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.

Iím sure it will happen some day. Thatís what makes college basketball so great Ė 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, Iíve 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. Iím 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 donít 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 Iím talking about, Iíll announce my winners and see where they fall in the weeks to come.

Iíll start with the Midwest bracket where Iím not a huge fan of Illinois. Sure the nationís top-ranked team will beat Fairleigh Dickson and likely will get by Nevada, who Iíll say beats Nevada. But thatís 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. Maryís 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 wonít go into as much detail in the West bracket. Iíll 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. Iím going for a bigger stretch and saying whomever wins the Georgia Tech, Louisville game will go on to the final four. I love the Cardinalsí Francisco Garcia, and think he is a clutch as they come, but I watched some of the Jacketsí wins in the ACC Tourney and have to pick them.

Thatís jumping ahead. The sweet 16 entries will be Pittsburgh in a big upset, the Jackets, Gonzaga and Wake. Iíll 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 canít believe I picked them. It must be the cold medicine. But letís 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.

Iíll 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 Dukeís season and Kentucky to get by Utahís 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 itís easy to see why I never win my office pool.

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

Disclaimer Ė 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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