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Sunday, March 17, 2013
Dana O'Neil's first bracket impressions

By Dana O'Neil

It’s so easy to bash the bracket and, by extension, the NCAA tournament selection committee.

But this is also a subjective process, where beauty is in the eye of the computers and still, the beholder. The country will never see eye-to-eye with the decisions made and no matter how many mock brackets the NCAA holds, plenty will still think the fix is on.

Of course, that’s frankly the beauty of Selection Sunday. If it were easy and boring, we wouldn’t be talking about it.

In the next few days we’ll be able to critique the committee’s job more thoroughly, but for now here are a few bracket first impressions:

A field day for conspiracy theorists

The NCAA tournament selection committee chair this year is Mike Bobinski, who is the athletic director (at least until next month when he takes over at Georgia Tech) at Xavier. And, Xavier is in the Atlantic 10 (at least until this week when the Musketeers join the Big East).

The A-10 received five bids (more than the ACC and the SEC): Saint Louis, the league's conference tournament champion, earned a No. 4 seed, VCU a 5, Butler a 6, Temple a 9 and bubble-dwelling La Salle a 13.

Out West, meanwhile, the Pac-12 also received five bids. Except the league’s conference champion, Oregon, was a 12-seed while Arizona and UCLA came in as 6-seeds, Colorado earned a 10 and Cal another 12.

So was this Bobinski strong-arming the committee to give his league its due?

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case, as the process truly is set up to avoid such personal favoritism.

Russ Smith
Russ Smith and Louisville face what could be a hard road to the Final Four playing in the Midwest Region.
And in truth, is the committee wrong? Was the brand of basketball played in the Atlantic 10 not better than the Pac-12?

So why did we want to be the overall No. 1 seed?

That’s what Louisville has to be thinking right now.

The Cardinals earned the distinction on merit, winning the Big East Tournament in a steamroller of an effort against Syracuse. But Louisville’s reward is a date in the Midwest Region, which apparently was set up by the masochistic dentist who is sidelining on the selection committee.

Yes it’s a nice, easy drive for fans from Louisville to Indianapolis, but they might want to bring some sedatives with them.

The team I believe is the best in the country and the committee tabbed the best in the country has the most difficult road to Atlanta.

In their second game the Cardinals will either get Missouri or Colorado State, two of the best rebounding teams in the country.

Survive that and it’s on to a possible Sweet 16 date with Saint Louis, a team that can match Louisville’s defensive intensity (albeit in a different way) head to head, a team that none other than coach Brad Stevens said could win the whole thing.

Make that, Cards, and congratulations -- you might get Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski in the Elite Eight.

Neither of them know anything about getting to a Final Four, right?

OK, here’s what the committee did right

Enough with the questionable calls, it's time to throw a few rose petals.

Middle Tennessee State, Boise State, La Salle and Saint Mary’s are in the tournament, and that’s a good thing.

Maybe not if you’re a Tennessee or Kentucky fan, but oh well, tough break.

The big-league teams have plenty of chances to prove their worth. Their conferences are set up as NCAA tournament auditions, with brand-name games and RPI-grabbing opportunities weekly. Conjuring up a nonconference schedule isn’t terribly difficult, either.

Try being Middle Tennessee State. You think anyone wants to go to Murfreesboro to play? No. Frankly not too many would be willing hospitable hosts to the Blue Raiders, either. What’s there to gain but a bad loss?

Ditto Boise State. Idaho isn’t on most blueblood’s charter flight patterns.

So what are they to do? How about the best they can, and hope they’re recognized for it.

This year, at least, the committee did just that.

The cruelty of March

Poor Shaka Smart.

When ESPN set up Akron and VCU in a BracketBuster game in 2011, both he and Zips head coach Keith Dambrot prayed it would be the last time.

So much for that.

In Auburn Hills, Mich., Smart and Dambrot will go head-to-head once more and this time it’s a legit bracket buster.

The two are coaching best friends. Smart considers Dambrot a mentor. The two spent three years together at Akron, and Smart was Dambrot’s right-hand man after he was named head coach. Dambrot was even in Smart’s wedding.

Now one will have to beat the other.

“It will be strange for sure," Smart said via text message.

Random thoughts:
The possibility

After the Louisville-Indiana rivalry officially was killed off, Rick Pitino and Tom Crean gave fans -- both local and national -- a little hope when they floated the idea of playing one another next season. It would be a terrific game between two national powers that sit only a short ride from one another.

We very well could get an earlier date.

The two teams that started the season as Nos. 1 and 2 in both polls may be rolling downhill toward a meeting in Atlanta.