Deciphering The Bracket Can Cause A Lot Of Racket

It stares back at you.

You want to turn away but are compelled to look at it.

You can’t help but try to decipher the hieroglyphics, to figure out the lines that connect this spiderweb that lies before you.

So many numbers! One to 64, grouped in four separate brackets.

This is the only time of year you will see it. It will hang around for three weeks, then disappear until next March, for you to do it all again next year.

Of course, I’m talking about filling out your NCAA Tournament Bracket.

Now I know what you’re thinking – isn’t it illegal? And while it is if you put money on it (wink, wink), the following Guide to the Big Dance, March Madness and Hoop Heaven is strictly for entertainment purposes.

Besides, you don’t have to take my word as bond when filling out your brackets, but keep in mind that I did select the entire 1998 Final Four and in last year’s Tourney, I had Duke beating Arizona in the final game, and was within four points of the final score.

But all that is in the past, and the future NCAA Champion will be crowned three weeks from now. But who?

Well, I’ll tell you who it won’t be -Boston University, Winthrop, Siena and Holy Cross. These four are the 16 seeds, and get to be the first-round whipping boys. A 16-seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. NEVER. A snowball has a better chance in hell. A commuter has a better chance of finding a parking spot near Alumni Hall.

In fact, taking a look at the lower seeds in the Tournament, no 13-seed or lower will win a first round game. Teams like Illinois-Chicago, Montana and Davidson are packing underwear for this coming weekend only. If there is an upset from one of these teams, choose Hampton. The Pirates were a 15-seed in last year’s Tournament and shocked two seed Iowa State. This year, Hampton is again a 15-seed, and facing UConn.

The 12 seeds are where things start to get interesting. Every year in the first round, there are match-ups where upsets ALWAYS occur. A 12-seed will always beat a five seed, and this year, three 12-seeds could pull it off. Missouri, Utah and Tulsa have the ability to beat Miami, Indiana and Marquette, respectively.

On a side note, Indiana always scares me in the Tournament, and not in a good way. Before, you could rule out Indiana because of Bob Knight, but I still see them losing in the first round.

Just like the 12 seeds, there are some solid 11 seeds that could make it to the second round. Boston College snuck in and has a favorable first game against Texas. If Troy Bell and Ryan Sidney are on their game, the Eagles have a chance at the Sweet 16. While Wyoming will have trouble with Gonzaga (more on them later), Penn and Southern Illinois have good chances of surviving.

I like Southern Illinois for two reasons – first, their nickname is the Salukis, which for those who don’t know, is a dog. Second, they are playing against Texas Tech, which is coached by none other than….Bobby Knight!

Gonzaga made a living as a 10-seed the past two seasons, advancing to the Sweet 16 each time. Unfortunately for Hawaii, Pepperdine, Kent State and Michigan State, that streak will come to an end this season.

The team that has the long shot is Michigan State, since they are looking to make the Sweet 16 for the fourth straight season. Side note – only the Spartans, Gonzaga and Duke have made the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons. I’d put Michigan State in that position again, only because Hampton will be so worn out after beating Connecticut.

Now that we head to single-digits seeds, we get to talk about your favorite team and mine, St. John’s. The Johnnies have Maryland lurking in the second round, and with the game down in Washington D.C., I fear that the Red Storm might be in a heap of trouble.

In fact, stay away from the 8-9 game completely. They are usually too close to call, but in the end it won’t matter because the No. 1 seeds will beat whoever they play in the second round.

Gonzaga’s name comes up again, since the selection committee decided that the current number six team in the polls was worthy of a six-seed, basically saying that there are 20 teams better than the Bulldogs. After the last three seasons, and a 29-3 record this year, Gonzaga deserved better. And there is no doubt in my mind that they will prove it.

In the end, top seeds will usually prevail, so don’t be surprised if the Elite Eight has no one lower than a five seed. Three of the No. 1 seeds will make it this far, but one will not. Duke, Maryland and Cincinnati will be there, but Kansas will hit a stumbling block along the way.

This is the fifth time under Roy Williams that the Jayhawks have had a No. 1 seed, and they have never won a National Championship. This year will be no different. Maybe the telling sign is that their starting point guard is Kirk Heinrich, which sounds too much like Heimlich. They’ll choke in the Sweet 16.

When Final Four weekend comes around, Duke, Maryland, Illinois and Gonzaga will be the only ones standing. While I think all four are beatable, I think they have the best shots to get to the Championship Game.

And the winner of the 2002 National Championship? An all-ACC affair between Duke and Maryland, with the Blue Devils winning for the second straight year, 89-77.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. It’s your money.

Jason Della Rosa is a junior journalism major who wants a position on the NCAA Selection Committee. Send your picks or comments to [email protected].