Will Darius Washington and the Tigers take advantage of their friendly seeding?
Though the selection committee officially ranked the No. 1 seeds in this order -- Duke, UConn, Villanova, Memphis -- is it possible it actually slotted the toughness of their regions in reverse? Because to me, the Blue Devils' quadrant of the bracket appears to be the most difficult, and the Tigers' road is the smoothest. Here, the No. 1 seeds' roads to the Final Four, in order of easiest to toughest:
While the Huskies drew the most vulnerable No. 2, Tennessee, their group of 3-6 seeds -- which includes three 2004-05 Final Four teams -- is easily the most dangerous of any region.
4. Duke (Atlanta) Seeds 2-6: Texas, Iowa, LSU, Syracuse, West Virginia.
The Blue Devils slaughtered the 'Horns once, but Texas is a team with multiple personalities -- it's capable of both blowout wins and blowout losses. Five of the top six squads in this region (everyone but Syracuse, I think) are capable of getting hot and making a Final Four run.
Note that this is not a "most likely to make the Final Four" ranking; it's just a list of the easiest paths to Indy. You'll have to wait for our SI expert brackets on Tuesday to see my actual picks; in the meantime, sign up for the Tourney Blog Pool for your shot at prognostication fame.
The CBS Selection Show's cutaways to bracket parties yielded two classic moments, both from shafted, non-major-conference teams:
The first, George Washington, which was slapped with a No. 8 seed despite finishing 26-2:
CBS' Greg Gumbel: (After the Colonials' spot in Duke's bracket is posted) "And, GW ..."
GW, on TV: (Players are staring ahead at their TV screen, visibly dismayed. Senior forward Mike Hall, sitting in the front row near coach Karl Hobbs, has his fists in his mouth, and there is only idle clapping.)
Gumbel: (Pauses) "They're pleased."
GW: (Pleased would be a stretch here. Only the fans in the back, realizing they're on TV, are jubilant.)
The second, Gonzaga, which was passed over for a No. 2 while ice-cold Tennessee was not:
Gumbel: "The Bulldogs of Gonzaga, a No. 3 seed. An 18-game winning streak, the longest active winning streak in the nation."
Gonzaga, on TV: (First, there's hesitation, and then Adam Morrison starts to lead the team in a half-hearted slow-clap.)
Gumbel: (Pausing) "Aaaaand, let's see who they're playing."
(Update: Some readers, in the comments, pointed out that teams were watching on delay. While this is true -- CBS cut to the parties before the teams had seen their seeding -- neither GW nor Gonzaga looked excited. I think we can agree on that. Both deserved better.)
The No. 1s are out. If the bracket plays out perfectly, we'll get a Duke-Memphis and UConn-Villanova Final Four. Two rematches from the regular season.
Initial bracket thoughts? Mine: The committee made the right call on Duke as the No. 1 overall seed. UConn sealed its own fate (albeit still a pretty good fate) by going one-and-done in the Big East tournament. And although the committee didn't get to consider the Big Ten tournament final, it was correct in choosing Memphis over OSU.
Can you predict which coach will be cutting down the nets this April?
David E. Klutho/SI
By now, the NCAA selection committee has emerged from its "bunker" in Indianapolis (see our blow-by-blow account of the process from 2005) and turned its final bracket over to CBS.
In the meantime, I'd like to welcome readers to join the first-ever Tourney Blog Pool, which is not for money, but can get you some serious recognition in this Web space. And, you get to compete against yours truly, who, judging from my showing in the past two years' expert brackets, is very beatable.
Follow that link (or this one) to sign up for SI.com's Bracket Challenge and then join the group titled "SI.com Tourney Blog Pool." It's public, so no password is required.
Periodically in this blog, we'll post updates to the standings, interview a few of the front-runners, and in the end, there will be prizes. I'm only sure of two of them at present: A retro CNN/SI fleece, formerly worn by Scorecard Daily editor Jimmy Traina, and a burned DVD of a Guns 'N' Roses show from 1991. High stakes, folks. High stakes.
After watching Dick Vitale call the nail-biting finale of the ACC tournament today on ESPN (a 78-76 Duke win over Boston College), I figured this was an appropriate topic of pre-bracket discussion:
A New York Times article from March 7 reported that CBS asked ESPN in February if it could borrow Vitale for a couple of games in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. And ESPN rejected CBS' proposal. "Vitale is our signature voice, and not to have here [on ESPN's programming] would be a mistake," Norby Williamson, an executive VP at ESPN, told the Times.
Vitale, despite being college basketball's highest-profile announcer -- and a celebrity at every campus he visits during the regular season -- has never called an NCAA tournament game. CBS Sports president Sean McManus said in the Times, "I think it would have been a great showcase for the tournament, ESPN, CBS and, especially, Dick Vitale."
Readers, do you think it's a travesty to not have Vitale calling the dance? Or would you prefer he stick to the regular season? No television personality has more passion for the game, but I'll admit, I don't mind that basketball -- and not the announcing -- takes center stage during the tournament.
Will Ohio State be celebrating a No. 1 seed tonight, or settling for a No. 2?
Resident bracketologist Stewart Mandel released his final bracket this morning, ranking the No. 1 seeds in this order: UConn, Duke, Villanova and Memphis.
Three questions/opinions for you to digest while you wait for the selection show:
1. Memphis or Ohio State for the fourth No. 1? Remember, the Big Ten tournament title game is not guaranteed to be considered by the selection committee, since it starts at 3:30 p.m. ET today. What it comes down to is, do you think that the Buckeyes winning the No. 1 RPI conference's regular-season title -- and going to its tourney title game -- is more impressive than Memphis finishing 13-1 in the C-USA and beating UW-Milwaukee, Alabama, UCLA, Cincinnati, Gonzaga and Tennessee (plus, narrowly losing to Duke) in its non-conference slate? Ohio State has just one, solid out-of-league win (over LSU), and given the committee's emphasis on strong scheduling, the Tigers have the edge.
2. Should Gonzaga (a No. 3 in Mandel's bracket) get a No. 2 seed over Illinois or North Carolina? The Zags haven't lost since December, but they haven't played a top-50 RPI team since then, either. The Illini, meanwhile, has gone 9-5 in games against top 50 teams, including non-conference wins over UNC and Georgetown. And the Tar Heels have played the 10th-strongest schedule and gone 7-4 against the top-50. The Zags should be content with a No. 3.
3. Does George Washington deserve the low seed that most bracketologists are projecting? Mandel has the 26-2 Colonials as a No. 6, which they no doubt would perceive as a disappointing assignment. GW has the fewest losses of anyone in the nation, but it also played a non-conference schedule that ranked 323rd in the nation, and faced just two NCAA tournament teams -- N.C. State, a projected No. 8 seed, which beat the Colonials by 21; and Xavier a projected No. 13 seed, which GW defeated on the road. I don't think GW warrants anything higher than a No. 5 seed ... and a No. 6 shouldn't be considered a shaft.
NEW YORK -- In an effort to avoid writing the same Gerry McNamara story that's been posted for the past three days -- not that it hasn't been scintillating, it's just been repetitive -- we take you inside the scene on the court after Syracuse's 65-61 win over Pitt in Saturday's Big East title game:
- Minutes after the buzzer, approximately 10:20 p.m.: G-Mac is wrapped in his second mammoth bear hug in as many days by ex-Orange great Derrick Coleman, who says to the guard half DC's size: "You've got a heart of a lion. There ain't no quit in y'all."
- As McNamara, who scored 14 points and dealt out six assists in the final, takes the podium at center court to accept his Big East championship ring, a 'Cuse assistant coach standing nearby yells, in jest, "Overrated!" (This, in reference to coach Jim Boeheim's tirade from Wednesday.) Hearing that comment, McNamara allows himself a brief smile.
- McNamara, standing on the floor holding his second piece of hardware -- the tournament Most Outstanding Player trophy -- to a small group of reporters: "We proved a lot of people wrong. We could've come down here and played bad and been in the NIT. It looks like we're going to the dance." That they are. From off the bubble to automatic bid in one weekend.
- McNamara huddles with his brother, Tim, and father, also named Gerry, and passes the bronze M.O.P. award to Tim. "They certainly have a flair for the dramatic," Tim said a few minutes later. "There was no doubt this game was going to come down to the wire either way. They wanted it. Everybody on this team wanted it. That showed the last four days."
- At the behest of the mob of Syracuse fans crowded along the edge of the floor, McNamara removes his white, "Big East Champions" t-shirt and dons a new, orange top with "3" on the back, and across the chest, in block lettering, "OVERRATED?!!" He laughs sheepishly, poses for a few cameras, and takes off the statement-tee.
- It's 10:44 p.m., and a fan yells, "Take it down, Mac!" as McNamara slowly climbs the ladder to slice the final strand of the net on one of Madison Square Garden's rims. He clips a few pieces, throws them into the crowd, and then takes down the remainder of the dangling twine. Four riveting days in New York. High drama. A shocking champion (a nine seed!) to the first Big East tourney of the 16-team era. And the resurrection of G-Mac, the shooting star from the 2003 national title game, whose best days, many thought, were behind him.
Antonio Graves adds guard depth off the bench for Pittsburgh.
NEW YORK -- Examine the standard hoops-geek offensive statistics -- pace and efficiency -- and you get the impression that Pitt's 2005-06 offense is a mirror image of itself from '04-05, when it was sent packing in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Pacific:
Pitt Pace Off Eff. 2004-05 67.0 112.1 2005-06 67.2 112.4
Same speed, same level of efficiency. Even on the point-distribution front, these are again, very similar Panthers (stats taken from kenpom.com, and figures are all percentages).
And yet, sluggish showing (33 percent shooting) aside in Saturday's Big East title game, don't be mistaken: This Pitt offense is much better than last season's. And this Pitt team is far more equipped to get to the Sweet 16. It swapped out Chris Taft's athleticism and Chevy Troutman's bullying for the plodding-yet-brilliantly-effective Aaron Gray in the post, but the real difference is on the perimeter. Coach Jamie Dixon now has a stable of five guards -- often playing three at a time -- to take the ball-distribution heat off of Carl Krauser, who is a born leader but not necessarily the most effective point guard.
Last season's team, which went 20-9 and earned a No. 9 seed in the dance, had just one guard, Ronald Ramon, with a higher assist-to-turnover ratio (2.3) than Krauser's (1.4):
Pitt's Guards, 2004-05 Player Asts. TOs Ratio Carl Krauser 170 122 1.4 Antonio Graves 53 43 1.2 Ronald Ramon 52 23 2.3 Keith Benjamin 9 16 0.6 Total 284 204 1.4
This season, with Dixon rotating through a quicker, more athletic offense -- centered around the Gray Axis under the hoop -- Pitt was immensely better at sharing the ball. Every guard in the '05-06 lineup had an assist-to-turnover ratio (through Friday) equal or better than Krauser's (1.5), and the team ratio went up from 1.4 in '04-05 to 1.7 this season.
Pitt's Guards, 2005-06 Player Asts. TOs Ratio Carl Krauser 141 92 1.5 Ronald Ramon 69 31 2.2 Levance Fields 67 34 2.0 Antonio Graves 43 27 1.6 Keith Benjamin 29 19 1.5 Total 349 203 1.7
Now that is improvement. Pitt should enter the NCAAs as a No. 3 or 4 seed, and it won't be overly vulnerable to an early knockout. "Everybody should know now that you have to watch out for us," guard Antonio Graves said on Friday. "We're a deep team, we play well together and we share the ball, so that's all that counts."