Posted: Sunday March 13, 2005 10:42PM; Updated: Sunday March 13, 2005 11:05PM
That said, on any given day, any one of them -- and about 20 other teams -- could knock off the Illini. Or, they could get knocked off themselves by someone else.
So, my fellow bracketeer, which will it be? The safe route or the risky route? The Illini as favorites or fool's gold?
Let's break this thing down ...
Best draw: Duke. For the supposed No. 3 team (among the four top seeds), the Blue Devils did well for themselves. Not only do they get to stay close to home in Charlotte the first weekend, with the exception of second seed Kentucky, not a single team in the upper half of their bracket -- Oklahoma, Syracuse, Michigan State, Utah, Cincinnati, Stanford or Mississippi State -- is particularly scary. Even the Wildcats aren't as imposing as they have been in recent years.
Worst draw: Louisville. Somewhere, Rick Pitino is asking himself "Where did I go wrong?" All the Cardinals did was go 29-4, win 18 of their past 19 games, claim both their conference's regular season and tournament title. Their reward? A four seed opposite the most dangerous five seed in history, Georgia Tech, which, if they can get through, earns them a trip to Albuquerque to face top-seeded Washington.
Falsely advertised region: Syracuse. Though you won't find a more glamorous top three seeds than North Carolina, Connecticut and Kansas, the young Huskies are probably a seed or two too high and the Jayhawks have lost five of their past eight. The real danger for the top-seeded Tar Heels may be four and five seeds Florida and Villanova, two of the nation's hottest teams over the past month.
Most unpredictable region: Chicago. The top two seeds, Illinois and Oklahoma State, are rock solid. From there you have two teams, Arizona and Boston College, that have choke job written all over them; a Southern Illinois team could prove to be either a giant killer or a complete fraud; a depleted Texas team that still managed to win in Stillwater less than two weeks ago and a Nevada team one year removed from the Sweet 16, which just lost in the first round of the WAC tournament.
Yeah, right, an accident: NCAA spokespeople swear every year they don't try to create matchups with storylines. And every year, they go out and, in this case, match former Kentucky star Travis Ford, coach of Eastern Kentucky, against his alma mater; pit N.C. State against Charlotte in a game the Wolfpack would never intentionally schedule in a million years; create a potential Duke-North Carolina Final Four game after the teams' first two meetings were both thrillers; and, in what would be the most anticipated game in the history of Lawrence, Kan., allow for a potential Roy Williams grudge match in the Elite Eight. What bridge will you try to sell us next?