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Field of 65 is set, so let the Madness begin


The NCAA Tournament selection committee had an especially difficult job this year -- and it did a phenomenal job overall in choosing this year's field of 65. The committee rewarded mid-majors for great seasons. Remember, every year deserving teams will be left out. Here's my take on Selection Sunday ... and let March Madness begin!

This year, Utah State has to be the biggest snub. My heart goes out to the Aggies -- talk about Heartbreak Hotel. They're the classic case of a mid-major that got snubbed. Utah State finished with a 25-3 record and is ranked No. 22 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. The Aggies lost by just a point in the Big West tournament semifinals.

I don't really have a problem with Saint Joseph's as a No. 1 seed after the loss to Xavier in the A-10 quarterfinals. Sure, you could make a case for some other schools, but the Hawks were rewarded for a sensational regular season in which they were unbeaten (and they played a tough nonconference schedule).

Pittsburgh got a raw deal being a No. 3 seed after winning the Big East regular season (with just four losses overall). Plus, the Panthers potentially could play Wisconsin in Milwaukee in the second round.

Even though the Big Ten was down a bit this season, the top three Big Ten teams should have been seeded higher than they were. Illinois (No. 5 in Atlanta), Wisconsin (No. 6 in N.J.) and Michigan State (No. 7 in St. Louis) can play with top competition. Michigan State struggled early against an incredibly tough nonconference schedule but bounced back strong. Wisconsin should have been a No. 4 or even a No. 3.

But these 65 teams are so close. We make such a big deal out of the seeds, but the bottom line is you've got to play, man! To win the national title, you've got to win six straight games ... you've got to survive and advance. Whatever your seed, you're going to face tough competition -- maybe not in the first round as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but there are very few easy games when March Madness begins.

Atlanta is the toughest region. When you see North Carolina as a No. 6 seed, Duke as the top seed, Arizona (9) and Seton Hall (8) along with Louisville (10) and Mississippi State (2) -- wow, that region is loaded, baby!

Atlanta Region -- North Carolina (6)
East Rutherford Region -- Wisconsin (6)
St. Louis Region -- Michigan State (7)
Phoenix Region -- Syracuse (5)

Duke (Atlanta)
Pittsburgh (East Rutherford)
Kentucky (St. Louis)
UConn (Phoenix)

Title Game -- Kentucky-Duke
National Champion -- Kentucky

Remember, the NCAA is no longer identifying regions by East, South, Midwest and West. Given the relatively new pod system that keeps teams closer to home, it made sense to the NCAA to identify regions by the sites for the regional semifinals/finals (the four locations listed below). Also, keep in mind that a No. 5 seed has defeated a No. 12 in 15 of the past 16 years.

Seton Hall (8) vs. Arizona (9) -- Arizona has a tremendous starting five and plays well in transition, but the Wildcats lack depth. Seton Hall has an outstanding point guard, senior Andre Barrett. The matchup of Barrett vs. diaper dandy Mustafa Shakur will be worth watching. I give the slightest edge in this contest to the Pirates -- hey, I can't go against my alma mater, Seton Hall! But Arizona is a dangerous team.

Texas Tech (8) vs. Charlotte (9) -- I give Texas Tech the edge. I love senior guard Andre Emmett, and coach Bob Knight is so tough at tournament time. Certainly, Coach Bobby Lutz's club is a formidable foe, led by sophomore forward Curtis Withers and senior guard Demon Brown. But somehow, some way Knight and Co. will get it done.

Florida (5) vs. Manhattan (12) -- Manhattan's Bobby Gonzalez is one of the rising stars in coaching, and senior guard Luis Flores can flat-out play. But after facing the competition in the tough SEC, Florida is ready for this first-round challenge. Coach Billy Donovan's kids have developed good chemistry, and I feel the Gators will win in a close battle.

Washington (8) vs. UAB (9) -- Washington is a young team with an explosive little guy, 5-9 sophomore Nate Robinson. The Huskies came on strong at the end of the season, ending Stanford's unbeaten season and beating Arizona three times (a feat that had never been done since Lute Olson has coached the Wildcats). But UAB gets good guard play from senior Morris Finley and sophomore Carldell Johnson. UAB has been underrated and played tough competition in Conference USA, and I give the Blazers the edge in this game.

Providence (5) vs. Pacific (12) -- The Friars really need to regroup after losing three straight games. Earlier, the Friars were playing super basketball. With Ryan Gomes and Co., they should have too much firepower for veteran coach Bob Thomas and Pacific (who lost to Duke by 13 this season).

Alabama (8) vs. Southern Illinois (9) -- Alabama has faced a tough SEC schedule. Sophomore forward Kennedy Winston can flat-out play, and junior guard Earnest Shelton is underrated as a scorer. That combo will be too tough for the Salukis, who hail from from the Missouri Valley Conference. By the way, Alabama coach Mark Gottfried learned a lesson several years ago when he didn't get into the Big Dance because of a weak nonconference schedule. He changed his philosophy, and it's paid off.

Syracuse (5) vs. BYU (12) -- BYU beat Oklahoma State, which is arguably the best nonconference win of any Mountain West team. The Cougars feature a dynamite big man, 6-11 senior center Rafael Araujo, who could cause problems inside for the Orangemen. But I feel that a number of factors will put Syracuse over the top: the 2-3 zone; the ability of sophomore guard Gerry McNamara to shoot from the perimeter; the winning experience from last year's tournament; and Hakim Warrick, who is playing as well as any forward in America right now. These factors give the edge to coach Jim Boeheim and the defending national champions.

Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he's been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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