Sour 16

Mar 23, 2004 5:56 AM

The one year we decide not to enter a NCAA tournament brackets contest and up goes a 29-3 record. Then came Nevada-Gonzaga. Goodbye championship pick, hello saved money.

Of course the Zags loss did cost my $5 futures plays, one at 8-1, the other at 12-1. So we switched to plan B and tossed another $5 on Nevada at 50-1. Thank you Palms for not reducing the odds on UNR right away.

History shows over the years that the underdogs strike in Round 2. So, after basically a dead even first round breakdown of "covers" against favorites, the dogswent 11-4-1 this past weekend.

Two top seeds (Stanford, Kentucky) and a couple of No. 2’s (Gonzaga, Mississippi State) checked out. To no surprise, the No. 16 seeds fell to 0-80 over the last 20 years. However, this year’s "one and done quartet" went a stellar 3-0-1 against the spread.

Manhattan and Pacific, a pair of 12s, advanced to the second round. Nevada is the highest seed left at 10. The state of Alabama has two teams in the final 16. Stanford and NC State each saw conference players of the year foul out on stupid plays with their respective teams well ahead. Each one choked down the stretch.

We lived with middle seeds Wisconsin and Kansas unfairly gaining a major home court advantage for two rounds in Milwaukee and Kansas City respectively. Congrats to Pitt for surviving the Badgers. Unfortunately Rock Chalk moves on to St. Louis. Do we smell Final Four?

We were 6-2 in our first round assessments. See, it is better to be picky. We’ll continue that policy. Here’s our early thoughts on the Sweet 16 lineup.

Vandy (+81/2) vs UConn: Do you remember DePaul-UConn or Memphis-Oklahoma State. Both were easy. Vandy is a middle of the pack SEC team going up against the best in the Big East. The Commodores will have to shoot at least 45 percent from 3-point land to have a prayer. Okefor & Co. are just too strong inside. Less than 10 is a bargain. UCONN.

Nevada (+4) vs Ga. Tech: The Wolf Pack took advantage of Gonzaga’s monster Turiaf being saddled with fouls most of the game. UNR is for real. They can shoot, defend, rebound and run. Georgia Tech is where it should be. Hopefully, the Ramblin’ Wreck will take this Wolf Pack lightly, now that NC State is gone. NEVADA.

Xavier (+21/2) vs Texas: Great matchup of teams that couldn’t be more different. Xavier is on fire and will try to dazzle the Longhorns with the uptempo game. Texas has bulk and 11-player depth. They will hit the boards hard and substitute freely. We like the Musketeers and that great guard Chalmers. Texas lacks a quality point guard and will lose the foul-shooting competition in the final minute. XAVIER.

UAB (+41/2) vs Kansas: Our fourth and final strong selection. Birmingham is celebrating the ouster of UK. The letters and outcome will be switched. Kansas fans will make the short trek to St. Louis and lift the inspired Jayhawks, which would have gone down bigtime against Kentucky. Nothing lift in the UAB tank as the reality of a middle of the pack C-USA team sets in. KANSAS.

Here’s a capsule on the rest of the Sweet 16 matchups that we merely recommend.

W. Forest (+21/2) vs St. Joe’s: The Meadowlands is a boost to the Hawks, who should have silenced the critics to their No. 1 seeding. Stellar guard matchup between Nelson and Paul is stellar. Wake has tailed off a little. Intangibles with the Hawks. ST. JOSEPH’S

Pitt (+2) vs Oklahoma St: If you like physicality, this is your baby. Pitt games are ugly and tough. Okie State is underappreciated. In our opinion, the wrong team is favored. The Cowboys handled Texas, so Pitt won’t intimidate them. Also, give coaching edge to old vet Eddie Sutton. OKIE ST

Alabama (+1) vs Syracuse: How in the world did these two get this far? Bama has a lot of media support after shocking Stanford with that 15-0 run in the final fiveminutes. We disagree. McNamara is carrying the Orange on his back. Boeheim will make the Tide win from outside. The Cuse moves on, incredibly. SYRACUSE.

Illinois (+71/2) vs Duke: The Blue Devils are not a dominant "cover" team. Coming off a spread win over Seton Hall, the Blue Devils now figure to struggle against an Illini team playing their best ball of the year. Guard Dee Brown and two impressive tourney wins gives hope for an upset. No East Rutherford factor here. ILLINOIS.