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Enough With Delays, Let’s Get to the Answers

No more waiting. It’s finally over. March 10 came and went and we can get back to life without those incessant promos for “A Season on the Brink.”

Oh yeah, it’s also time to fill out those brackets.

The NCAA tournament seemed less important to ESPN than the debut of its Bob Knight movie. And CBS thought a lame feature on coaches’ thoughts about the new geographical seedings was worth showing before the full tournament field. Here’s all sports fans cared about the last 48 hours: brackets.

Since everything else seemed to come with a lengthy delay Sunday, we’ll get to the goods. Final Four prediction: Duke, Maryland, Cincinnati, Mississippi State.

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Local motion: I’d like USC’s chances to get back to the Elite Eight a lot better if Duke didn’t loom as a potential opponent in the regional semifinals. And Pepperdine has a better chance to reach the Sweet 16 than UCLA. It’s time for scaled-back expectations at UCLA. Lasting longer than the drawn-out tournament selection show would be a nice goal.

As the appointed hour dawned, CBS got right to the top seeds, which might have been the least suspenseful bit of data on the day. Then they kept us on hold for another 10 minutes, through that coaches feature and a commercial break. As Kansas Coach Roy Williams said later on the program: “I was ready to take a nap. I didn’t think we were going to find out the brackets until midnight.”

UCLA got stuck in the toughest regional. The West features the champions of Conference USA (Cincinnati), the Big 12 (Oklahoma), the Big Ten (Ohio State), the Pacific 10 (Arizona) and a justifiably heated Gonzaga team (the West Coast champions, who deserved better than a No. 6 seeding).

If the eighth-seeded Bruins get past No. 9-seeded Mississippi, they’ll almost certainly face Cincinnati in the second round. See ya. USC has less to fear in Indiana, its possible second-round date. Under Mike Davis, there’s more class to the Hoosier program (can you imagine Bob Knight hugging Luke Recker the way Davis did Saturday?) but it still features the same team-oriented style. The reason that style doesn’t work in the tournament anymore (try no trips past the second round since 1994) is because it’s more about the players than the system, and when you need great players to carry the team in March they can’t do it. Jared Jeffries’ disappearance against Iowa in the Big Ten semifinals reminded me of the way Pepperdine took out A.J. Guyton two years ago.

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USC will be better off for losing to Arizona in the Pac-10 championship game. The Trojans had to be feeling invincible after the way they handled Stanford and Oregon and put it to the Wildcats in the first half of Saturday’s game. The way they lost the second half will remind them that they need to pay more attention to protecting the ball and less attention to the officials. Expect Coach Henry Bibby to have his team well prepared and to make the right judgment calls. Who will be the guy for USC? Desmon Farmer? Jerry Dupree? Will senior Brandon Granville make a last stand? It’s going to have to be some surprising star, because opponents will surround Sam Clancy the way Arizona did Saturday.

That’s another reason guards make the difference in March. They already have the ball in their hands, and it’s more difficult to double-team them out on the floor than it is a player in the low post. And that’s why I like Cincinnati. Steve Logan can get his shot off at almost any time. They need big play from their big men, Donald Little and Jason Maxiell.

Great guards and size are the best combination for the tournament. It won’t be easy. Oklahoma is the best No. 2 seed in the tournament (it’s not difficult at all to imagine the Sooners beating Cincinnati).

The West’s No. 4 seed, Ohio State, features a miniature version of Logan in guard Brent Darby. Kansas should cruise to a spot in the Midwest regional finals, but I’m wary of Williams’ history in the tournament and Jayhawk freshman guard Aaron Miles. Why Mississippi State? You have to pick at least one surprise team to make the Final Four, and I like the Bulldogs’ combination of athleticism and a disciplined offense.

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What about Oregon, the No. 2 seed? The Ducks are an opportunistic team, but if Pepperdine knocks off Wake Forest, the Waves should be able to handle them. After all, they beat USC, which matched up well with Oregon. Maryland has as complete a package as any team out there, and the Terrapins have the benefit of playing in the weakest regional.

Maryland vs. Duke has become the best rivalry in college basketball for the last couple of seasons. We missed out on another meeting in the ACC championship, but we’ll get to see it happen at the national title game in Atlanta. Duke was the best team coming into this season. Four months into it, they’re looking like the best again. As they’ve wobbled, as Jason Williams’ poor free-throw shooting made them look vulnerable, they needed some sort of statement to themselves that, “We’re still Duke.” The ACC tournament provided that. They will repeat as champions.

We’ve had all the other distractions and analysis (was it me, or did every potential at-large team have an RPI ranking of 56?), and now it’s time for one of the purest events in sports. With no more delays.


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