have given the Missouri Valley 10 teams in the field.

And while I was ready to jump all over the NCAA selection committee for taking George Mason and not Hofstra, which beat Mason twice down the stretch, I'm reminded that another respected statistical indicator, the Sagarin rating, has George Mason ranked 38th in the country, while Hofstra is 64th. Seems to me there would have been room for Cincinnati and Hofstra had the committee simply told Alabama and either Air Force or Utah State to take a hike.

You want upsets? OK, here's a pack of 'em.

In the very first round, how about Seton Hall over Wichita State, Texas A&M over Syracuse (which has to be out of gas by now, right?), San Diego State over Indiana and Wisconsin-Milwaukee over Oklahoma. Looking for 2s and 3s that could be tossed out in the second game? How about Ohio State, which some having going all the way to the Final Four, losing to Georgetown or Northern Iowa? Tennessee, seeded No. 2 in the D.C. region, could certainly lose to Seton Hall in the second round, as could No. 2 Texas to Cal, as could UCLA to Marquette.

In fact, how in the world did the Big East, given the way its teams performed, wind up with Marquette and Georgetown as No. 7 seeds anyway? As far as No. — seeds, why should No. — Iowa be favored over No. 6 West Virginia if that second-round matchup comes to pass? No. — Gonzaga will have its hands full in a first-round game against Xavier.

As Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said the other night on the subject of upsets in this tournament, The teams that are better aren't that much better.

And therein lies the secret to accurately predicting the Final Four. So, with Boeheim's words ringing in my ears, here goes: LSU will shock Duke in the regional semifinal and West Virginia in the regional final to claim one spot.

The Pitt-Kansas winner ' perhaps the best of a slew of potentially fabulous second-round matchups ' will join LSU on that side of the bracket. (I'll take Pitt for now.)

Connecticut will take out Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina and Tennessee here in D.C. And Boston College will survive a round of 16 matchup with Villanova to make the national semifinals. So, that's LSU, Pitt, Connecticut and BC who will emerge from a tournament filled with upsets from appetizer to dessert.

Michael Wilbon is a columnist for The Washington Post.