- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eight things to watch

1. What does a title mean to Georgetown?

As it turns out, a No. 2 seed. The Hoyas’ Big East regular-season title is nice, but they did very little of note outside the league. All seven teams ahead of them on the board are more accomplished and probably would be worth picking in a head-to-head neutral court game. Still, there’s nothing wrong with staying on the Eastern seaboard for the first two weeks.

2. Mason magic could re-emerge

The committee isn’t supposed to take matchups into account, but there was no reason to shift Connecticut and George Mason away from each other in a 4-13 game. The Patriots stunned the Huskies at Verizon Center two years ago in a regional final, and a rematch would be the buzz of the first weekend. It probably won’t happen, but it certainly would be a fitting way for Jim Larranaga’s team to return to the tournament.

3. The Mount’s reward a ticket to Dayton, Ohio

Kudos to Mount St. Mary’s for winning the Northeast Conference as a No. 4 seed, knocking off Robert Morris and Sacred Heart on the road en route to its first bid since 1999. Now the Mountaineers need to pack their bags and head to the play-in game Tuesday. Certainly, another contender could emerge (especially if Northwestern State wins the Southland today), but the Mount probably will have to fight for the right to face a No. 1 seed.

4. American dreamer

As an NCAA tournament first-timer, few teams could wind up a wide-eyed as American. And a potential meeting with Duke about a half-hour away from the Blue Devils’ campus could leave the Eagles seeing stars. Nonetheless, it’s a great cap to fine season for Jeff Jones’ crew, which has defeated an ACC team on its home court (Maryland) and run through the Patriot League tournament to reach the tournament.

5. Mid-majors on edge

Among the teams that lost in unenviable ways in their respective conference tournaments were South Alabama (at home in the semifinals), Illinois State (waxed in its final), Virginia Commonwealth (in the semifinals on a pseudo-home court) and Massachusetts (blowing a huge lead in the quarterfinals). Some might get in, but these will be the teams killed if the borderline Pac-10 teams (Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon) hear their names called.

6. Home cooking for UCLA

North Carolina could wind up staying in its home state until the Final Four, but UCLA has a friendly road, too, starting in Anaheim, Calif. Stanford will join the Bruins there. Other pod assignments: Raleigh, N.C. (Duke and North Carolina); Birmingham, Ala. (Georgetown and Tennessee); Tampa, Fla. (Connecticut and Pittsburgh); Omaha, Neb. (Kansas and Wisconsin); Little Rock, Ark. (Memphis and Texas); Denver (Washington State and Michigan State) and Washington (Louisville and Xavier).

7. The top spot goes to

North Carolina, which rolled through the nation’s No. 1-ranked league with only two losses. One came while point guard Ty Lawson was injured. None came on the road, where the Tar Heels are 13-0. Tennessee, Memphis, Texas and UCLA merited consideration. But on paper, Carolina is the nation’s best team and should be recognized as such with the No. 1 overall seed.

8. Variables in play today

A team capable of ruining someone’s day is Illinois, the 10th seed in the Big Ten tournament that has nevertheless reached the conference final against Wisconsin. The 16-18 Illini were swept by double-digit margins in both meetings with Wisconsin, and the Badgers have only played two games in Indianapolis to Illinois’ three. Meanwhile, a Northwestern State win in the Southland final would bump Texas-Arlington from the field and send the Demons to the play-in game.

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