10 Things to Watch For in the First Weekend of the NCAA Tournament

Tue, 03/18/2008 - 7:58am

By Kevin Duffy

10. Clemson vs. Villanova

It's not often you'll find two high-major schools with such contrasting styles of play matched up in the 5 vs. 12 game. Clemson clearly has the edge on the interior, but Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes can shoot Villanova past just about anyone. It will be interesting to see which style prevails.

9. Dick Vitale's reaction to the ACC games

Wait, Dicky V picked North Carolina to win the National Championship? No way! Sometimes I wish Vitale was the head of the selection committee. If that were the case this year, Virginia Tech wouldn't have worried about being on the bubble. The Hokies would have been a No. 2 seed.

8. Can Georgia Keep Winning?

After an improbable SEC tournament championship, the 16-16 (4-12 SEC) Bulldogs drew a nice match-up vs. Xavier as the No. 14 seed. Usually in the 3/14 match-up, the SEC team would be the higher seed and the A-10 team would be playing for the upset, so the role reversal makes this an intriguing first-round contest.

[img_assist|nid=3441|title=Herb Sendek - Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=479]7. Herb Sendek's Grieving Process

Sorry to sound like Dick Vitale here, but Arizona State got a “raw deal.” At times, the committee can get too caught up with numbers and RPI and this and that. The Sun Devils were .500 in the best conference in the nation, and beat Arizona twice, they beat Stanford, they beat Xavier, and they beat USC. To me, any team capable of those wins is one of the top 65 in the country.

If Arizona State dropped the “state” in its name, it would have been a lock. Arizona's reputation got it into the field, and AZ State's lack of history kept it out. Freshman sensation James Harden announced he would return next year, so expect the Sun Devils to be even better in 2008.

6. Mason's back

After a one-year absence from the NCAA tournament, George Mason returns as a No. 12 seed. Seniors Will Thomas and Falorin Campbell, who were both starters on the 2006 Final Four squad, have the ability and leadership to lead the Patriots to a first-round upset over Notre Dame. Many analysts are high on the Irish, but then again, they were last year as well, when Notre Dame lost to No. 11 seed Winthrop in the first-round.

Note: If Notre Dame does beat George Mason, it could run into Winthrop in the second round.

5. Butler as a 7?

The Bulldogs have made the Sweet 16 two years in a row, posted a 26-3 overall record this year, and were ranked near the top ten for most of the year. And they get a No. 7 seed? That's the equivalent of being the 25-28 best team in the country. If I were South Alabama, I'd be very scared because Butler will come into this tournament with a chip on its shoulder.

4. Pitt

The Panthers won the Big East tournament, are completely healthy, and are extremely dangerous. Remember, before Levance Fields hurt his ankle, this was the No. 6 team in the country. I won't go as far as Bobby Knight did and say Pitt will win the national championship, but the Panthers will be a very, very tough out. They'd potentially have to go through Michigan State, Memphis, and Texas to get to the Final Four, but I wouldn't put it past Jamie Dixon's crew.

3. West Virginia vs. Arizona

An absolute dynamite 7/10 game. West Virginia's Joe Alexander may be the hottest player in the nation right now. At 6-foot-8 230 lbs with a 40+ inch vertical leap, Alexander possesses a smooth mid-range jumper and can shoot effectively on pull-ups and turn-arounds. One more game like he had in the Big East tournament (34 points vs. UConn), and Alexander may be looking at a lottery pick in the 2008 draft. Oh yeah, Jerryd Bayless is playing in this game too.

2. The No. 1 overall seed, huh?

I bet the Tar Heels regret earning the top seed in the tournament. For whatever reason, they were paired with the best No. 2, Tennessee, and arguably the best No. 3 in Louisville. Throw in a dangerous Washington State team, Notre Dame, a seventh-seeded Butler, and a possible match-up with Indiana in the second round, and UNC has a very difficult road to the Final Four, despite an all in State bracket.

1. OJ Mayo vs. Michael Beasley (or, for those of you who are formal--USC vs. Kansas State)

The committee did this for two reasons: 1. America will want to see the two freshman phenoms square off and 2. At least one of them will play more than one game. Kansas State is a dangerous No. 11 seed, but USC is even more dangerous. The Trojans, who will be a trendy pick to knock off Wisconsin and reach the Sweet 16, have the better supporting cast and thus should be able to survive 35 points from Beasley.

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