Connecticut has easiest
road to Indianapolis

Mar 14, 2006 5:35 AM

Connecticut is deservedly the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament and its path to the Final Four may be the easiest of the top seeds.

The Huskies should face little resistance in reaching at least the Finals of the Washington, D.C. region where they might finally get a bit of a test from Tennessee, North Carolina or Michigan State.

Tennessee is the surprising overachiever of this group, notwithstanding their late season slump after they had pretty much wrapped up a high seed. Michigan State is one of the biggest underachievers in the entire field, which makes the Spartans very dangerous.

North Carolina may be the most pleasant surprise of the season. After losing virtually every significant contributor to last season’s national championship team, the Tar Heels made steady progress all season and are playing as well as anyone.

D.C. pick: UConn.

Longshot: Michigan St.

The winner of the Washington region would meet the winner of the Minneapolis region in the Final Four. Villanova is the top seed in the Minny region and the status of start Allan Ray remains uncertain. Although cleared to resume practice, one has to wonder how effective he would be following the accident in the Big East Tourney when Ray was poked in the eye.

Still, Nova is a solid team that played well all season with its ”˜short’ lineup — something that could be its undoing on the way to the Final Four. The Wildcats could face a tough second round game if they play talented but underachieving Arizona and will clearly be challenged if they face Boston College in the Sweet 16.

BC will be a fashionable team to make the Final Four from this region. Last season, when BC was still in the Big East, they split two meetings with Villanova. Each game was competitive.

MINNY pick: BC

Longshot: Oklahoma.

Duke is the top seeded and heavily favored to win the Atlanta region. The Blue Devils have shown vulnerability for much of the season, especially as star J J Redick had a severe shooting slump late in the regular season. Don’t be shocked if a fully healthy LSU eliminates the Dukies in the first round of the Sweet 16. Texas is likely to emerge from the bottom half of this bracket.

Poetic justice might be served if the Longhorns were to make the Final Four and win the national title, joining their baseball and football programs as national champs within the past 12 months. Duke blasted Texas by 31 points in a neutral site game back in December and the Longhorns would love a shot at revenge.

ATLANTA pick: Texas

Surprise: Duke out early.

Finally the weakest of the top seeds, Memphis, plays in Oakland. The Tigers could face several stiff challenges on their way to the Final Four. Youth and relative inexperience make it hard to see the Tigers surviving the four games needed to advance. UCLA is a fashionable pick to win this region and how fitting would it be for the regional finals to feature the Bruins against Coach Ben Howland’s former team, Pittsburgh.

OAKLAND pick: Pittsburgh

Surprise: No. 1 Memphis ousted.