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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “At February’s end, March magic begins”

    Adam Gaubsports editor
    Adam Gaub
    sports editor

    gaub’s gospel

    Ah, March. Flowers are in bloom, love is in the air and basketball is on television sets from the smallest town in “”Hoosiers”” country to the biggest metropolises in the nation.

    The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is the Holy Grail of college hoops, promising three weeks of high drama, and that’s before the tournament even begins.

    We’ve entered into the home stretch as conference play wraps up and conference tournaments begin, all leading to Judgment Day – Sunday, March 12 – the day which the NCAA selection committee makes or breaks the season for the Division I teams vying for a berth to the Big Dance.

    There is nothing quite like the excitement that builds as teams scramble to make it into the tournament, earning locks and bursting bubbles. And it’s not just because basketball has been my favorite sport since I was three.

    I am an avid Icecats fan. There is nothing like watching our local stars on ice drill a slap shot into the back of the net, check an opposing unsuspecting forward into the boards or turn a scuffle into a brawl in sheer seconds.

    As for the NHL? I couldn’t even tell you when the playoffs are.

    The same goes for college hoops. Love it with a passion.

    The NBA? I care for it with a most beloved indifference.

    There’s something about college hoops and that month of March in particular that changes the blood in my veins, gets me excited enough to spend more time analyzing each bracket once the tournament field is set on Selection Sunday than I spent doing any research paper I’ve done in the past four years.

    Heck, I have to print off a good dozen brackets just for myself so I can fantasize about the different combinations of teams that could pull the upset, run the table, and give me the edge in my office pool (which I have yet to win).

    With ESPN.com already in the thick of predicting the 2006 tournament field, I thought I would add my own analysis to the fray. Here, from experience, are a half-dozen hints that will help you make a heavenly bracket out of the havoc that is March Madness.

    6. Don’t pick Florida to make it past the second round.

    Billy Donovan’s club is a staple of the NCAA Tournament. The Gators’ play an excellent regular season, generally receiving between a No. 3 and No. 5 seed in the tournament, and this year will be no exception. But don’t let the Gators’ high seed lull you into a false sense of security. Since losing to Michigan State 89-76 in the 2000 National Championship game, the Gators have failed to make it out of the second round, often losing to much lower-seeded teams, including Creighton in 2002 and Manhattan in 2004.

    5. Duke is safe. Picking them to win it all is not.

    Duke has become a staple of college basketball and the NCAA Tournament under Mike Krzyzewski, making 10 final four appearances in his 26 years at Duke. Coach ‘K’ also has the record for most NCAA tournament victories, with 66, under his belt, yet has only been able to bring the big one back to Durham three times, with the last Blue Devil national title coming in a 2001 victory over Arizona. A No. 1 seed is already a given; a national championship, far from it.

    4. The coast with the most.

    Since Arizona won the title in 1997, no team from west of the Mississippi has won the title, with mainly Atlantic Coast Conference and Big East teams hoarding the crown. Those two conferences have been dominant, collecting six of the last seven national championships. Maybe there is something to that East Coast bias after all.

    3. The Big Ten can’t win

    The Big Ten conference is weak. It could still get six or seven teams in the tournament, but if they get two of those teams to the Sweet Sixteen, I would be shocked. Teams matched up against weak Big Tenners in the first round should be licking their chops. Teams like Michigan (18-8), Wisconsin (19-8), Indiana (15-10) and Iowa (20-8) are primed for first-round flops. The Badgers and Hawkeyes have especially high rankings in the Rating Percentage Index, which should set them up for a good seed and a hard fall.

    2. Expect mid-majors to upend major flops.

    Although it really shouldn’t come as a surprise anymore, parity in college basketball becomes more and more evident each season, making tournament upsets less surprising to those who really know the game. With major conferences like the Pacific 10 Conference, which will be lucky to get four teams into the Dance, having down years, look for strong mid-majors like Northern Iowa, Bucknell and Missouri State to make noise this year.

    1. Loyalty is one thing.

    Stupidity is another.

    Arizona will make the tournament barring three bad losses in a row, but unless they get hot in the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles next week, the Wildcats can’t expect to do any better than a No. 7 seed. If they play well, and depending on where they get seeded, I will let my loyalty to my squad take them as far as the Sweet Sixteen. Any farther than that is just going to be suicide for my bracket. Even if the Final Four is being played in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Ind., where Arizona won in ’97, don’t expect a return trip this year.

    Adam Gaub is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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