Wiedmer: Final Four to be Heels, Badgers, Kansas, Duke

Wiedmer: Final Four to be Heels, Badgers, Kansas, Duke

March 15th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

Coach Bruce Pearl

I wasn't going to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket this year as a show of selection sympathy for Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg.

After all, the first words out of Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl's mouth at the preseason SEC media day weren't, "I'm sorry I lied to the NCAA," or, "Hey, I handed those kids a hamburger, not a satchel," but rather this about the expanded 68-team tourney field: "I don't think we have to worry about Seth getting in this year. He's in. He has to be in."

Alas, he didn't get in. Despite beating then-No. 1 Duke, despite reaching the semifinals of the ACC tournament, despite sweeping fellow ACC brother (and NCAA selection) Florida State and knocking off Penn State (another NCAA entry), the Hokies somehow stayed home. Brutal.

But Greenberg somehow mustered the will to dust himself off and send his team into the NIT against Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday night.

So I guess if he can keep competing, I must also find the energy to fill out my bracket, though I insist on doing it with orange and maroon pencils - Tech's official colors - as a protest to the tourney selection committee.

(Come to think of it, maybe the Hokies are out of the field because of those colors.)

Anyway, here's how one sports writer sees the 2011 NCAA tourney playing out, first by region, then the Final Four in Houston:

* East: The Ohio State Buckeyes are seeded first in this region. In fact, they're the overall No. 1 seed, which the committee apparently mistook for making their region the overall toughest.

Look for the Buckeyes, second-seeded North Carolina, third-seeded Syracuse and fifth-seeded West Virginia to reach the Sweet 16 after the Mountaineers repeat last year's East Regional final victory over Kentucky in this year's second round.

And for those of you who don't think it mattered for UK to drop to a No. 4 seed instead of the No. 3 seed they should have had, over the past six seasons some 33 percent of No. 4s have advanced to the Sweet 16 compared to 65 percent of No. 3 seeds.

Once in the Sweet 16, however, WVU will fall to Ohio State and North Carolina will nip the 'Cuse. Then watch UNC shock the Buckeyes in the regional final because OSU center Jared Sullinger can't fly solo against the Tar Heels' two-headed post monster of Tyler Zeller and Jon Henson.

Almost forgot: One more reason to hate the selection committee. The Clemson-UAB winner from tonight's late play-in game in Dayton, Oh., is expected to arrive in Tampa around 4 a.m. Wednesday, then face West Virginia at 12:15 p.m. Thursday. Yeah, like that's fair.

* Southeast: Pitt's the top seed, Florida's second, BYU third and Wisconsin fourth. I'm surprised Virginia Tech didn't get in this regional as a sixth seed. All you need to know about this region's potential surprises is to know that Pitt has lost to a lower-seeded team seven of the last nine years and is 1-7 against teams seeded fifth or higher.

Given all that, expect Wisconsin's Badgers to win this regional.

* Southwest: ESPN.com ran an interesting stat about the last 10 national champs. All 10 entered the tournament having held their opponents' field-goal shooting under 41.6 percent. Nine of 10 had two future NBA first-round draft picks (and last year's Duke team could still match that); nine of 10 ended the season with a scoring margin of 14.1 or better; nine of 10 shot 47.5 percent from the floor or better; and eight of 10 won or shared their regular-season conference crown.

So why is this important? Because Kansas is the only team in this year's 68-team field that matches all those traits, assuming this team eventually produces to first-round draft picks.

On the other hand, KU also is the only No. 1 seed to have fallen before the Sweet 16 on three different occasions. Nevertheless, look for the Jayhawks to knock off Notre Dame in a high-scoring regional final.

* West: It's the Dookies, Ba-a-a-a-beee! as Dick Vitale might say. Yes, Tennessee could upset them in the round of 32. Yes, UConn or Cincinnati might out-tough them in a regional final. But expect the defending national champs to reach Houston for the Final Four. And if super freshman point guard Kyrie Irving unexpectedly returns, don't be surprised to see the Blue Devils face Kansas on April 4 for the national title.

But the Jayhawks should still hoist the trophy for the second time in four years.

Then expect the NCAA to further expand the field to 96 next season, just to make sure there's no way Virginia Tech won't make that tourney.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.