Monday March 16th, 2009

Overrated: Xavier The X-men are a solid team, but they're not as offensively potent as last year's Elite Eight squad and they're much sloppier with the ball. Losers of five of their final 10 games of the season, the Musketeers were given a four-seed while the two other A-10 teams in the field, Dayton and Temple, were both given 11s. That's too big a spread given Xavier only won the league by a game and lost in the tourney semis. The committee gave them credit for a torrid first month of the season, but since that 9-0 start (which included neutral-site wins over Missouri and Memphis), Xavier was just 4-5 against RPI Top 100 teams.

Underrated: Tennessee The Vols aren't great, but they definitely are battle-tested and aren't an easy draw for any one-seed in the second round. Getting a nine-seed, along with LSU's eight and Mississippi State's 13 after winning the SEC tournament, shows what the committee thought of that league this season. The SEC was down, but are its two best teams really three or four seed lines worse than Utah and Purdue?

Bracket buster: N/A This region is lacking a classic bracket buster because the 10- and 12-seeds are mediocre Big Ten teams and the 13-seed (Portland State) is this year's Albany Award winner for the small-conference team that's at least two seed lines too high. That leaves 11-seed VCU as the only possibility, but that seems clichéd. The best choices to bust open this region are the Oklahoma State-Tennessee winner and six-seed UCLA.

Home cooking: Villanova While Duke gets to play in North Carolina (again), the clear choice is Villanova, which is playing the first two rounds in Philadelphia in a building where it plays every year. Having the possible Sweet 16 meeting with the Blue Devils in Boston isn't a bad deal, either.

Best player you've never heard of: Toney Douglas, Florida State The Seminoles aren't a national hoops power, so you might not be familiar with one of the best players in the ACC. Douglas, a fifth-year senior who transferred from Auburn in 2005, posted career highs in points (21.1 per game), rebounds (4.0), assists (3.0) and assist-to-turnover ratio this season. He just scored 80 points in three games in the ACC tournament, including a combined 55 against UNC and Duke. He made both all-ACC first team and the league's all defensive team this season.

Best matchup: UCLA vs. VCU The nation was introduced to VCU point guard Eric Maynor two years ago when his "dagger" dumped Duke in the first round. Now he's back along with Inspector Gadget-armed sophomore forward Larry Sanders (he of the 18/20/7 in the CAA final). The Rams will be tested by UCLA's extremely efficient offense and strong rebounding, but the biggest issue they face is that this is the rare matchup where Maynor may not be the better point guard. His showdown with UCLA's Darren Collison is worth the price of admission alone.

The pick: Villanova The easy choice is Pitt, but there's a lot of pressure on the Panthers as they look to break through their annual Sweet 16 glass ceiling. They can struggle to score at times and are vulnerable when DeJuan Blair gets into foul trouble, which has happened more against teams that spread the floor rather than having a strong post presence. They don't have the softest of draws for a top seed and already have lost at Villanova in the teams' only meeting of the season. Meanwhile, Nova gets to play its first two games at home, matches up very well with Duke should that be the Sweet 16 matchup, and knows it can beat Pitt. If Dante Cunningham plays well inside and the Cats' shoot a fair percentage from the arc, this is a legit darkhorse to make it to Detroit.

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