March 17, 2005

Outdoor Corner

by Chris Feeney

March Madness has arrived. The Tournament Committee announced the brackets and office pools across the nation began springing up with experts and first-time college basketball observers alike putting in their dollar to pick the winner in the NCAA pool of the top 65 basketball teams.

Yes, 65 teams. It always used to be 64, but now there is a play-in game for the final 16th seed, meaning two teams must play and the winner then gets the reward of playing one of the top 4 teams in the nation. Wonder if when these guys are playing this game they are considering that never in the history of the NCAA Tournament has a #16 seed beat a #1. Then again, maybe they believe they will be the first.

Im sure it will happen some day. Thats what makes college basketball so great that and on any given night a mediocre team can excel and a superior team can struggle. Of course the same can be said of my annual attempt at turning in a winning bracket.

Normally I start off poorly and just get worse. But on rare occasions, Ive been in the lead after round #1 only to have the wheels fall off my wagon to the top.

Every year I offer my picks up for readers amusement. Im just happy that our publication date makes it impossible for most readers to view my selections prior to the deadlines for submitting their own. I have enough readers mad at me as it is, I dont need folks blaming their stinky brackets on me as well.

But on the rare chance that I might get lucky and really appear like I know what Im talking about, Ill announce my winners and see where they fall in the weeks to come.

Ill start with the Midwest bracket where Im not a huge fan of Illinois. Sure the nations top-ranked team will beat Fairleigh Dickson and likely will get by Nevada, who Ill say beats Nevada. But thats where it ends for them, at least in my bracket.

Boston College, which was a #1 seed in many books before a late season slide, will make it to the elite eight. The Eagles will blow out Penn and then edge out an athletic Alabama squad after their win over the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Then BC will end the Cinderella season for the Illini.

At the bottom of the 16-team pool you have two teams I really like, Oklahoma State and Arizona. OSU will knock off SE Louisiana in its opener. After So. Illinois knocks off St. Marys the Salukis will give the Cowboys a game but I think Eddie Sutton will add another win to his illustrious total.

But he will be pitted against another top leader in Lute Olson of Arizona. The Wildcats will have a challenge from Utah State, but will get by to beat UAB, fresh off its upset of the up and down LSU team. The Wildcats will ride the momentum to beat OSU and the on to victory over Boston College for a Final Four birth.

I wont go into as much detail in the West bracket. Ill pick Washington, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech., Louisville, UCLA, Gonzaga, Creighton and Wake Forest. The sheik pick out of this unit is Wake Forest, the #3 seed. Im going for a bigger stretch and saying whomever wins the Georgia Tech, Louisville game will go on to the final four. I love the Cardinals Francisco Garcia, and think he is a clutch as they come, but I watched some of the Jackets wins in the ACC Tourney and have to pick them.

Thats jumping ahead. The sweet 16 entries will be Pittsburgh in a big upset, the Jackets, Gonzaga and Wake. Ill take Gonzaga to beat Wake and then lose to Georgia Tech.

In the East, I see lots of ways to pick against my bitter Jayhawk rivals. Not only will Kansas lose in the opening round, former coach Roy Williams will be bounced one round later as North Carolina gives up its #1 seed.

First round winners in my bracket are N.C., Iowa State, Villanova, Ohio (Florida has always let me down), Northern Iowa (hey, they beat my beloved MU team back in 1990), Bucknell, NC State, and Connecticut in my all upset round. ISU will send Roy home before losing to Villanova. Northern Iowa, vs. Bucknell??? I cant believe I picked them. It must be the cold medicine. But lets move Northern Iowa on to lose to upstart NC State, which beats UConn. That leaves either a #5 or a #10 to be my Final Four team? Lets stick with a Big 12 squad and take the ugly red and gold. That ought to make old Egg happy.

Ill come back to earth in the south division. My first eight winners are Duke, Stanford, Old Dominion, Syracuse, Utah, Oklahoma, Cincinnati, and Kentucky. I say Duke, Syracuse, Utah and Kentucky will advance in what looks like the toughest bracket if you ask me. I like the Orangemen to end Dukes season and Kentucky to get by Utahs big man Andrew Bogut. I see Big East player of the year Hakim Warrick sending Syracuse back to the Final Four with a little help from a boatload of three pointers by little Gerry McNamara.

So my Final Four are Arizona, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and, Iowa State. So its easy to see why I never win my office pool.

But just in case, Ill finish out with Arizona and Syracuse advancing to St. Louis for the championship game April 2 with the crown going to Syracuse.

Disclaimer If by accident you get an advance viewing of this column, the newspaper is not responsible for your losing brackets. We do not condone or even agree with the vast majority of the selections and are in no way legally responsible for readers that may mistakenly agree with them.

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