Finally, the madness is upon us.
The 2003 NCAA Tournament gets underway this week, and though we're starved for some local representation here in Iowa this spring neither my enthusiasm nor yours should be dampened one bit.
For my money, the NCAA Tournament is the greatest spectacle in American sport. Nothing athletically is as captivating as three weeks of one-and-done competition when anything can happen. And anything usually does.
In the first part of this week's column, I'd like to offer you some tips for filling out your NCAA Tournament office pools. Now, before you scoff at taking advice from me, given my infamous penchant for picking losers on the radio, allow me to inform you that three of the last four years I have correctly picked the national champion in my pool. My lone error came in 2001 when I picked Arizona, which finished second to Duke.
Now that my credentials are established, let me lead off with this piece of advice: the chalk eventually prevails; with emphasis on the word eventually.
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 32 of the 72 schools to reach the Final Four have been No. 1 seeds. That's 44 percent of the Final Four teams in the open era of the tournament. In the last five years, with conventional wisdom defining parity in Division I-A basketball as at its peak, nine of the 20 teams to qualify for the Final Four have been No. 1 seeds.
Only three times in the 64-team era of the NCAA Tournament has a No. 1 seed failed to reach the championship game (2002, 1991, & 1989). Thus, when filling out your brackets, make sure to have at least one top seed in the Final Four and in the title game as well.
But back to that eventually part. It's this first, upcoming weekend of the tournament that is perhaps its most compelling. This is when the upsets take place, as Iowa State fans remember all too well. Only four times has a No. 15 seed won an NCAA Tournament game, but the last time was Hampton's stunning victory over the Cyclones in 2001.
Since 1985, there's only been two years that a team seeded 13th or lower failed to win at least a game (1994 & 2000). So upsets do happen, you just have to be intelligent about what you pick. The most vulnerable to the early round upset appears to be the No. 4 seeds, which have been the victims of 16 of the NCAA Tournament's 33 "first round shockers" since 1985. A close second is the No. 3 seeds, which have been victimized 13 times.
But these upstarts rarely make it past their one shining moment. The lowest seed ever to make a Final Four was No. 11 LSU in 1986. The lowest seeds to have won national titles are No. 8 seed Villanova in 1985 and No. 6 seed Kansas in 1988. Only two No. 14 seeds (Cleveland State in 1986 & Chattanooga in 1997) have made to the Sweet 16. Only three No. 13 seeds (Oklahoma in 1999, Richmond in 1988, and Valparaiso in 1998) have made it that far.
If you're looking for the real party crashers, check out the No. 12 seeds. Nearly every year at least one No. 12 seed has upset a No. 5 seed in the first round. And 10 No. 12 seeds have made it as far as the Elite Eight.
One final note, don't overlook the new "pod system" when filling out your bracket. The ability for several teams to play close to home is a factor not to underestimate when forecasting winners. For instance, Southern Illinois upset power conference teams Texas Tech and Georgia in the first two round thanks to a friendly home crowd at the United Center in Chicago last year.
Teams which appear to have a relatively friendly home-court courtesy of the pod system are: Weber State playing Wisconsin in Spokane, Notre Dame playing its first two rounds in Indianapolis, Florida playing its first two rounds in Tampa, and Oklahoma playing its first two rounds in Oklahoma City.
Later on, if Texas advances to the Midwest Regionals it will play in San Antonio and Syracuse will play close to its upstate New York home in Albany should the Orangemen advance to the East Regionals.
Selection Committee Grades Poorly
In my opinion, the job done by the NCAA Selection Committee this year is easily the worst I can recall.
I do think the committee made the right decision by including mid-majors Southern Illinois, Butler, and Gonzaga as at-large teams. But that's about all I thought they did right.
The BYU error signifies just how careless the committee was. BYU has been a solid basketball program for years, and this is hardly their first foray into the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, the committee erroneously placed the Cougars in bracket which could require a Sunday game should they advance past the first round, which flies in the face of the Mormon school.
To fix the error, the committee will have to switch BYU into another region to accommodate their religious beliefs. Which will have the secondary impact of ruining everyone's office pools.
Even the selection of the No. 1 seeds doesn't escape scrutiny. How in the world do you give Texas a top seed over Kansas, which won the Big 12 championship? Not only that, the Longhorns were placed in the South Region, where they could play the Regionals in front of a partisan crowd in San Antonio.
Why the heck did the committee place Kentucky and Arizona – the top two teams in the field – on the same side of the bracket? As ESPN's Chris Fowler put it that was indeed "lame."
Why the heck are Arizona, Kansas, Duke, and Illinois in the same region? That makes it four major conference regular season or tournament champions in the West Region alone.
How can Pittsburgh win the Big East regular season and conference tournament titles yet be shipped to Kentucky's region while conference rival Syracuse could get to the Final Four by playing close by in Boston and Albany?
I could go on and on but it seems to me this was a pretty haphazard job at best.
Stone Cold Locks & Upsets
STONE COLD LOCK: Kentucky will not win the national championship.
UPSET: San Diego over Stanford in the first round of the South Regional.
STONE COLD LOCK: Thanks to UCONN, the Selection Committee will avoid further embarrassment by having to move BYU to a non-Sunday bracket to accommodate its Mormon religion.
UPSET: Butler over Mississippi State in the first round of the East Regional. The last time the Bulldogs faced an SEC squad in the first round of the East Regional, they almost upset Florida before Mike Miller's runner went in as time expired. This time Butler won't be denied.
STONE COLD LOCK: No Big Ten teams will advance past the opening weekend.
UPSET: Penn over Oklahoma State in the first round of the East Regional. The Quakers are surging, while the Cowboys haven't done anything meaningful away from Stillwater this season.
STONE COLD LOCK: The Big 12 will put at least one team in the Final Four.
UPSET: Weber State over Wisconsin in the first round of the Midwest Regional. The last two times WSU has made the NCAA Tournament they've pulled off shockers over No. 3 seeds North Carolina (1999) and Michigan State (1995).
STONE COLD LOCK: See above.
UPSET: Tulsa over Dayton in the first round of the Midwest Regional. The Golden Hurricane are hot and healthy, and finally playing like the team that was ranked back in December. The Flyers had a nice season, but are completely over-seeded as a No. 4.
STONE COLD LOCK: Gonzaga over Cincinnati in the first round of the West Regional.
UPSET: Tulsa advances to the Sweet 16, again.
STONE COLD LOCK: Arizona will be the lone remaining Pac-10 team after the opening weekend.
UPSET: Defending champion Maryland and its five seniors do not go quietly into that good night and instead upset Florida and Texas en route to a third straight appearance in the Final Four.
STONE COLD LOCK: Oklahoma will win the national championship, just like I predicted back in November.
My Final Four
Pittsburgh upsets Kentucky in the Midwest, Arizona advances through the overly tough West by beating Kansas again, Maryland is the Cinderella story in the South after leaving Texas at home, and Hollis Price carries Oklahoma past Syracuse in Albany.
One Final Note
Don't forget to enter our Bracket Madness contest sponsored by Off Campus Apparel & Novelties in Des Moines. For more details, click here:http://iowastate.theinsiders.com/2/99579.html
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Central Iowa each Monday-Friday from 4-7 p.m. on 1460 KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)