NCAA Tournament: A maddening field of 65

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

For three weeks every year, televisions across the nation are tuned into one station. It makes Mom wear her Murray State (12th seed) alumni shirt and Dad swears he graduated from Maryland (4). With Florida A&M (16) winning Tuesday night's play-in game-and the privilege of playing Kentucky (1)-, the NCAA opened its annual 65-team tournament dubbed March Madness.

People who won't watch a game all year will put money on their pool, gambling on all 64 games of the tournament. Everyone seems to be an expert of the office pool.

Strategies range from the practical like who has the best front court or the best coach to the scientific like who has the cutest mascot (fifth seed Syracuse's Otto the Orangeman) or best nickname (14th Louisiana-Lafayette Rajin Cajuns).

Doctors have no cure for March Madness, but three out of four dentists wish Colgate was in the field this year.

Even the "Awesome babies" aren't safe from the rash of "Diaper Dandies."

Fathers everywhere need to know if Dick Vitale thinks Cincinnati (4) is going to be the prime time players, the "PTPers."

We want to see if Valparaiso (15) can beat Gonzaga (2) in a match up of two traditional Cinderella specials. We want the underdogs Monmouth (15th) to beat the Bulldogs, Mississippi State (2nd).

Bill Murray had it right in Stripes when he said that America loves the underdog. America won its independence by beating the top seeded England avoiding religious persecution.

That's why people want to Liberty (16th seed) beat St. Joseph's (1st seed). What will the American East's 15th seeded Vermont Catamounts amount to? Nothing, is what second seed Husky Waterboys hope by cheering "UConn do it!"

Americans have to love their chances of seeing at least one of six Conference USA teams advance, but have to worry about 11th seed Air Force getting shot down by North Carolina (6th).

The Falcons hope to be birds of prey like the Kansas Jayhawks (4), Boston College Eagles (6), and Louisville Cardinals (10), but their chances of making the Final Four are about as good as fellow fly boys, the Dayton Flyers (10).

People need to know if the DePaul Blue Demons (7) can upset their way into Final Four and earn a potential match up with the Duke Blue Devils (1).

There could then be a title match with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4). If that were to happen if may be the result of Duke's Chris Duhan averaging six points, six assists, and six rebounds per game.

If that leaves you feeling blue, Texas Tech Red Raiders (8) coach Bobby Knight generally feels that way around tournament time.

If all that possession doesn't have you spewing green, March's infestation problem may with the Richmond Spiders (11) and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3). Wisconsin (6) and Northern Iowa (14) look to be the exterminators to the respective insects.

While Charlotte is the former home of the NBA's Hornets, they don't qualify for the group, but did qualify as a ninth seed.

Charlotte's conference rival Alabama-Birmingham (9th) gives us questions like why they're playing Washington (8th) in Kansas City when Stanford (1) and Alabama (8) may match up in Seattle.

Throw in Alabama State (16) in the Atlanta regional and you've got the three 'Bama schools in three different brackets. Illinois (5), Southern Illinois (9) and Illinois Chicago (13) are all in different regions too. And why is half of the Phoenix regional in the East?

Perhaps Princeton (14) will show its on-court genius and answer our bracketology questions by preventing Texas (3) from dunking its way to a higher education.

Meanwhile, we'll learn that Seton Hall isn't a building but in fact an 8th seed in the Atlanta regional. And that Manhattan (12) isn't just a drink, but a team that could be sipping champaign if it Gator-bites Florida (5).

We'll learn that the Commodores aren't just a musical group from the 60's,but in fact is the monicker for Vanderbilt, a sixth seed without an official athletic department.

With all this confusion, one might think that VCU, ETSU, UTEP, and BYU are the latest computer polls when they are actually the accepted acronyms for three 13th seeds Virginia Commonwealth, Eastern Tennessee State, and Texas-El Paso as well as 12th seed Brigham Young.

Western Michigan (11) is the MAC's hope to keep it's first-round upset streak alive. With five wins it could face Michigan State (7).

If any school in the field knows its odds, its State's opponent, Nevada (10). Although Utah (11) did have to go through Nevada-Las Vegas to get to the Big Dance while a few little big schools made the field too.

Eastern Washington is a 15th seed from the Big Sky while the Big West's Pacific (12) meets the Big East's Providence (5) in the first round of the St. Louis regional.

We've got the Wolfpack of North Carolina State (3) and Wildcats of Arizona (9) who have each made miraculous runs to NCAA championships.

Dan Marino and Daunte Culpepper's alma maters meet away from the gridiron and neither will be able to quarterback his team to a win when Pittsburgh (3) takes on Central Florida (14).

South Carolina hopes to be the Cock of the walk, as the traditional 10-7 upset by beating Memphis. That would sit OK with State, as the Cowboys (2) should await the winner.

And most importantly, who's going to San Antonio? I will make one guarantee. Come April 5th, I know the one team that will for sure be there.

Win or lose, that is the University of Texas-San Antonio (16th).

In any case, my chances in the pool are already done. I drew mine out of a hat, and the winner was Lehigh, who just lost the play-in game. How appropriate. They're the last of all 65 teams. Maddening isn't it?

J. Parker Adair has been spending the week working for the Gazette, and has previously covered the state wrestling tournament for the Gazette. The wrestling writer is already 0-1 in the basketball tournament. The sports editor from the University of Nebraska-Omaha assures his fans that he will not let them down as he has picked Valparaiso, Liberty, Monmouth and Louisiana-Lafayette for the Final Four. To agree or disagree with Parker, e-mail him at sports@mccookgazette.com.

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