Frank Hoops: Pre-Bracket Thoughts

More thoughts around college basketball as we get closer to Selection Sunday, including predictions on the Nos. 1 through 4 seeds, and how the brackets will be shaping up tomorrow.

It's closing fast: 6 p.m., Eastern, and the CBS NCAA Tournament Selection Show Sunday.

Fire up!

Counting the minutes, and the seeming marathon of Hoosiers Special Edition DVD and Cialis ads we're getting blitzed with during the ESPN conference tournament broadcast . . .

In reality, they were probably figuratively penciled in as No. 1 seed weeks ago by the NCAA championship tournament committee members weeks ago. But Illinois, in disposing of Northwestern in business-like fashion in Chicago, and North Carolina, in turning it on just in time to rally from 13 points down and knock off Clemson in Washington, D.C., removed whatever slender threads of doubt that existed Friday afternoon that they will be two of the four No. 1 seeds when the tournament bracket is unveiled Sunday. ... I'm not suggesting that they were rooting for the Tar Heels or anything of the such, but broadcasters Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale sure sounded a lot more excited when North Carolina (and, specifically, Raymond Felton) chased, passed and eventually beat Clemson in the ACC tourney quarterfinal than they did when the Tigers were building that 13-point advantage. ... Kelvin Sampson isn't receiving enough national attention for the coaching job he's done at Oklahoma this season. And has any coach gotten as much out of a pair of junior college as post Taj Gray and guard Terrell Everett have provided Sampson and the Sooners?

Any of those who weren't quite sure the Minnesota Gophers were NCAA tournament-bid worthy (and I count myself in that group) were set straight by Coach Dan Monson's club's thorough dismantling of Indiana in a Big Ten quarterfinal Friday in Chicago. That's what is commonly referred to as an "exclamation-point performance". ... And I'd imagine the Bloomington/Hoosier Nation heat on IU Coach Mike Davis isn't about to cool off anytime soon. ... As sizzling as the Charlotte 49ers were a couple of weeks ago while sitting as co-leader of Conference USA with Louisville, they've been going south of late. They're going to answer that "how important is late-season momentum for tournament success?" question since they're going into the NCAA tourney with consecutive defeats to Louisville, South Florida and Memphis. They've probably dropped a couple of spots in the seedings as a result.

So how long – and nerve-wracking – is this weekend going to be for the players, coaches and fans of Notre Dame, DePaul and Maryland? Each would have likely salted away at-large bids with conference tourney victories over Rutgers (Big East), Alabama-Birmingham (Conference USA) and Clemson (ACC), respectively. None of the three closed well with DePaul dropping three of four, Notre Dame four of five and Maryland four in a row (and seven of 10). But the Blue Demons' three defeats were by margins of one (Alabama-Birmingham), four (Louisville) and three (to UAB). And De Paul (19-10) won an 11-point decision at Notre Dame (17-11), which I would give it the nod over the Irish for an at-large bid. And I'd put Maryland (17-11) third on that pecking order – even with its two wins over Duke. Four of those seven losses in that seven of 10 streak were by double-figure point margins, including the most recent two (to Virginia Tech and Clemson).

I can't envision two more exciting – and radically different, style wise – games than were the final two Pacific 10 Conference quarterfinals (Washington-Arizona State, and Stanford-Washington State) played Thursday night in the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Huskies led ASU by 18 points in the first half then needed the overtime heroics of 5-foot-9, off-the-charts athlete Nate Robinson to beat the Sun Devils, 95-90. Stanford's 60-58 win over the Cougars – game in which the Cardinal trailed by 10 points early in the second half – was a classic example of one of those "grind it out, possession by possession, at both ends of the floor'' kind of deals. ... Point guards don't come much more tough-minded and level-headed than Stanford's Chris Hernandez, by the way. ... Here are my choices, figuring for an upset or two in conference tournament play along the way, for the top 16 seeds for Sunday:

No. 1: (in order) Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky, Wake Forest.
No. 2: Duke, Kansas, Arizona, Oklahoma State.
No. 3: Connecticut, Oklahoma, Louisville, Gonzaga.
No. 4: Boston College, Michigan State, Washington, Alabama.



Recently elected to the USBWA Hall of Fame, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's National Basketball Expert and also covers college basketball for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com.

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