A Quick Glance At Tournament Bracket

Surprises were at a minimum Sunday evening when the NCAA Tournament's 65-team field and bracket were unveiled. Here are some of Frank Burlison's initital reactions to the makeup of the field and some of the immediate and down-the-road matchups.

The gazillion mock brackets we're exposed on a near-daily basis from November on have done much to remove a lot of the mystery and intrigue to Selection Sunday.

But even the growing legions of those who think PhD programs should be offered in Bracketology can't do anything about quelling the suspense leading into, nor the elation or dejection immediately following, the announcement of the NCAA Tournament's 65-team field.

Ask the players and coaches at schools such as Air Force, Bradley and Utah State (who were probably doing back flips at news of their at-large bids Sunday evening) or Cincinnati, Florida State, Creighton and Missouri State (who were probably flipping out when they found out they had been dumped into the NIT pool) if you want support for that notion.

With a very few exceptions, it was pretty much business as expected Sunday night when we were introduced to the makeup of the tournament that pretty much will be dominating our lives until late night, April 3, when the 2006 national championship players and coaches trim some nets in Indianapolis.

(Ladies and) Gentlemen, start your office pools . . .

*Immediate reaction projected Final Four field: Duke (Atlanta), UCLA (Oakland), Connecticut (Washington, D.C.) and Boston College (Minneapolis).

*Biggest Snubs: Cincinnati, Creighton, Missouri State and Florida State.

The Bearcats split 16 regular-season Big East games but won just six of their final 16 games. The Bluejays were 19-9 with impressive wins over Northern Iowa (twice), George Mason, Xavier and Nebraska (by 26 points; the same team that beat Oklahoma twice). But four losses in their final six games probably knocked them out. Missouri State had a strong RPI but no impressive non-conference wins. The Seminoles had a attention-grabbing win over Duke but no other victories over teams in the NCAA Tournament.

*Undeserving bids: Air Force seemed to have blown its at-large chances with a quarterfinal Mountain West Conference Tournament loss to Wyoming. The selection committee must have put a lot of value on the Falcons' non-conference wins over ACC schools Miami and Georgia Tech, and relatively close loss at Washington, apparently.

*Toughest region: Washington, D.C.

Besides the most physically gifted team in the nation in top seed Connecticut, that quarter of the bracket also includes a hot North Carolina team (which won at Duke less than two weeks ago), a Tennessee club with wins over Florida (twice), Kentucky and Texas on its resume, a Washington team with one of the five best players in the country (Brandon Roy), Illinois, Michigan State and Kentucky.

*Easiest region: Oakland

Memphis was the fourth top seed and some will tell you that Gonzaga (3) and UCLA (2) got better than-deserved seedings, based on the perceived lack of exceptional competition within their respective conferences.

*Seeded too high: Tennessee and Texas, both as 2's.

The Volunteers were worthy of a 2 before dropping four of their final six games. Other than in a 25-point win over Kansas on Feb. 25, the Longhorns haven't looked, on a consistent basis, like the caliber of a team that should get a 2 seed.

*Seeded too low: Boston College and Illinois, both 4s.

They are playing much better right now than Tennessee and Texas are.

*Best first-round games: Georgetown vs. Northern Iowa (Friday, Dayton), Boston College Pacific (Thursday, Salt Lake City), Marquette vs. Alabama (Thursday, San Diego) and Syracuse vs. Texas A&M (Thursday, Jacksonville).

*Slipper Watch: Pacific (13 seed in Minneapolis region). The Tigers have collected first-round "upset" wins the past two seasons. Getting two wins this time around wouldn't really be as shocking as many would deem it.

*Could be in trouble: Gonzaga. Likely second-round game with Indiana Saturday in Salt Lake City would give the Bulldogs their toughest competition since playing at Memphis on Dec. 27.

*Upset city: Utah State (12 seed) over Washington (5 seed), Thursday in San Diego.

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.collegehoops.scout.com

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