I didn't come out of hiding to whine about St. Mary's being snubbed late Sunday afternoon (maybe the tournament committee just decided that hastily arranged post-WCC tournament game with Eastern Washington Friday was just a stunt). Injury or not, Paddy Mills didn't deliver the goods against Gonzaga, and that's the bottom line.
After spending the last few weeks dealing with an issue about 680,000 fellow Americans were forced to deal with last month (and I fear others must before we get this country turned around), I stepped back for a moment and realized life must go on.
Nothing like a solid week of college hoops to make me realize it. Hey, I had plenty of time (when I wasn't surfing, e-mailing and groveling). I watched Providence come up short in its bid to grab an at-large spot (10-8 in Big East is something to be proud of, but the Friars needed one more big win), and Rhode Island, within reach of bid, get outhustled by UMass in the A-10 finale and Duquesne in the conference tournament (in three years, Ron Everhart turned the A-10's Pittsburgh cesspool into a Jacuzzi - he needs some run for Virginia and other big-time jobs that will inevitably open up).
I watched my alma mater crash and burn again in the America East playoffs, a monumental underachievement that cost Dennis Wolff his job after 15 years on Comm Ave. Intriguing name popping up as his successor...Richard Pitino (yeah, you've probably heard of his dad). Even though Rick complained about the lack of fan support during his BU days, he should pimp his offspring hard for this job - it's that rare job where a young guy can walk in and win right away. Virtually the whole squad returns, along with a couple of starters who were injured early. Given the location and the facility (the Terriers now play almost half their home games in the Taj Agganis instead of the 2,800-seat Case Gym, AKA "The Roof"), there's no reason BU shouldn't dominate America East.
All right, enough of the preliminaries. On to the Big Dance. I wasn't keen on three Big East top seeds (two of which couldn't even survive the conference quarters), but with Oklahoma and Michigan State pratfalling, you gotta go with the entire body of work.
Wide open. The quick whistle in tournament games will kill Pittsburgh. The Panthers' loss at Providence last month illustrates what happens when DuJuan Blair gets in foul trouble. This team can drill a top seed by 20 points, but I don't think you can bang your way through four games.
I like Florida State as a sleeper for at least Sweet 16, maybe even beyond. They're peaking at the right time, unlike Xavier. UCLA's run of three straight Final Fours ends here. I don't quite trust Duke. Texas is wildly inconsistent.
Villanova brings a better-balanced team than usual. Scottie Reynolds is a proven March performer. The Wildcats have had the luxury of watching Pitt, UConn, Louisville and Marquette ride point throughout the Big East season.
It's 'Nova over Florida State. The top-seed sweep's not happening again.
Ty Lawson's bum toe took North Carolina out of gimme status. The Heels looked downright human at the ACC tournament.
Just the way I suspect Roy Williams likes it. They could use that brush with mortality. They can ease their way into the tournament before a Sweet 16 war with a loaded Gonzaga team (provided the Zags who smoked the WCC field show up, not the ones that spit the bit in Spokane against Memphis last month).
Unfortunately for Oklahoma, it wasn't just Blake Griffin's cage getting rattled by his concussion; the Sooners' psyches did, too. I also wonder if Syracuse shot it in all that overtime action at Madison Square Garden. It's time for James Harden and his sixth-seeded Arizona State squad to step up - the opportunity's there.
It's a Carolina Blue Final Four again - the Heels chug past Arizona State.
I can see a 12-13 second-rounder for the second straight year - Arizona's got something to prove, and the talent to do it, and fifth seed Utah's not all that imposing. Fourth seed Wake Forest has looked young and not quite ready for prime time since its' January perch at Number 1, and remember what happened the last time Cleveland State made the tournament? (Hint: Reread "A Season on the Brink.")
And that's not all! Kansas (watch that first-rounder with tournament virgin North Dakota State) gets Dow Jonesed out by sixth seed West Virginia (even with my fellow Bishop Hendricken alum and '08 tourney hero Joe Mazzulla forced to redshirt by a shoulder injury). Also, for a guy who didn't quite live up to the one-and-done preseason hype, DeMar DeRozan exploded in USC's run from the bottom of the bubble to the Pac-10 tournament title. And does Michigan State strike you as Final Four material?
Meanwhile, Pitino Sr. is sitting on a bomb at Louisville. The Cardinals come at you in waves and wear you out. As for the 30-point beatdown they took at Notre Dame, I think of BU's last NCAA hockey champ in '95, which rode into Providence four days after winning the Beanpot and stumbled home after being mugged 9-1. Those Terriers and the '08-09 Cardinals learned the same lesson.
Because I've used my quota of all-Big East regional finals, Louisville ends USC's Cinderella story.
A month ago, Connecticut looked like a monster. Then came too losses to Pittsburgh and the already-legendary war with Syracuse. Is this a Final Four-worthy team? Yes. Will the Huskies make it? Not sure.
Playing a minor league conference schedule didn't harm Memphis last year, though the Tigers are in for a titanic clash with Missouri in the Sweet 16 (allow me to sell you another upset: Utah State over Domenic James-less Marquette). Up above, I don't see any real threat to UConn, which means the best of the regional finals.
UConn is still vulnerable if forced to the perimeter. Meanwhile, the Tigers' foul shooting, though still not great, is not the major flaw it used to be. Onward, Memphis.
If you have to put a gun to my head to force a championship pick out of me, I'll say North Carolina. Yeah, I'm wearing Tyler Hansbrough goggles here, but it would be cool to see a college star who stayed around for four years be rewarded.