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NCAA Tournament has winners, losers

By Luke DeCock
Raleigh News & Observer
When the NCAA builds the bracket, it creates winners and losers.
No one lost more than Virginia Tech. The Hokies really, honestly, truly believed they had clinched a bid with that last-second ACC Tournament win over Florida State on Friday.
No one is a bigger winner than Kansas, which just like Virginia Tech is staying home — but in a different way. The Jayhawks don’t have to leave Big 12 country to play in Tulsa, San Antonio and Houston.
As for the rest of the NCAA bracket …
SNUBBED
— 1. Virginia Tech: The committee had so little respect for the ACC that it took more teams out of the SEC. It also took a third team out of the CAA (Virginia Commonwealth)over a fifth team from the ACC (the Hokies).
— 2. St. Mary’s: A near-annual fixture in this space, the Gaels just can’t buy a break from the committee. And really, they weren’t even next in line. Of course, they could take care of this themselves by winning the WCC tournament.
— 3. Colorado: The Buffaloes thought they locked down a bid with a win over Kansas State on Thursday. In a head-to-head comparison, their resume appeared substantially better than Southern Cal’s.
DARK HORSES
— 1. Texas (West Regional, No. 4): The Longhorns are 3-4 in their past seven, but they get to start close to home in Tulsa and would potentially face Duke in Anaheim, Calif., after a cross-country trip for the Blue Devils. Don’t count out Texas quite yet.
— 2. Purdue (Southwest Regional, No. 3): Even without Robbie Hummel (again), the Boilermakers have two individual stars in JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. They score, they defend and their road starts close to home in Chicago.
— 3. Belmont (Southeast Regional, No. 13): The Atlantic Sun champions lost to Vanderbilt once and Tennessee twice, and their best nonconference win is over Middle Tennessee State. But stats wonks love their statistical profile, which is Final Four-caliber.
OVERRATED
— 1. St. John’s (Southeast regional, No. 6): The Red Storm could win the NCAA tournament … if all six games were played in Madison Square Garden and officiated by Big East referees. A great home-court team (including that win over Duke), but that’s about it.
— 2. Butler (Southeast Regional, No. 8): Don’t pick a team a year late. Just don’t do it. The Bulldogs have a great young coach and return a handful of key players, but they had to win the Horizon League tournament to get in and draw a tough opening opponent in Old Dominion.
— 3. Southern California (Southwest Regional, No. 11 first-round game): A textbook NIT team that somehow found its way into the field. The Trojans’ RPI was worse than College of Charleston and Iona’s. Were O.J. Mayo and Reggie Bush on the committee?
EASIEST PATH
— 1. Kansas (Southwest Regional, No. 1): The Jayhawks get cushy sub-regional and regional sites in Tulsa and San Antonio, with a bunch of underachieving big names. And the No. 2 seed, Notre Dame, faces a devilishly tough game against either Texas A&M or Florida State should they advance to the second round.
— 2. San Diego State (West Regional, No. 2): After opening against Northern Colorado, the Aztecs could face a bunch of East Coast teams in Tucson, Ariz., and Anaheim. Only two other teams from the Pacific and Mountain time zones are in the entire West bracket.
— 3. Florida (Southeast Regional, No. 2): I’m not sure what exactly the Gators did to earn this kind of treatment, but they play in Tampa and New Orleans and are paired with a No. 3 seed, BYU, that would surely lose four more players to honor-code violations in the Big Easy.
NO FAVORS
— 1. Washington (East Regional, No. 7): The Huskies won the Pac-10 tournament on an amazing shot, and the committee rewarded them with a cross-country flight to possibly play North Carolina in a virtual third-round road game in Charlotte.
— 2. Ohio State (East Regional, No. 1): The tournament’s top overall seed has to play, potentially, Kentucky, Syracuse or North Carolina. Those are three pretty good coaches.
—. Temple (West Regional, No. 7) and Penn State (West Regional, No. 10): Two Pennsylvania teams have to fly to Arizona to play each other. Wasn’t the pod system supposed to prevent this kind of needless travel?
EARLY UPSETS (Southeast Region edition)
— 1. Utah State (Southeast Regional, No. 12): No one sees the Aggies, because the WAC is on late-night TV more than infomercials for exercise gadgets. But they face an erratic Kansas State team that had two players quit in midseason.
— 2. Gonzaga (Southeast Regional, No. 11): The Zags aren’t the Zags that the Zags used to be, but they are relatively close to home (Denver), facing a St. John’s team that lost road games to Fordham and St. Mary’s.
— 3. Michigan State (Southeast Regional, No. 10): The Spartans open with UCLA after a cross-country trip, and Kalin Lucas is finally rounding into health, which changes the way Michigan State plays completely. No one prepares better during the tournament than Tom Izzo.

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