- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

Bracket bully

Connecticut: OK, we know the Huskies dropped the sled in New York, but they won’t have to worry about any G Mac miracles in the Big Bracket. Nobody has remotely comparable talent to Jim Calhoun’s roster. UConn can hurt you inside (Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone and Jeff Adrien), outside (Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown) and in transition (Marcus Williams and Rudy Gay).

The Big East quarterfinal loss to Syracuse should have been an emotional wake-up call; the Huskies probably now realize they actually need to play for a bit longer than 10 minutes against legitimate teams. But this team has so many weapons that it can almost sleepwalk to Indianapolis. The best defense against the Huskies is the prayer that Williams never emerges from the delusion that he’s a shooting guard.

Bracket busts

Tennessee: A No. 2 seed? Please. The Volunteers had a superb renaissance under first-year coach Bruce Pearl, knocking off a pair of then-No. 2 teams along the way (Texas and Florida). But how do you lose four of your last six games, including your conference tournament opener to South Carolina and steal a No. 2 seed? Tennessee guards C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton have serious game, but the Vols struggled against legit bigs and have no business as Elite Eight chalk. Justice will be served, most likely in the Sweet 16 at Verizon Center, by the Michigan State/ North Carolina winner.

The buzz

PHILLY

Combination of UConn, ‘Nova and Kentucky likely to sell a few cheesesteaks.

AIR FORCE

Last-in cadets get a bid over Cincinnati, Creighton, Michigan and FSU.

DWARVES

Washington coach Lorenzo Romar must be allergic to forwards.

HUSKIES

Washington and UConn could meet in the Sweet 16.

Bracket bests

Talent: Rudy Gay. And maybe someday he actually will learn how to play the game.

Youth: UNC. Tyler Hansbrough and Co. get better every time they step on the floor.

Suspenders: Bruce Pearl, Tennessee. Pearl’s bright orange nightmares have replaced Gene Keady’s comb-over as our favorite coaching accouterment.

Matchup madness

Michigan State vs. North Carolina: This likely second-round game in Dayton features a pair of deep, young dark-horse squads with elite traditions capable of making it all the way to Indianapolis. Enjoy Izzo vs. Williams and Davis vs. Hansbrough.

Connecticut vs. Illinois: This possible Sweet 16 matchup would feature two of the top NBA point guard prospects in the nation in UConn’s Marcus Williams and Illinois’ Dee Brown. Williams has oodles of help inside, but Brown has the ability to take over a game single-handedly (ask the Huskies about Gerry McNamara).

Dream draw

Illinois: The first weekend works nicely for the Illini, who face unimpressive Air Force in the first round before a meeting with overrated Washington or WAC runner-up Utah State. Seniors Dee Brown and James Augustine were key players in last year’s run to the title game. Illinois probably will not defeat Connecticut, but it should be one of the four teams that advance to Verizon Center next weekend.

Nightmare draw

Kentucky: Say hello, and goodbye, to the Wildcats, who sneaked in to the bracket on past reputation and summarily will be booted out. If UAB doesn’t get them — the Blazers just authored an upset of Memphis — Connecticut is certain to force the Bluegrass State to turn its attention to the Derby before the first weekend comes to a close.

Layups

• The D.C. bracket features more coaches with an NCAA tournament crown on the resume than any other region. UConn’s Jim Calhoun (2), North Carolina’s Roy Williams (1), Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (1) and Kentucky’s Tubby Smith (1) each has completed the six-game March marathon at least once.

cAlbany’s Great Danes of the America East Conference are making their first NCAA tournament appearance.

MASCOT MADNESS

There won’t be any lions, but tigers, bears and an assortment of other fauna will populate this year’s tournament field. A look at the most common mascots, with spelling adjustments taken into account:

MascotTotalSchools

Eagles4Boston College, Marquette, Oral Roberts, Winthrop

Wildcats4Arizona, Davidson, Kentucky, Villanova

Panthers3Northern Iowa, Pittsburgh, Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Tigers3LSU, Memphis, Pacific

Bruins2Belmont, UCLA

Huskies2Connecticut, Washington

Indigenous persons2Illinois, San Diego State

Jaguars2South Alabama, Southern

Pirates2Hampton, Seton Hall

Wolfpack2Nevada, N.C. State

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