- Kate Fagan, Columnist, espnW.com
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Players and coaches will say all of the right things -- about how you have to beat the best to be the best, and how every team in the NCAA tournament must be feared.
But don't let that rhetoric fool you. The folks at Colorado and Delaware are probably looking at the bracket right now and grimacing.
No. 5 seed Colorado drew a first-round matchup against No. 12 Kansas, from the rough-and-tumble Big 12 Conference. Meanwhile, No. 6 seed Delaware is in a similar position against No. 11 West Virginia, another Big 12 squad.
Never mind that Kansas was probably the last team to sneak into the tourney and the Jayhawks, like the Mountaineers, accumulated a number of losses playing in a strong conference. What makes both squads scary is they also gained valuable experience against upper-echelon teams. Kansas has two victories against ranked opponents, which is one more than Colorado, currently ranked 18th in the country, can boast. And West Virginia played nine ranked squads, winning three of those games; Delaware played only one ranked opponent, losing to Maryland by 16 points in December when the Terps were No. 9 in the nation.
Obviously, Kansas and West Virginia are double-digit seeds because they also racked up some bad losses, proving themselves inconsistent. But that doesn't change the fact that Colorado and Delaware are now facing seasoned opponents in the opening round rather than wide-eyed newbies.
And this means the Buffaloes and Fightin' Blue Hens will probably need to readjust their thinking.
If you look at the rest of the teams seeded No. 4 through No. 6, they're paired mostly against opponents from mid-major conferences -- talented programs, no doubt, but not ones that possess the type of experience that comes from being tested nightly in a league like the Big 12.
Colorado is also hosting the first and second rounds. Given their national ranking, the Buffaloes likely assumed they would be welcoming one of those aforementioned mid-major squads, a team that would be traveling to Boulder to play a ranked opponent for maybe just the second or third time this season. Instead, the Buffaloes face a Jayhawks squad that has played in Colorado's Coors Events Center almost 50 times in the arena's history (Colorado and Kansas used to be Big 12 rivals), and Kansas has already faced eight ranked teams this season.
Every year, bubble teams from the major conferences get slotted as No. 11 and No. 12 seeds. And every year, the higher-seeded teams paired against them are presented with a mental challenge, quickly realizing they are not the big-shot squad playing the usual upstart underdog. Instead, they're facing another big-shot team, just one that happens to have had an up-and-down season.
The players and coaches on Colorado and Delaware will say all of the right things -- that every team in the NCAA tournament is tough and there are no easy games.
But let's be honest -- the bracket threw them a bit of a curve.
14dBonnie D. Ford