Posted: Wednesday January 10, 2007 11:20AM; Updated: Wednesday January 10, 2007 12:24PM
Washington State? Yes, led by Derrick Low (14.4 ppg) the little-known Cougars will be a dangerous team in March.
Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Would everyone quit bagging on Tyler Hansbrough as some sort of "disappointment" just because he may not win Player of the Year? Psycho T is doing just fine (averaging 18.6 points and 7.8 boards, almost identical to last season), and his unselfishness is the hallmark of a team that employs the hoops version of the Powell Doctrine (i.e., go to battle with overwhelming force). We can't wait for the Tar Heels' showdown with Arizona in Tucson on Jan. 27 for two reasons. Not only will it feature two of the nation's top teams, but we'll also see how a five-man rotation (Arizona) performs against a 10-man rotation (UNC). Does depth matter? We'll find out.
In last year's Magic Eight we picked an under-heralded SEC team nobody thought had a chance to win it all, and look at what then-unranked LSU accomplished, taking down Duke and Texas and reaching the Final Four. Tennessee may not be big, but Chris "The Dagger" Lofton is the nation's most dangerous shooter and Bruce Pearl's Vols are relentless on defense. We love the swagger on this team, too, which has come through loud and clear in wins against Oklahoma State, Memphis and Texas.
We could write an entire ode to Lorenzo Mata, this year's winner of the Nick Smith Memorial "Random Big Guy We Love" award, but the fact remains that the Bruins are a little thin inside. Still, we like nearly everything about Ben Howland's crew, from its lockdown defense to its scrappy depth to the nerves of steel owned by guards Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo (whom we've been a fan of ever since we saw him play on a glorious night of high school hoops in Pauley with LeBron James, Sebastian Telfair, D.J. Strawberry and DeMarcus Nelson in 2003). It certainly helps that Howland is a heck of an in-game coach, too.
We can already hear you: Three Pac-10 teams in the Magic Eight? And you're leaving out Ohio State for Wazzu? Trust us, we're not saying Washington State is better than the Buckeyes. But the 'Bag does like to go out on a limb every once in a while, and first-year coach Tony Bennett's suddenly-mighty Cougars are on a roll, boasting wins over Arizona, Gonzaga and USC, a near-miss at UCLA and a 3-1 mark in the nation's best conference. Something is afoot in the Palouse, where the Cougs have developed a newfound consistency under Bennett the Younger while retaining the hard-to-prepare-for quirkiness that could serve them well in the NCAA tournament.