Surprises and Suspense On Selection Sunday

By Josh Herwitt - March 16, 2008

For many teams all across the country, Selection Sunday is a day full of suspense and surprise.

It's a day of jubilation for some and a day of misery for others.

And while the bubble talk has dominated the airwaves and media rooms across the country for the past two weeks, that can finally subside with the brackets being announced tonight on CBS.

In what was no surprise to anyone, North Carolina garnered the No. 1 overall seed after winning the ACC regular season championship as well as the ACC Tournament title today with a tough five-point win over Clemson. It's the 12th time the Tar Heels have earned a top seed in the tournament, the most of any team in NCAA history, as they'll take on the winner of the play-in game between Coppin State and Mount St. Mary's, which takes place Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.

But in looking just below UNC in the East Regional has to be one of the biggest surprises in this year's bracket as Indiana earned a No. 8 seed despite what many pundits projected. The Hoosiers won't have an easy task in going up against No. 9 seed Arkansas, who reached the SEC Tournament final today but couldn't spoil Georgia's Cinderella run, putting the Bulldogs in the West as a No. 14 seed against a dangerous Xavier team.

One intriguing matchup in the East that can't be forgotten about is the Butler vs. South Alabama game featured at the bottom of the bracket, where either team has a chance to play second-seeded Tennessee -- assuming the Vols take care of business against Patriot League champ and first-timer American -- in the second round in Birmingham, Ala.

In the Midwest Regional, one of the most-anticipated games has to be the No. 5 seed vs. No. 12 seed game between Clemson and Villanova, which struggled for much of this season but found its way into this year's field by busting Syracuse's bubble with its opening round win in the Big East Tournament.

But that's certainly in competition with the other must-watch game in the Midwest, where No. 6 seed USC takes on No. 11 seed Kansas State. And after the way the Trojans played top-seeded UCLA so close in the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament on Friday night -- a game that I was able to witness courtside -- Tim Floyd's team might have got the shaft in going against a team that boasts the best player in the country and beat No. 1 seed Kansas in Manhattan, Kan., during Big 12 play.

What's got to be one of the biggest crimes is seeing the West Coast Conference get three teams in the field after getting just one last year in perennial champ Gonzaga, who has that interesting 7-10 matchup against Southern Conference champion Davidson out in Raleigh, N.C. If the Zags are able to get past the gritty Wildcats, who played tough non-conference competition in North Carolina, Duke and UCLA this year, and their slew of fans making the short trip over from Charlotte, they'll face the two-time regular Big East champion Georgetown Hoyas. Despite losing in the Big East Tournament final last night to No. 4 seed Pittsburgh, John Thompson III's team will be looking to get back to the Final Four but will start things off against American East rep UMBC, a high-flying team that will contrast greatly with Georgetown's slow-it-down, half-court approach.

Another huge surprise has to be the decision by the selection committee to take Oregon over Arizona State in the Pac-10. The Sun Devils got robbed by a phantom foul call Thursday in their last-second loss to USC but managed to beat Arizona, which slipped in as a No. 10 seed in the West Region, twice and Xavier by 22 points at home back in December. ASU, however, didn't have the kind of RPI or SOS numbers that could have persuaded the selection committee to think otherwise.

'Zona, on the other hand, beat down Oregon State before falling to Stanford in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament and has dealt with critical injuries to guards Jerryd Bayless and Nic Wise throughout the season. With both guys healthy, the 'Cats could be a potential sleeper if it can upend No. 7 seed West Virginia in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. That's because Arizona has an opportunity to play second-seeded Duke in the second round, and with the similar styles of the play that both teams possess, that game would have many eyes glued to television screens all across the country.

But in looking at the entire field, the West Regional has to be one of the easier brackets along with the Midwest, and if UCLA can get healthy in a hurry, there's no reason why the Bruins can't be headed back to the Final Four for a third straight season. In fact, many analysts and experts are picking the Bruins to win it all and cut down the nets on April 7, but that won't be possible without Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returning at some point during tourney play.

Of course, there's a lot of tough teams for Ben Howland's team to play before it can book its trip to San Antonio, but the same can be said for North Carolina, Memphis and even Kansas.

Because, after all, they don't call it March Madness for nothing.

Posted by Josh Herwitt at 07:00 PM on March 16, 2008

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