- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Theory: At least one 12 will knock off a 5

Everyone likes to pick upsets, and there’s no safer bet than at least one No. 12 seed pulling a mild first-round surprise. It has happened at least once in 20 of the 22 tournaments since the field expanded to 64, including the last six years. Often, the 5-12 special can be determined by finding an overrated major conference team or ranked squad paired with a tested small-conference team.

In practice: The obvious choice in this year’s bracket is at-large pick Old Dominion to take out Butler in the Midwest Region. The Monarchs won 12 straight before a CAA semifinal loss to George Mason, won big on the road (Georgetown) and collected 15 wins in a reputable league. Butler split its last eight games and is a bit removed from its excellent start. Alternate pick: Arkansas over Southern Cal.

THEORY: A veteran 13+ seed will win an opener

There are mounds of evidence to support the concept that a deep, experienced team from any league can give a titan fits. No. 14 Northwestern State fit the profile last year when it knocked off Iowa; a year earlier, it was No. 13 Vermont against Syracuse. Some of the most memorable tournament upsets (including No. 13 Princeton over UCLA in 1996 and No. 13 Valparaiso over Ole Miss in 1998) easily fit this profile.

In practice: Five of Wright State’s top six scorers entered the season with some starting experience (the other is a freshman). The Raiders have won 11 of 13 and became less vulnerable even to a close game as the conference schedule progressed. Pittsburgh holds a significant size advantage but has split its last eight games and has a history of getting into the low-scoring games Wright prefers to play.

THEORY: A No. 3 seed or higher will reach the Final Four

A collection of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds has accounted for the entire Final Four roster just once (1993) since seeding was adopted in 1979. Last year produced an especially wild tournament, with No. 3 Florida, No. 4 Louisiana State and No. 11 George Mason all reaching Indianapolis. There might not be another Mason out there, but another Florida is a distinct possibility.

In practice: The best options for a “surprise” come out of the Big 12. No. 3 Texas A&M is paired with the weakest No. 2 seed (Memphis) in the South Region and is equipped to handle the slog it would face in a potential regional final with Ohio State. No. 4 Texas is a wild card thanks to freshman Kevin Durant, and possible meetings with North Carolina and Georgetown are fascinating. A&M, though, is the better bet.

THEORY: No matter the year, Duke is Duke

Not to go all Encyclopedia Britannica, but the Blue Devils have been to nine straight regional semifinals, have reached 10 Final Fours, have three national championships under Mike Krzyzewski and still possess enough McDonald’s All-Americans for a one-weekend outburst despite losing three straight to finish the season. The Blue Devils won’t win it all, but they still can win.

In practice: Coach K might want to make a sacrifice (or a commercial) for whatever deity he believes in. The Blue Devils don’t have a pleasant opener against No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth, but the Pittsburgh-Wright State winner will be a manageable matchup in the second round. Gerald Henderson will be back for Duke, which shouldn’t be counted out until they prove otherwise in the postseason.

THEORY: A 10+ seed will reach the regional semifinals

A double-digit seed has crashed the second weekend for the last 11 tournaments, and they sometimes can do even greater damage. Few make it to the Final Four as No. 11 George Mason did last year, but No. 10 Providence (1997), No. 10 Gonzaga (1999), No. 11 Temple (2001), No. 10 Kent State (2002) and No. 12 Missouri (2002) all loitered long enough to reach the Elite Eight.

In practice: Georgia Tech was playing well before a double-overtime loss to Wake Forest, and it doesn’t have an easy road to the second weekend with UNLV in the opener and then likely Wisconsin. But the Yellow Jackets are deep and athletic and could slip through if they remain patient. Another possibility is Missouri Valley champion Creighton, which faces reeling Nevada and probably would get Memphis in Round 2.

THEORY: A savvy point guard is needed to win it all

Could Florida’s Taurean Green be the worst best ballhandler on a national champion in the last 10 years? His predecessors include Mike Bibby, Wayne Turner, Khalid El-Amin, Mateen Cleaves, Jason Williams, Steve Blake, Carmelo Anthony (who basically did everything for 2003 Syracuse), Ben Gordon and Raymond Felton. And Florida didn’t win its title last year in spite of Green.

In practice: The most notable point guards in this year’s tournament are the much-improved Green at Florida, Texas A&M’s Acie Law IV, Sean Singletary of Virginia and UCLA’s Darren Collison. Freshmen Ty Lawson of North Carolina, D.J. Augustin of Texas and Mike Conley Jr. of Ohio State also fit the description. Who might surprise? How about Kansas’ steady Russell Robinson.

THEORY: A “franchise” coach will reach the Final Four

A franchise coach is a guy who is instantly associated with his program, a trait earned with a national title (Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, Coach K), a big profile from a previous stop (John Calipari) or a decade-long run of success at one place with maybe a Final Four sprinkled in along the way (Rick Barnes). In a sport built in part by coaching personalities, there’s always one good coaching story in the Final Four.

In practice: If Donovan wasn’t a franchise coach before last year, he cemented the status with the run to the championship. This year could bring a renewal of a franchise — at Georgetown, where John Thompson III will try to follow his father and lead the Hoyas to a title. If Georgetown doesn’t make it out of the East Region, chances are Roy Williams (North Carolina) or Barnes (Texas) will be there instead.

THEORY: A major conference tournament champ will go down early

Don’t get suckered into the “who’s hot” method of choosing teams. That works well for teams that are legitimately good but not those who figured things out for three days. Syracuse was bounced in the first round last year after winning the Big East. Florida (2005), Maryland (2004), Oregon (2003), Mississippi State (2002), Iowa (2001) and Arkansas (2000) didn’t escape the first weekend. And the list goes on and on.

In practice: A funny thing happened this year — legitimately good teams won all the major conference titles. The most vulnerable of the bunch is Oregon, which will have a test in the second round from either Notre Dame or Winthrop. There remains a lot to like about the Pac-10 champions (especially guard Aaron Brooks), but the Ducks are the most likely to continue this trend in the next week.

THEORY: Late night is a great time for upsets

Remember that great UCLA-Princeton upset in 1996? That was the final game of the night in Indianapolis. How about North Carolina succumbing to Weber State in 1999 in Seattle? Also a game that ended when even college students are bleary-eyed. And Hampton’s stunning defeat of Iowa State in 2001 in Boise? That’s right, the last game of the session.

In practice: The magical 1-16 upset isn’t arriving this year, so that leaves Pittsburgh-Wright State, Southern Cal-Arkansas and Southern Illinois-Holy Cross as the true upset possibilities in the final sessions on Thursday and Friday. Two major conference teams can’t produce a great upset, and Southern Illinois is not universally viewed as a great program as it should. So that leaves Wright State, further burnishing the Raiders’ upset hopes.

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