Need a way to hang a reputation? Use brackets

March 18, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

I wanted to start my annual NCAA Tournament preview with a Rick Neuheisel joke, but seeing as how 1,693,584 other columnists have already done it, I think I'll pass ...

St. Louis Regional

Team to beat: Kentucky. Hard to argue the Wildcats' selection as the top overall seed after blitzing through the SEC Tournament.

Underrated: Kansas. That's one tough No. 4 seed, as the Jayhawks can make an argument for being the second-best team in this region.

Overrated: Nobody, really. Gonzaga earned its No. 2 seed. I suppose Georgia Tech could have been seeded a little lower, but in this region, the Yellow Jackets could make the Final Four.


Watch out for: Washington. If the Huskies play their 'A' game as they did in beating Stanford a couple weeks ago, they're capable of upsetting Kentucky.

Alamodome-bound: Gonzaga (surprise!). The Zags can beat you inside as well as outside. Gonzaga isn't a mid-major anymore, and this is the year the Zags prove it. (Hey, if this flyer pick didn't work last year, try try again).

East Rutherford Regional

Team to beat: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have a clear path to the Sweet 16, whereas Pittsburgh - which got royally cheated with a No. 3 seed and a potential second-round matchup with Wisconsin in Milwaukee - might not get there.

Underrated: Wisconsin. The Badgers won the (admittedly down) Big Ten tournament title. They're legit, and a tough No. 6 seed.

Overrated: Saint Joseph's. The Hawks had a great season, but they don't have enough of an inside game - offensively or defensively - to be a long-term threat in the tournament.

Watch out for: Texas Tech. There isn't a team in the top half of this region the Red Raiders can't beat, though a Sweet 16 matchup with Wake Forest would be difficult.

Alamodome-bound: Oklahoma State. People still don't realize how good these Cowboys are. They'll learn.

Atlanta Regional

Team to beat: Duke. When you wear that four-letter word on the front of your jersey, you're the target.

Underrated: Xavier. Not that the Muskateers had the resume to be seeded higher (they didn't), it's more a matter that on any given day they can play much tougher than your average No. 7 seed (example, Atlantic 10 Tournament).

Overrated: Illinois. Yeah, the Illini beat out Wisconsin for the regular-season Big Ten crown, and I can't really make a convincing argument for this, but I just don't think they're that good.

Watch out for: Cincinnati and North Carolina. The Tar Heels seem to be the popular "watch out for" team this year. Both Carolina and Cincinnati bring plenty of athleticism to the table. The Bearcats have been more consistent throughout the season, but that's mostly because the Tar Heels had to grind through the ACC. Both teams are nightmares for opposing coaches.

Alamodome-bound: Duke. The Blue Devils are going to be smarting from the ACC Tournament loss to Maryland and they'll feel like they have something to prove. That's not good for the other 15 teams in this region.

Phoenix Regional

Team to beat: Stanford. Connecticut would be the pick here, but not with Emeka Okafor's back creating a major question mark.

Underrated: Southern Illinois. The Salukis aren't quite the Zags, but they're still one of the best mid-majors around. They'll give an athletic Alabama squad all it can handle.

Overrated: Maryland. Sorry. I know the Terps beat the top three seeds in three days to win the ACC Tournament, which is an amazing feat. But three days don't erase two months in which Maryland straddled the NCAA Tournament fence and finished 7-9 in the conference. Maryland was at best a No. 7 seed one week ago. You can't convince me the Terps are a No. 4 seed now.

(But some of you will try. I'm already bracing for it.)

Watch out for: Syracuse. The Orangemen have a premier low-post player in Hakim Warrick and a premier perimeter player in Gerry McNamara. Sounds a little like UConn, huh? Syracuse split two meetings with both the Huskies and Pittsburgh.

Alamodome-bound: Stanford. The Cardinal have the most balance of any team in the tournament, and can beat teams in a variety of ways.

Final Four predictions in two weeks, after I take my usual mulligan.

Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at

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