Oh, that tricky NCAA.
You can’t tell me it didn’t have an ulterior motive when it perhaps over-seeded the Kansas Jayhawks by one rung and undervalued the accomplishments of Wichita State, slapping it with a desultory No. 7 seed.
Of course, if both teams don’t throw up on themselves and lose in the first round on Friday, the NCAA has seen to it we’ll finally have the game the Jayhawks refuse to schedule and the Shockers so desperately thirst for.
Kansas is first up at 11:15 a.m. against a New Mexico State team that has the perfect formula to perhaps pull off the rare 2-vs.-15 upset. The Jayhawks typically play down to the level of their competition and it doesn’t get much lower than a 15-seed.
The youthful Jayhawks put their battered-and-bruised bodies up against an Aggie team that may be short on talent when compared to KU, but there’s no substitute for seniors and NMS has an abundance. New Mexico State earlier rattled off a 13-game winning streak and given the fluidity of KU’s injury situation, the Jayhawks could be primed to be plucked. Perry Ellis needs to be Perry Ellis or it will be a short stay in Omaha.
Wichita State plays Indiana right after at 1:45 and if it didn’t “play angry” before, it’s going to be hopping mad now. The 28-4 Shockers, coming off last year’s brilliant season, should be insulted by their No. 7 seed, but energized about the possibility of facing KU. Indiana is one of the blue-blood programs of college basketball, though it’s been somewhat down this year, barely scraping into the tournament with a pedestrian 20-13 record.
Should KU and WSU finally play, maybe it will be the impetus of starting a series between the teams. Bill Self has been steadfast in avoiding the Shockers, believing the game serves no purpose for his team and is a detriment, even though they recruit a different caliber player than WSU, which doesn’t even get a sniff from a McDonald’s All-American. The Shockers, of course, would go in with the attitude they have nothing to lose.
I hope they do play because this is an NCAA Tournament that seems to be void of storylines. Maybe it’s because Kentucky is such an overwhelming favorite that it’s turned some people off. While the Wildcats don’t shoot it all that well, they are so staunch defensively they don’t have to score a lot of points.
But they still have to play the games and here’s how I see things shaking down:
• EAST •
Villanova is the No. 1 seed, but I love the toughness of Virginia. It plays as suffocating of defense as any team I’ve seen in a long time. If you’re looking for a sleeper, don’t snooze on Missouri Valley Tournament champion Northern Iowa. A smart, disciplined team that plays great defense. Maybe the weakest of the four regionals.
• SOUTH •
I’ve picked against Duke a lot the last few years, but it is the class of the regional. I’m not a big fan of No. 2-seed Gonzaga as its schedule doesn’t lend itself to playing several good teams in a row. I would love to say Stephen F. Austin is my sleeper since McPherson native Brad Underwood is the coach, but it’s Iowa State which could make a run.
• MIDWEST •
Kentucky. Why bother with the rest? Notre Dame will be its victim in the regional finals.
• WEST •
It’s all lined up for an Arizona-Wisconsin final. Who knows, this might be the time for Roy Williams to make a run with an 11-loss North Carolina team that played a brutal schedule. Wisconsin still looks like the pick.
• SEMIFINALS •
The chant ACC! ACC! will be cannonading through the Hoosier Dome. Look for Duke to get the best of Virginia because of its great backcourt.
Kentucky will struggle with Wisconsin, which has to bury 3-pointers to have a chance. The Wildcats, though, always seem to find a way.
• FINALS •
The Indiana boys of 1976 have had a great run as being the last undefeated team. But it’s going to end as Kentucky’s NBA team wins it all.