The Pac-10 has four teams into the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and all four will be favored to win their first game. Things will get a lot tougher after that, though.
The teams, Arizona, Washington, UCLA, and USC, are distributed across the 4 regions, and so none of them will face each other unless at least two of them reach the final four, in Houston. Lets look at their brackets, and which one has the best chance at getting to their regional "Sweet 16" site, to help you decide how to fill out your bracket, as well as some other interesting developments that the NCAA selection committee has given basketball fans.
Arizona, the Pac-10 regular season champions, after ending Oregon St.'s season 78-69, and defeating USC 67-62, lost to Washington 77-75, on Isiah Thomas' buzzer beating jumper in overtime, in the conference tournament championship game, ending a 4 game Wildcat winning streak. The winner of the 'Cats and TIgers' clawfest will probably meet Texas. The Longhorns (27-7), who finished second in the Big XII, are favored against Oakland (25-9), from Rochester, MI, a suburb of Detroit. The Golden Grizzlies are the champions of the Summit Conference.
The portion of the Arizona athletic department that gets left home for the weekend will get to see San Diego St. (32-2), who received a second seed despite losing twice to BYU, who were bumped down to a third seed, a result of the Aztecs defeating the Cougars 72-54 in their third meeting, in the Mt. West conference tournament championship game.
The biggest hurdle awaiting Arizona of San Diego St. should they get to Anaheim will probably be Duke (30-4).
Washington (23-10), after winning the Pac-10 tournament for the second consecutive year, and gaining a guaranteed berth in the "Big Dance", weren't rewarded for that as much as they were punished for their 10 losses, including one in Gill Coliseum, against Oregon St. The Huskies are a seventh seed, and have to travel cross country, playing their first game on Friday against Georgia (21-11). The Bulldogs, who finished tied for third in the SEC Eastern Division, lost to Alabama 65-59 in overtime in their second game in the SEC tournament, but should have a strong supporting contingent, being from relatively just down the road, compared to the trip the Huskies are facing.
The Huskies will be favored, but it will be a tough draw because of the travel. Should Washington prevail, the odds are not at all good of their getting to Newark the next week, because their second opponent will most like be North Carolina (26-7). The Tar Heels not only got a second seed, they also got to essentially open with home games, in Charlotte, despite getting beaten soundly in the ACC tournament championship game, losing to Duke 75-58. North Carolina will be heavy favorites to defeat Long Island (27-5) in their game Friday. The Blackbirds dominated the Northeast Conference, winning both the regular season race, and the conference tournament, finishing with an 85-82 overtime win over Robert Morris, Morris his cat, and a few of his friends. The win extended Long Island's win streak to 13 games.
The Blue Devils have to be blue in the face, as, despite defeating their rivals two out of three times this year, they are the ones who will have to travel cross country should they win their first two games, which also happen to be in Charlotte, while the Tar Heels, and Ohio St. the #1 seed in the East , probably get to make the trip to the regionals without leaving the eastern time zone.
Though the teams are spread across two different regions on the bracket, there may be as much talent in the building in Charlotte Friday as anywhere.
Because of the relative strength of the teams the Huskies have been thrown in with, if Washington makes noise next weekend, they will be amongst this season's bracket busters.
UCLA (22-10) also received a seventh seed, probably charitable in light of their stumbling finish to the season. The Bruins, having lost 70-63 at Washington, and barely beating a depleted Washington St. team 58-54 in overtime in Pullman, while the Cougs were playing without their two best players, proceeded to lose what was essentially a home game in the Staples Center to Oregon in their first game in the Pac-10 tournament. The Ducks, a sub .500 team, thrashed UCLA 76-59.
UCLA opens up in Tampa on Thursday, against Michigan St. (19-14). The Spartans also got a charitable seed as a #10, after losing their three of their final six games, including a 61-48 blowout at the hands of Penn St. in the Big-10 tournament. This after Michigan St. finished in a 4 way tied for fourth through seventh in the Big 10/11ths.
If Charlotte is a loaded building, the eastern sub-regional in Tampa is any thing but. The Bruins and the Spartans are in the building to sell tickets, as their combined NCAA history will draw more fans, and more television viewers, than this season's teams will. UCLA has the chance to make hay if they can get themselves back on track though, as they will be favored over Michigan St., and the next opponent is Florida (26-7).
The Gators are another eastern team essentially playing a home game (notice how that doesn't happen to teams from the west?), but the regular season SEC Champions are very fortunate to be a second seed. Already ranked outside the top10 going into the SEC tournament, the Gators advanced to the title game, but were routed there by Kentucky 70-54. It was Florida's second loss of the season to the 8 loss Wildcats, after having only beaten them 70-68 in Gainsville.
The Gators, with a huge fan base facing a short, cross-peninsula drive, also designed to fill seats, should still beat UC-Santa Barbra (18-13) in the other first round game.The Gauchos, after an 8-8 regular season, which left them fifth in the Big West Conference, had to win their conference tournament to earn a guaranteed berth in the tournament, which they did, capped by a 64-58 win over Long Beach St., a team that had twice beaten UCSB during the regular season.
USC (19-14) is the fourth Pac-10 team to make the NCAA Tournament, and they will have an even longer and more winding route ahead. The Trojans finished fourth in the regular season in the Pac-10, and had to play their way off the bubble, with a 70-56 win over California in their first conference tournament game, becoming the third team, along with Arizona and Washington, to lose to Oregon St. in Corvallis, and go on to reach the NCAA tournament.
After doing so, Trojans' coach Kevin O'Neil got into a verbal exchange with an Arizona fan, and got himself suspended for the remainder of the Pac-10 tournament. Arizona's 5 point win came with assistant coach Bob Cantu coaching USC. O'Neil will be back in front of the Trojans' the bench this week.
USC is one of eight teams that will have to win 7 NCAA tournament games, not 6, to claim the National Championship. After several years of the NCAA staging a single game in Dayton, Ohio, between the 64th. & 65th. seeded teams, expanded the tournament to 68 teams, starting this season. Now, there will be four games, as the four lowest rated teams that received guaranteed berths and the last four teams to get at-large bids, and the Trojans are one of them, will compete for the opportunity to go on to the round of 64.
The Trojans face Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) from the Colonial Athletic Association on Wednesday, with the winner flying west to Chicago to play Friday. However, the winner will be rewarded, not with a 16 seed, like the winners from among the automatic qualifiers' play-on playoff games, but an 11 seed in the Southwest region. (Strangely, the arena isn't in southwest Chicago...)
USC's opponent is part of one of the biggest stories of selection Sunday. The Rams were uncommonly wealthy in terms of NCAA committee love, receiving a heavily criticized bid over future Pac-12 member Colorado and West Coast Conference regular season co-champion St. Mary's, who finished 25-8.
The Buffaloes finished 21-13, but had 6 wins over top 50 teams, including three over Kansas St., a #5 seed, as well as wins over Texas, and Missouri, who received an NCAA 11th. seed bid, and one that did not require a play-in game, despite finishing tied for fifth in the Big XII with Colorado.
So while VCU gets an NCAA berth, Colorado will host Texas Southern (19-12), in the first round of the NIT. Beaver fans will recall the Tigers beating Oregon St. 66-60 back on November. 21st. St. Mary's also fell into the NIT, though that could be a good break in the long run for both teams, who stand a better chance of making a run in that tournament.
Should the Trojans get past the Rams, they have a reasonable chance at another win against Georgetown (21-10). The injury hampered Hoyas finished eighth in the Big East, which has the best marketing department in the NCAA, getting all 11 teams that finished above .500 into the tournament.
Moving on to New Orleans might even be possible, as USC would next face either Purdue (25-7), the Big 10 runnerup, or St. Peters (20-13), who finished fourth in the MAAC (which stands for Middle-Atlantic Athletic Conference, NOT Mediocre-Awful Athletic Conference, contrary to popular opinion, and the burden of evidence), but then won the conference tournament, and despite that record, still avoided the play-in round.
Arizona and, surprisingly, USC look to have the best chances to survive opening weekend, while UCLA has a fair chance, and Washington has their work cut out for them. Picking a team to upset a Carolina team playing in effectively a home game, historically is a bracket busting choice.
SB Nation has the complete, printable bracket available, and it includes the link to the brother blog to Buildingthedam.com that covers each teams.
Fill yours out, and maybe you can get further than the teams do!
If that's not enough bracketology for you, you can bracket your friends as well.
Ever wish that more things worked like the college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/bffbrackets/