Wednesday, March 15, 2006

NCAA: ATL Region

1. DukeDukeDukeDukeDuke
16. Southern U
8. G. WashingtonG. Wash
9. NC-Wilmington
5. Syracuse'Cuse'Cuse
12. Texas A&M
4. LSUIona
13. Iona
6. West VirginiaWVUWVUWVU
11. Southern Ill.
3. IowaIowa
14. N'western St.
7. CalNC StateTexas
10. NC State
2. TexasTexas
15. Penn

I had a hard time picking Duke out of this region, since I plenty of flaws in them. However, judging by the rest of the competition, I don't really see any other viable choice. In fact, I've entered two pools, and the only team I'm picking for the Final Four in both is Duke.

Let's go over the upsets first, most notably Iona over LSU. Their slimmest margin of victory over the past three games has been 16 (they won the other two by 19 and 26). Before that, they have strung together an impressive string of wins, and haven't lost by more than six since January 6th. Maybe the MAAC isn't the toughest conference, but let's be honest, neither is the SEC.

As for LSU, it's not that they've played terribly, but I just don't like what I see. They strung together seven straight wins before being manhandled by an unimpressive Florida team in the SEC semifinals, but their only impressive victories in that run came over bottom feeders like Vanderbilt and Mississipi State. We know a few first round upsets are in the offing, and I believe this one is a safe bet.

I struggled with the next two games, and flip-flopped the picks between my two brackets. WVU hasn't been very impressive since the turn of the New Year, but remember, they play in the toughest conference in the nation. The Salukis are always good for an upset, but in my strong bracket, I still have WVU overcoming them, mainly because of tournament experience and that they start four seniors. If they beat the Salukis, they stand a great chance of heading deep into the tournament. They just need to get the ball rolling.

The Iowa-Northwestern State game should be a no-brainer in most books, but I struggled with it. My initial inclination was to pick an upset in this game, but logic forced me to pick Iowa. However, there is still plenty of potential for an upset here. The Demons are 18-2 in 2006, and the vast majority of their playing time goes to juniors and seniors.

Finally, we have NC State-Cal, and while I like Cal (mainly because of the USC prank), NC plays in a tougher conference, and has to be motivated by recent losses to ranked and/or hot teams (UNC, BC, and twice to the red-hot Wake Forest team). Normally, I don't like picking a team with a losing streak headed into the tourney, especially as an underdog. But I have a feeling that the Wolfpack won't let their losing streak extend to five.