NCAA Brackets at a Glance

First, here's an overall, first-glance analysis of the NCAA Tournament brackets. Which Region is the strongest? Is North Carolina, the #1 seed in East Region, even the strongest team in its bracket? Even though UCLA dropped its last two games, how does its path to Atlanta look?

  I'll get into in-depth looks at each of the four regional brackets and offer Thursday and Friday first-round matchup projected winners later.

  For now, though, on late Sunday night/early Monday morning, some quick reactions to the 65-team field and pairings that were announced on CBS Television Sunday evening:

 

*The East, on first (and brief) inspection, appears to be the strongest of the regionals.

 

As the top seed, North Carolina is, arguably (and as we've heard and read so often this season), the deepest and most "talented" team in the country, with multiple standout players, especially, in the freshmen and sophomore classes.

 

But are the Tar Heels the "best" team in that regional?

 

Based on its play over the past month or so (15 wins in their past 16 games since Jan. 17, including a 23-point wipeout of Pittsburgh in the Big East final Saturday night), Georgetown very well could be the best team, not only in the regional but in the entire field as well.

 

Also in the East field: the best player in the college basketball, Kevin Durant (and his Texas teammates), a Washington State club whose success was the most surprising in the country, as well as another quality Pac-10 club (USC).

 

And the East also has a Hall of Fame coach (Bob Knight of Texas Tech, whose Indiana teams won three national titles), and the coolest coaching "matchup" in the first round: Michigan State and Tom Izzo against Marquette and his former assistant, Tom Crean.

 

*There is little to fault in the choice of the NCAA selection and seeding committee, chaired by Gary Walters, of North Carolina, Ohio State (South), Florida (Midwest) and Kansas (West) as the four regional No. 1 seeds.

 

UCLA seemed to have the No. 1 "overall" seed (which went to Florida) wrapped up – that is, until the Bruins dropped consecutive games to Pac-10 foes Washington and California, neither of which are in the NCAA Tournament or the National Invitation Tournament.

 

But Ben Howland's team, as expected, has a path to Atlanta and the Final Four that it would only have to travel by way of California (Sacramento, and, if the Bruins win two games, San Jose).

 

*What do we call the showdown of 5 seed Butler and 12 Old Dominion in a Midwest game in Buffalo on Friday afternoon?

 

How about The Mid-Major Special?

 

How much did the Notre Dame-to-Indiana-to-Tennessee-to-Gonzaga four-win combo in November mean to Butler (which lost in the Horizon Conference tournament final to Wright State), in terms of the seed it got as an at-large selection?

 

And how important was the 75-62 victory at now-sizzling Georgetown on Nov. 19 to Old Dominion racking up one of the very last of the at-large bids doled out?

 

Those are called "rhetorical questions".

 

*Stanford getting in (as a No. 11 seed that will play Louisville Friday in Lexington in a "Cardinal vs. Cardinals" kind of deal) didn't surprise me at all, even as some others, nationally and regionally, assumed Coach Trent Johnson's team was NIT-abound after four losses in its most recent five games, including the OT defeat to USC Thursday in the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles.

 

The Cardinal' at-large resume – 10 wins in Pac-10 play, including those against UCLA (No. 2 seed), Washington State (3), Oregon (3) and USC (5); and a victory at ACC co-champion Virginia – was just too hard to dismiss.

 

And a couple of down-to-the-wire recent losses (to Arizona and USC) came when Johnson's best perimeter scorer, Anthony Goods, was sidelined with a severe ankle sprain.

 

Also, apparently like everyone else, I found Drexel's absence from the at-large selections the most eyebrow raising.

 

*Duke (as a 6) and Arizona (an 8) got more advantageous seeds that I had anticipated, considering their records of late.

 

The Blue Devils have lost seven of their past 11 games; the Wildcats, nine of their past 17.

 

Obviously, the committee gave more positive stock to their solid early starts (Duke 13-1, Arizona 12-1) than it downgraded them for their recent play.

 

That being said, based on the recent play of the other clubs in their respective brackets, Duke has a much better opportunity to win multiple games in the tournament than does Arizona.

 

If the Wildcats get by Purdue Friday in New Orleans, their Sunday opponent (barring an upset of stupefying proportions, Jackson State over Florida) would be the defending national champion.

 

Ouch.



 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, 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.frankhoops.com


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