The Washington Times - March 15, 2011, 10:49AM

Rather than one long post with a bunch of picks, or one long post with a massive bracket breakdown, a slightly more digestible way of going about things is to offer five posts (one for each region, and one for the Final Four) combining the two.

So that’s what a lot of Tuesday will be about here. No waiting around … first up, the East Region

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PLAY-IN ROUND

(16) Texas-San Antonio

(12) Clemson

The Roadrunners, coached by former NBA player Brooks Thompson, have been a solid Southland Conference team for a couple years. While Alabama State, their play-in opponents, has won 11 of 12, its best victory all season was a pair of victories over Texas Southern. SWAC teams are 1-4 since the play-in game was added in 2001.

In the other game in this bracket, Clemson-UAB promises to be a bit entertaining. The more you look at the Blazers, the less surprising their inclusion was. UAB only got trounced twice all season – once at Duke, the other time at Tulsa, both in early January. Neither team is particularly accomplished, but Brad Brownell’s done solid work with Clemson this year. Look for the Tigers to grind out their first NCAA tournament win since the Rick Barnes days (1997).

ROUND OF 64 WINNERS

(1) Ohio State
(8) George Mason

(5) West Virginia
(4) Kentucky

(3) Syracuse
(6) Xavier

(7) Washington
(2) North Carolina

So very chalky. The Clemson-UAB winner will have a shot to knock off West Virginia, and Marquette might have a surprise for Xavier. But this could easily be a draw where no double-digit seeds advance.

Princeton, the No. 13 seed, isn’t quite the caliber of last year’s Cornell bunch. Georgia, which faded fast in the closing weeks, might give Washington some trouble. But overall, this isn’t the place to expect upsets.

Oh, and about George Mason-Villanova – the Wildcats lost seven of their last nine, but only three by double figures. They won’t be an easy out, but they’re also not the sort of team primed for a long run, either.

ROUND OF 32 WINNERS

(1) Ohio State
(4) Kentucky

(3) Syracuse
(2) North Carolina

Again with the chalkiness. Kentucky is underseeded and should be able to avenge (with an almost entirely new cast of characters) last year’s regional final loss to West Virginia. Ohio State will march on in its home state.

Syracuse could have an interesting game with Xavier. If an upset’s happening in this draw, that’s where to expect it. But this isn’t a vintage version of the Musketeers; their nine-game winning streak late in the season featured only three double-digit victories in a stretch that included just one NCAA tournament team.

North Carolina hasn’t lost an NCAA tournament game in its own state since 1979, and that streak probably won’t end this weekend.

ROUND OF 16 WINNERS

(1) Ohio State
(3) Syracuse

The Buckeyes could have some problems with whoever emerges from the Kentucky/West Virginia quadrant of the draw, but seem like an unlikely team to lose before a regional final.

Syracuse is an interesting element, in that it isn’t destroying teams but hasn’t looked truly awful itself since a late January loss to Seton Hall in the Carrier Dome. North Carolina is talented but young; put them in Newark (virtual Syracuse territory, given the school’s large New York fanbase) and get stuck with a cold shooting night against the Orange’s zone, and that could be that for the Tar Heels.

REGIONAL CHAMP

(1) Ohio State

An interesting potential regional finale. The Buckeyes didn’t exactly dominate on a neutral floor in the Big Ten tournament, but some of that might have had to do with a desperate/quirky opponent (Northwestern) and an annoying matchup (Michigan, which lost three games to Thad Matta’s usually dominant team by a combined 20 points) before the league final. Syracuse can probably make this interesting, but Ohio State seems less vulnerable than anyone else in the field.

Patrick Stevens