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ISSUE 120 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 3/23/2007

Inside the Lines: Mid-tourney evaluations

By Matt Tiano
Sports Editor

Friday, March 23, 2007

16 teams remain. Of those still alive, all four number one seeds remain standing, three of four two seeds have lived another day, and the lowest seeded Sweet 16 team is the seventh-seeded Rebels of UNLV. Here are 10 storylines as a prelude to an emotional finish:

1. Credit where credit is due: Two weeks ago, the NCAA Selection Committee was being second-guessed for their choices; after the first two rounds, a high-five would be most appropriate. After all, in an era in which teams from the IDPUMC (I Don't Play Until March Conference) somehow emerge, we expect the emotional upset. In theory, the committee selects teams most likely to advance. Cinderella has died.

2. ACC who? The supposed all-powerful Atlantic Coast Conference has looked absolutely terrible. And who didn'’t see it coming (ESPN not included)? Duke manages an 8-8 conference record, loses to Florida State at home, loses four in a row Feb. 1-11, and drops three in a row to end the season –- and inherits a six seed. Virginia Commonwealth, your Southland Conference Champion, topped it off with an upset. Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia Tech join Duke as members of the most overrated conference.

3. Coaches that start with the letter K: It is time to fess up: Whose bracket fell victim to Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight? This year's tournament is the first time in over 20 years in which either coaching legend failed to advance past the first weekend. At least history backs up your bracket.

4. Badger stumble: A 15-point turnaround against Texas A&M Corpus-Christi was one thing;– to do it to severely underrated UNLV was another. Coach Leo Krueger was confident in his slumping son Kevin, and it paid off: the younger Krueger nailed four three-pointers, including a four-point play in the game's final 10 minutes to launch the Rebels into the round of 16.

5. “Luckeye” Buckeye: Ohio State barely escaped with an overtime win over Xavier. Yes, Xavier missed free throws down the stretch that would have cinched it. Yes, Ohio State’'s Ron Lewis nailed a timely three-pointer. However, a serious officiating miscue most likely sent the Buckeyes through. Forty-year-old look-alike Greg Oden lost his composure, down by two, when he cross-checked a Xavier player out of bounds, which should have been whistled as an intentional foul, sending Xavier to the line and given them the ball on the ensuing possession. Oden on the foul: "“I just look at that foul as, they're going to call bull crap fouls. I might as well get one that's hard.”" Intentional? That should say it all.

6. The invisible conference: So-called experts aren't aware that there happens to be a conference out west, a conference that prides itself on defense, defense and more defense as well as hustle and toughness, a conference that lacks the glitz and glamour of other power conferences. However, the Pacific-10 conference boasts three teams in the Sweet 16. UCLA, Oregon and Southern California have won by an average of an astonishing 14 points.

7. SEC not far behind: Florida realized that college games are two halves, Tennessee scores (198 points in two games) but forgets how to defend, and Vanderbilt’'s perimeter attack could pose problems for Georgetown's sole reliance on its inside attack.

8. Balance crucial come March: I fell into the Kevin Durant trap, along with the rest of the nation. If USC's performance Sunday was any indication, offensive balance is crucial to winning in March. Texas was in my Final Four – and who would have argued; it was because of Durant. But against USC, Durant's presence may have cost the Longhorns. When he touched the ball, Texas’' offensive schema slammed to a halt. The team that cuts down the nets April 2 will have multiple players capable of making the big play. That team will not be Texas for this very reason.

9. Size of the field: The first round certainly supported those who oppose an expansion of the 65-team field. There simply were too many scoring droughts, defensive breakdowns, rebounding blunders and downright poor basketball – and not just by 15-and 16-seeded teams.

10. Predictions, revised: Final Eight: Florida, Oregon, Kansas, UCLA, USC, Georgetown, Tennessee, Texas A&M Final Four: Oregon, UCLA, Georgetown, Texas A&M Final: UCLA over Georgetown

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