Sports Q&A: Final Four Picks

Ted from Cincinnati, OH asks, "What four teams will advance to the Final Four in Atlanta? What are some of the tournament's most intriguing matchups?"

This year, early spring means only one thing, and no, it's not the "Hair vs. Hair" match at WrestleMania 23 featuring the fashionable coifs of Donald Trump and Vince McMahon. It's the NCAA Final Four, the time of year when some 60-year-old lady with as much knowledge of college basketball as I have of needlepoint shatters my ego and wins the $35 office pool. But what can I do short of donning a ski mask and jumping her in the parking lot? I tried that, and she whipped my tail. Anyway, March Madness is here, so let's go to the picks.

First of all, let's observe a moment of silence for the Syracuse Orangemen, who were left out of the tournament despite a 10-6 record in the Big East and apparently fell victim to the selection committee's "hat and slips of paper" method. RPIs, strength of schedule percentages, and body mass indices aside, Syracuse should be in, if for no other reason than coach Jim Boeheim would make a great studio analyst once the Orange made their first-round exit. I'll say this: if the NCAA wants to expand the field, have a play-in game for each of the four regions.

Let's start in the Midwest, where defending champion Florida is seeded No. 1 and looks to be in the tournament's weakest region. Should the Gators advance to the round of 16, they'll face either Butler/Old Dominion or Maryland/Davidson. Not a hair-raising proposition by any means. I doubt Billy Donovan will slick his hair all the way back for this one. Should the seeds hold, Florida will meet No. 2-seeded Wisconsin, a team that never met a 49-46 win they didn't like. Wisconsin, along with Memphis, is probably the least-scary two-seed.

Prior to last year, Florida always seemed vulnerable in the early rounds, but that won't be the case this year with the experienced Gators, who rolled through the SEC tournament. The hard part of picking this region is choosing the team to meet Florida in the regional final. I don't think Wisconsin can score enough to get there. That leaves me with Oregon, UNLV, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech. Florida takes out Notre Dame in the regional final.

One of the most intriguing games in this region is that between No. 7-seeded UNLV and No. 10 Georgia Tech. The Rebels are coached by a balding, hound dog of a man who has a nervous habit of biting on towels. What's that? Jerry Tarkanian's not the coach? It's Lon Kruger? Is he named after classic horror movie star Lon Chaney, whose films include The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but, sadly, never had the chance to play noted psychopath and former Temple coach John Chaney (no relation)? Right, who cares?

Anyway, the Runnin' Rebels are 28-6 and have the finest, if not the only, resort and casino management program in the nation. Tech is 20-11, and is one of seven ACC teams in the field, and one of five ACC teams with double-digit losses. That's a red flag right there. UNLV wears red, right? Go Rebels.

Another interesting matchup is also in the bottom half of the bracket, where six-seed Notre Dame faces No. 11 Winthrop. Winthrop is 28-4, but is probably known more for it losses than wins. The Eagles lost at North Carolina by one and lost at Wisconsin in overtime. Impressive losses no doubt, but they only get you in the tournament; they don't help you advance. Winthrop goes down swinging.

Upset pick: No. 12 Old Dominion over No. 5 Butler. Sure I know it's not that big of an upset, but I didn't set the seedings, now did I?

In the West, Kansas is seeded No. 1 but may have to beat No. 2-seeded UCLA in California to advance to the Final Four. Of course, those teams will have to win three games to get there. The Jayhawks will definitely face a former champion, meeting the winner of the Kentucky/Villanova contest, assuming Kansas can get past the winner of the Florida A&M/Niagara game, which happens to be Niagara. And that's too bad, because I was really looking forward to the headline in Wednesday's sports section that read "Niagara Falls."

UCLA faces the tougher half of this bracket, and rightly so, since they're No. 2-seeded. I'm sure the prospect of a second-round matchup with Gonzaga doesn't intimidate the Bruins, and someplace, somewhere, Brian Morrison is shedding a tear. But beyond that, UCLA could face a round of 16 game with No. 3-seeded Pittsburgh (are the Panthers seeded third every year, and don't they always lose in the third round?), Duke, or Virginia Commonwealth.

Toss out the possibility of the 10-loss Dukies; the Devils, first-round losers in the ACC tourney, will be a first-round casualty here also. Despite the imminent threat of a flagrant elbow, Duke lacks toughness and size, and shooting guard Jon Scheyer is a walking corpse. I say VCU knocks out Pitt, then falls to UCLA.

The possibility of an Illinois/Southern Illinois game has the state of Illinois in a state moderate ambivalence. Me? I love it. The more I can hear the goofy voice of Illini coach Bruce Weber, the better. Illinois should probably not even be in the tournament; they were one of the last teams in. Southern should hold up their end of the bargain and beat Holy Cross; Illinois has to get by Virginia Tech, yet another ACC team with more than ten losses. Sure, the ACC is overrated, but so is the Big 10. Tech wins, and the long-awaited Illinois/Southern Illinois showdown will have to come courtesy of the debate teams.

UCLA takes out Kansas in the regional final.

Upset picks: No. 11 VCU over No. 6 Duke.

The tournament's toughest region, the East, features North Carolina, Georgetown, and Texas, led by freshman Kevin Durant. UNC faces the toughest road to the Final Four of any No. 1 seed. The Heels, who are dominant only in five minute stretches, have a tough task in round two, facing either Marquette or Michigan State. Win that, and Durant and the Longhorns await in the Meadowlands, assuming they advance. This is where many have the Heels going down. Not yet. Of course, UNC can't stop Durant, and that's just one of their weaknesses. Tyler Hansborough won't pass, even when triple-teamed, and Carolina is blessed with the most overrated attribute in college basketball — depth.

It's tourney time, time to shorten your bench from 12 to nine, Roy Williams. Maybe you haven't noticed, Roy, but the Heels are unstoppable when point guard Ty Lawson is in the game. Carolina really doesn't have a half-court offense, but they don't need one when Lawson running the break, and the Heels can break on opponent's made baskets. Lawson versus Texas' D.J. Augustine may be the region's most entertaining matchup. Texas will play into what the Heels like, an up-tempo game, and the Heels advance in a shootout.

That leaves UNC to face Georgetown, who has the easiest ride to the Elite Eight. History demands a UNC/Georgetown regional final, which would be a rematch of 1982's championship final, in which the Hoyas, coach by John Thompson and led by Patrick Ewing, fell to the Heels and Michael Jordan, 63-62. This time, G'town is coached by John Thompson III and Patrick Ewing, Jr. plays forward. And I'm sure Michael Jordan will have loads of money on this game, should it materialize. UNC, encourage by a false rumor that an offspring of Fred Brown plays for the Hoyas, advances to the Final Four.

Upset: No. 10 Texas Tech over No. 7 Boston College. This upset is the antithesis of Tech coach Bobby Knight — mild. The Red Raiders smother yet another ACC team with double-digit losses.

Ohio State tops the seeds in the South region, which culminates in San Antonio. The Buckeyes are led by beyond-his-years freshmen Greg Oden, who had to have started shaving at age 12. Where was this guy when I was too young to buy alcohol? Anyway, Oden is a dominating presence inside, and, along with freshman point guard Mike Conley, Jr., whose father could triple jump from the baseline to the opposite three-point line, OSU is young and talented. But will their extreme youth be their downfall?

The Buckeyes could face a regional semifinal against Tennessee and sniper Chris Lofton. Are the Volunteers a guarantee to make it here? Not at all. They'll have to get by Long Beach State and then the winner of the much-anticipated Virginia/Albany contest. I like Tennessee, though. Why? Well, Bruce Pearl is just too cool. Any major college coach who paints his chest orange and appears in the front row for a women's basketball game is all right in my book. In fact, I give him more credit for sitting through a women's game than the paint job. However, Pearl's little stunt resulted in Tennessee women's coach Pat Summitt showing up at a men's game in a Volunteer cheerleading outfit. I consider that a flagrant foul. For that reason, I have to go with the Buckeyes over the Vols.

The bottom half of this bracket is wide open. Memphis is 30-3, but they don't strike me as a Final Eight team. Louisville, toughened by a Big East schedule, could possibly play two games in their home state, albeit on the enemy soil of Rupp Arena. No. 3-seeded Texas A&M faces a similar advantage — should they advance to the Sweet 16, they could go for the regional crown in their home state. They'll get their chance against the Buckeyes, but Ohio State advances to the Final Four, then Oden makes a not-to-surprising declaration — that he's 35-years-old.

Upset pick: No. 7 Nevada over No. 2 Memphis in the second round.

Final Four: Florida, UCLA, North Carolina, Ohio State

Finals: Florida over UNC

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