Surprise teams and top seeds to perform best

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We can finally quit squabbling about the NCAA selection committee for the errors in their process, whatever it may be, and get to the real business of handicapping the field and questions that matter.

Who are going to be the surprise teams and what top seeds will perform the best? How many Cinderella stories will we see occur and what conferences will prove to be the most efficient with their entries?

Many of us get enamored with some of the big conferences and perceive mismatches right away on paper. The Big East has a record 11 representatives in the tournament.

While the conference proved to be tough with all of them beating up on each other and Pittsburgh coming out perhaps the strongest overall, there looks to be quite a few opportunities to pick against a few of them early on.

I look at St. John’s as being one of the first teams to pick on in their match against Gonzaga. The Red Storm made quite a run in the Big East while playing at Madison Square Garden, but have lost two of their last four games, one at Seton hall and the other in the conference tournament at MSG to Syracuse.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga comes in as one of the hottest teams having won nine straight games, including beating St. Mary’s twice, a team that beat St. John’s in the season opener.

Georgetown is a team that looks ready to be upset, even with Chris Wright back in action. They come in with a four game losing streak and have lost five of their last six, which isn’t the type of momentum any team wants. They’ll play the winner of USC-VCU, a game Vegas oddsmaker Kenny White said Georgetown would be a 5½-point favorite over USC and a little higher over VCU.

I haven’t been a big fan of the PAC-10 this season, but have been routinely surprised by the quality play of USC with their wins over Texas, Tennessee, UCLA, Arizona and Washington. USC will go as far as their big man, Nikola Vucevic, takes them with his 17 points and 10 rebounds per-game average. I don’t like VCU as much in this spot against Georgetown as I do USC.

How about Villanova? This team has imploded at the wrong time at a rate much worse than the Hoyas having lost five straight games and seven of their last nine. Their only wins over that span were against Seton Hall and DePaul, two of the few Big East teams not to make the tournament.

They face George Mason as a 2-point underdog, a team that lost to VCU in their conference tournament but had won 16 straight games prior. George Mason is a team that has a date with destiny against Ohio State in the next round that should be the Buckeyes toughest game.

I haven’t been able find myself respecting Cincinnati all season. Perhaps it was their weak non-conference schedule, something that cost Colorado a bid, but how did they get a No. 6 seed? They face Missouri Thursday, a team who is limping into the tournament having lost four of their last five.

The Tigers only win over that span came in a four point squeaker against lowly Texas Tech as a 12-point favorite. Because of that tail spin, I’m reluctant to bet on Missouri, but I also want the opportunity to go against the Bear Cats, a team that I believe will show their true colors on the big stage.

People from all over the country like to say that basketball on the west coast is somehow beneath the rest of the country and most of that logic is just because they’re in bed by the time most of their games start and don’t get to see them execute.

A team that fits that scenario perfectly is Utah State from the WAC. They have lost only three games this season and come in with an eight game winning streak.

Kansas State made its late push on the season to get off the bubble and is now 2-point favorites over Utah State. On Thursday, look for the whole nation to get to know who Aggies senior forward Tai Wesley is.

Wesley is a very unselfish player who does all the little things that make teams better. In my personal bracket, I have Utah State making the sweet 16 with the Kansas State game being tougher for them than the next round against either Belmont or Wisconsin.

My surprise team of the tournament has an underachieving Michigan State squad finally showing off their stuff with Tom Izzo winning a few games himself just by being the better coach in his matchups.

Having said that, taking Michigan State against UCLA and then Florida in the next round look to be good bets. While I have Utah State, Gonzaga, Richmond and Washington all making the Sweet 16 with the Spartans, the rest of my bracket is littered with favorites ending with Ohio State – should they beat George Mason – against Kansas in the final.

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