Let the Madness Begin

One team will survive all the madness and cut down the nets as king of college basketball in San Antiono April 5. The team that goes 6-0 will be handling the scissors. But it's a long journey to the Alamo city with plenty of questions left to be answered.

Will No. 1 St. Joseph's shrug off getting blasted in the Atlantic 10 tournament and make Billy Packer look like a j------or vice versa? Is Duke's outside (J.J. Redick) and inside (Shelden Williams) game enough to get the Blue Devils back in the Final Four? Can Kentucky validate its No. 1 seed despite a lack of depth? Does Stanford have an answer for Connecticut's Emeka Okafor or Maryland's defensive pressure to stay alive out west? Manhattan over Florida? BYU over Syracuse? Who will be this year's Cinderella team - a.k.a. - Valparaiso and Princeton of past seasons?

Here's a sampling of what could happen once the ball is tipped off.

East Rutherford region: St. Joesph's received top billing despite losing to Xavier by 20 in their conference tournament, but securing the No. 1 seed probably won't mean much for the Hawks in a region that also includes Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. St. Joe's backcourt was the reason for their success during the regular season. However the Hawks' lack of muscle and size inside will be a problem.

Same with Oklahoma State, who can run though will encounter difficulty if their guards get into foul trouble. Pittsburgh can run or get physical thanks to big guys Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman in the blocks. Wake Forest has depth and can score from anywhere on the court. St. Joe's will get past the first-round before bowing to a bigger team in Charlotte, while Pitt and Oklahoma State are headed for a match-up that could be one of the tournament's best. Oklahoma State and Wake Forest are the most balanced teams in this region and should collide for the right to move on. But look for the Cowboys' sharp shooting and athletic squad to nail down a spot in the Final Four. Early upsets: Manhattan over Florida in the first-round, and Charlotte over St. Joe's in round 2.

Atlanta region: Even after losing the ACC conference final Duke is expected to reach San Antonio. But it won't be a slam dunk if it happens at all. This region is loaded with teams more than capable of keeping the Blue Devils out of the Final Four. Like Illinois to bump Duke in the Sweet 16. The Fighting Illini can run - which is required to beat Duke - with their guards and have some size to push around Williams inside. Look for Texas and Xavier to meet in the other side of the Elite Eight. But Ilinois will send Texas packing thanks to strong guard play and it's long-distance shooting. Illinois in the Final Four. Early upsets: Texas over North Carolina and Xavier over Mississippi State in second round.

St. Louis region: Kentucky rolled through the end of the regular season claiming the Southeastern Conference tournament. It's hard to imagine the Wildcats won't be playing in San Antonio especially in a region that doesn't offer much beyond Gonzaga and Georgia Tech. Much will be made of a Kentucky-Kansas Sweet 16 tilt, but the 'Cats are just too fast for the Jayhawks at this point. Gonzaga-Georgia Tech in the Sweet 16? The Yellow Jackets will prevail with pressure defense that will slow them down. Georgia Tech also has the edge inside against the Zags. Still, Ashley Judd will make an appearance in San Antonio. Early upsets: Pacific over Providence and Nevada over Michigan State in the first round.

Phoenix region: Stanford has its work cut out to even make the Sweet 16. The Cardinal will probably have to get by a tested Alabama squad in the second round before eyeing Maryland in the Sweet 16. But the Terrapins, who ousted Duke in the ACC tournament final, will close the book on the Cardinal. Maryland is peaking at the perfect time after playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Maryland's defense will be too much for a Stanford team that isn't very athletic. Connecticut, the Big East champion, has to be concerned about the back problems of star center Emeka Okafor. However, the Huskies are so well balanced with guards Ben Gordon and Taliek Brown, not to mention Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva, that they will breeze to a meeting against the Terrapins. That's where the fun will end: Maryland is going to San Antiono. The Terrapins have the perfect mix of defense and size inside to cause problems for Gordon and Okafor. Besides, Maryland coach Gary Williams is a master at taking away the opposition's strengths.

Final Four: Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma State, Maryland. Maryland over Kentucky in the championship game. Just one man's opinion!

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