Suddenly, ‘overrated’
picks in demand

Mar 14, 2006 5:33 AM

Now I just need Jim Boeheim to back me up.

Due to four inspiring efforts from ”˜overrated’ senior Gerry McNamara, Syracuse possibly was the one taking a bid away from Hofstra and crashing the Big Dance as the No. 5 seed at Jacksonville on Thursday in the Atlanta region. The Orange are 2-point favorites against Texas A&M in a matchup figuring to again go down to the final shot.

I’ll let this paragraph be the last mention of the NCAA committee’s shaft of Hofstra, which had stats equally worthy to Air Force and a better record than Utah State, Arizona and Arkansas. These slights happen every year, and we’ll let it go at that.

This is the week everyone becomes at expert at bracketology and Dick Vitale gets more 25 hours of airtime in a 24-hour day. Welcome to March Madness, 2006. May the force be with us.

We will constantly be reminded that no 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1. I’ll go on record as stating it won’t happen this year either. Villanova figures to be a 20-plus favorite against the winner of Tuesday’s play-in game at Dayton between Monmouth and Hampton.

Personally, I like to follow the team on the best roll coming into the NCAA’s — which this year is UCLA. The Bruins breezed through the Pac 10 regular season and tournament for the double-down and earned a No. 2 seed in the Oakland Region over Gonzaga, which chose to make every game in the weak West Coast Conference tourney an adventure. Thus, the Zags fell to 3 in one of the Committee’s better decisions.

No arguments about the top seeds — UConn, Villanova, Duke and Memphis. Each is Final Four capable and should get past the first two rounds. Of the four, UConn figures to have the toughest road to the Sweet 16 with Kentucky looming as a second round opponent.

There is a possible 15 vs 2 upset, however. Winthrop will not be intimidated with Tennessee, a team that has no business being a No. 2 seed to begin with. Vols coach Bruce Pearl better bring that Orange sport coat. He’ll need it.

So much for the foreplay, it’s time for our best picks from the Thursday and Friday first round games. Get your pens, pencils and paper ready? Maybe, we should just go to the Hooters resort instead.

Thursday, March 16

Winthrop +8½ vs Tennessee: The tournament committee was very kind to Winthrop, placing the Eagles in Greensboro. That’s not too far from Rock Hill, S.C., which is a stone’s throw from Charlotte so expect a David vs. Goliath atmosphere. The heat is on Tennessee to prove worthy of a No. 2 seed and it’s going to be a real struggle for Rocky Top. WINTHROP.

NC Wilmington +2½ vs GW: Despite only two losses all year, GW is only a No. 8 seed. And, this is a "mother" of a first round draw. Wilmington is the hottest team from an excellent Colonial Athletic Conference. The Seahawks are the ones that knocked Hofstra out of the league tourney. Again, playing in Greensboro works against the favorite. UNC-W.

Wis-Milw +2½ vs Okla: The Sooners were very shaky in their final games of the season — remember the three straight one-point decisions? Oklahoma was then less than impressive in the Big 12 tourney. Milwaukee has confidence not just from this year but an excellent effort in the NCAA’s last season. MILWAUKEE.

Texas A&M +1 vs Syracuse: The advantage is with the Aggies, on a high coming into the Dance. As for the Cuse, they will have to fight the letdown of that Big East tournament. Normally I would side with the dog, but there may yet be another magical effort left in G-Mac. CUSE.

Pacific +8 vs Boston Col: The Eagles received many kudos for taking Duke to the wire on hostile Tobacco Road, which doesn’t like Yankee schools on their hardwood. However, they will have their hands full with both the Tigers and the Salt Lake City altitude. The Tigers are NCAA tourney tough, fundamentally sound and take care of the basketball. Upset possibilities all over this one. PACIFIC.

San Diego St +2 vs Indiana: The Hoosiers are playing hard for lame duck coach Mike Davis and it should continue here. The Aztecs played the best ball down the stretch in a very weak Mountain West. Stepping up to the physical play of the Big Ten is a mighty big leap. INDIANA.

Belmont +20 vs UCLA: The Bruins are set up nicely for the Final Four. Placed in Oakland and playing first and second round games in San Diego. Heck, UCLA doesn’t have to leave the state until Indianapolis, which is the home of John Wooden. Can it be this easy. Only hope for rookie Belmont is moving the game to Del Mar. UCLA.

Friday, March 17

No. Iowa +4 vs G’town: Great opportunity for the loaded Missouri Valley Conference to deliver a blow to the mighty Big East. Northern Iowa beat Iowa, so knocking off the Hoyas is certainly possible. Georgetown may have peaked after a nice run late in the regular season. Playing in Dayton will bring UNI fans. UNI.

Davidson +12 vs Ohio St: I remember the good old days when Lefty Driesell and Terry Holland coached Davidson. It’s nice to see the Wildcats back in the Dance, but the opponent is way too classy and looking for another partner. State’s biggest worry was NCAA violations and the Buckeyes barely survived. OHIO ST.

Arizona -1½ vs Wisconsin: The wrong team is favored. Lute Olson was given a reprieve by the NCAA Committee for years of excellent service. This has not been one of them, however. The grit of the Badgers will go over well with Philly Fan. A money line play. BADGERS.

Kent State +6 vs Pitt: Karl Krauser looks like Isiah Thomas, even wears that No. 11. In college, he’s every bit as smart and tough. Both will be tested as the Panthers face the Mid America Conference champs, who are very capable of pulling off the upset. This could go down to the final shot. KENT ST.

So. Illinois +4 vs W. Virginia: Those Pittsnogles seem to play every game close, which makes me want to support the Salukis. I remember Walt ”˜Clyde’ Frazier at SIU. Boy, I’m old! Another great moment brewing in Carbondale basketball. SIU.

Bucknell +4½ vs Arkansas: Plenty of respect for Bucknell, which beat the Cuse at the Carrier Dome and earns a No. 9 seed. I question whether the Razorbacks even belong in this tournament, but they were fortunate to be among the better teams in a year the SEC was down as a whole. BUCKNELL.

NC St +1 vs Cal: The Wolfpack ran into a Wake Forest bunch that we correctly said would be very dangerous in the ACC Tourney. With lots of rest and missing most of the ACC Tourney madness, look for the Pack to stick around a while. Cal has Leon Powe, which is plenty. But one guy won’t beat a Pack. NC STATE.

Looking ahead:

Final Four: North Carolina, Ohio State, UCLA, Duke.

Runnerup: UConn.

Champion: UCLA.