Wiedmer: At dawn of tourney, Kansas still one to beat

Wiedmer: At dawn of tourney, Kansas still one to beat

March 18th, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Opinion Columns

NCAA Tournament selection committee chair Dan Guerrero was asked earlier this week if the reason his group made Duke the third overall No. 1 seed, then appeared to give them the easiest draw, was to boost TV ratings.

"Well, I can tell you that if I wanted to raise TV ratings," began Guerrero, "I would have put UCLA in the field."

Because Guerrero is the UCLA athletic director and the Bruins were in ruins this season (14-18), we'll assume he was joking.

Yet as Kentucky coach John Calipari noted during Wednesday's press conference for his Thursday East Regional opener against East Tennessee State, Sunday was "Complaining Sunday" for all the coaches, media and fans.

"The next day you get down to seeing how you can win one game and advance."

So when the greatest three weeks in college athletics tips off a little after noon today, here's one writer's view of who'll survive and advance to eventually cut down the nets inside Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium on the first Monday night of April:

EAST

Calipari's Cats got the toughest draw and just may make the quickest exit, bowing to eighth seeded Texas in Saturday's second round. The Longhorns have all the size, athletic ability and experience needed to derail Big Blue, especially small forward Damion James, whom UK will have no answer for.

That said, if Kentucky gets by the Longhorns, look for the Cats to reach Indy. If not, expect Big East tourney champ and region No. 2 seed West Virginia to win the region.

SOUTH

Guerrero's committee gave Duke the easiest draw but it also left Blue Devils boss Mike Krzyzewski with a potentially huge headache in the regional final in Houston.

Assuming Duke gets past Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Louisville, and either Texas A&M or Siena to reach the regional final, No. 3 seed Baylor might prove too much to handle inside Houston's Reliant Stadium.

If there's a darkhorse to watch here it might be Richmond's Spiders, who could possibly crawl into the region final with terrific guard play and a quirky style.

MIDWEST

For proof of the selection committee's sick sense of humor or outright incompetence, they made Kansas the tourney's overall No. 1 seed -- which should have given them the easiest draw -- then put the only two teams to beat them this year, Tennessee and Oklahoma State, in the Jayhawks' region. Is that hysterical, or what?

There is nothing funny about this bracket, however. Nevertheless, KU should march past deliberate and dangerous Northern Iowa in the second round and either muscular Michigan State or manic Maryland in the Sweet 16 before a regional final that will come from either Tennessee, Georgetown or Ohio State -- unless erratic but exciting Georgia Tech shocks them all.

And just in case you've forgotten, the Jackets took out the Jayhawks in overtime in the 2004 Midwest regional final to advance to their last Final Four.

That was then. Kansas wins this region now, then sends Guerrero a bouquet of dead roses.

WEST

As with so much else, Guerrero must at some point explain whether top-seeded Syracuse misled him regarding senior forward Arinze Onuaku's leg injury, or whether Guerrero misled the public when he told CBS that Onuaku was healing nicely -- a statement Orangemen coach Jim Boeheim contradicted less than 24 hours later.

Because without Onuaku -- who will now apparently miss the opening weekend -- West Virginia should have received the West top seed instead of Syracuse.

Regardless, expect a Big East final between the Orangemen and third seeded Pitt if Onuaku's back for the Sweet 16. If he's not, don't be shocked to see Vanderbilt face Pitt in the regional final.

Final Four

As for the Final Four, IF Kentucky gets past Texas and Onuaku's healthy, look for UK, Syracuse, Baylor and Kansas to make the final weekend, with KU besting UK in the title game.

If Texas takes down the Cats and Onuaku's out, expect West Virgina, Vanderbilt, Baylor and Kansas to make the Final Four. Either way, KU still wins, which means Guerrero's committee got at least one thing right.

E-mail Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com