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Breaking down NCAA's annual media mock bracket; more notes

Last week, the NCAA held its annual mock selection exercise for members of the media at its headquarters in Indianapolis. I had planned on attending, but the bad weather knocked out my flights. My absence, however, gives me the chance to practice the part I traditionally play on CBS' Selection Show when the official bracket is revealed -- namely, that of professional second-guesser.

Why don't you play along as well? You can view the media's bracket here. Put it on your screen beside this column, and follow my analysis region by region. And be sure to let me know where you agree or disagree by sending me an e-mail. (Not that you need much encouragement to do that.)

You should know, by the way, that this committee only considered games through last Tuesday night. In addition, the NCAA staff gave the committee make-believe results coming out of make-believe conference tournaments in order to simulate what happens during the actual selection weekend. This year, the NCAA tapped the following teams as conference tournament champions: Arizona (Pac-10), Wichita State (Missouri Valley), Tulsa (C-USA) and Iona (MAAC).

I'll start with the most important decisions the "committee" had to make: Who's in and who's out. As you can see from the bracket, the media's last few teams in were: Missouri, Maryland, Xavier, Saint Mary's, South Florida, Charlotte and Florida. Among the teams left out were: Cal, Siena, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, UAB, Arizona State, South Carolina and Mississippi State.

To me the biggest whiff here is Saint Mary's. Even though this bracket was put together before the Gaels lost at Portland on Thursday night, their best wins to that point were at home over San Diego State and on the road at Utah State. Those will not hold up (though the SDSU win is getting better as the Aztecs keep winning). Nor should South Florida have been voted into the field. The Bulls have too many losses, including a sweep by Notre Dame, so at the very least the Irish should be ahead of them.

It also amazed me that the committee not only put Marquette in (which I wouldn't have done as of last Wednesday), but made the Golden Eagles a No. 8 seed in the East. That's way too high for a school with just two wins over top 50 teams, plus losses to N.C. State at home and to DePaul on the road.

The three teams I would have placed into the tournament instead are UAB (which ranks 33rd in the RPI and claims wins over Butler and Cincinnati), South Carolina (which bolstered its case by beating Florida on Wednesday night) and Siena (especially since the Saints had not yet lost at Niagara). However, given how subjective all this is, and given how closely bunched these bubble teams are, the committee didn't do anything that would cause me to wax indignant on the Selection Show like I did following last year's decision to include Arizona over Saint Mary's.

Now on to my region-by-region breakdown:

Overseeded: Temple (4), Marquette (8).

Underseeded: Wichita State (12).

Home cookin': If BYU played Temple in the second round, the fifth-seeded Cougars would draw many more fans to San Jose.

Upset special: Cornell over Georgia Tech, second round.

Regional final: Kentucky over Ohio State.

Overseeded: Texas (4), Dayton (8), Ole Miss (9). A lot of the mock brackets floating around don't even have Dayton and Ole Miss in the tournament, much less seeded this high.

Underseeded: Tennessee (6), Baylor (7). The Vols might be the best No. 6 seed of all time.

Home cookin': Texas would obviously love to make it to the regionals in Houston, but first the Longhorns would have to beat Gonzaga in Spokane. The Bulldogs are eligible to be sent to Spokane Arena because they have played fewer than three games there. (Syracuse, on the other hand, plays all its home games in the Carrier Dome, so the Orange cannot be sent to the East region.)

Upset special: Baylor over Duke, second round. The Bears would be a horrible matchup for the Blue Devils because they're super athletic and they're one of the few teams in the country that is taller than Duke.

Regional final: Syracuse over Tennessee.

Overseeded: UNLV (6), Richmond (7), Florida State (9). The Rebels should be seeded much lower now that they have lost two straight games. I also had Florida State as my last team in headed into last weekend.

Underseeded: Old Dominion (11). I don't feel that strongly about this one, but I had to choose somebody.

Home cookin': Whoever makes it out of New Orleans better hope Missouri loses in the first or second round. I know I wouldn't want to play the Tigers in St. Louis. Also, check out the four teams that were sent to San Jose: Pitt, Charlotte, Vanderbilt, College of Charleston. They're all from the east, which should tell you how few good teams play west of the Mississippi.

Upset special: Old Dominion over UNLV in the first round.

Regional final: Kansas over Wisconsin.

Overseeded: Butler (6), Rhode Island (7), Illinois (8).

Underseeded: Maryland (10), Florida (12).

Home cookin': Vermont might have a nice little edge in Providence, except it has to play Kansas in the first round. (Plus, Jayhawks fans travel as well as anyone.) The winner of the New Mexico-Utah State game would also presumably draw better fan support in Spokane than the winner of Wake Forest-Florida.

Upset special: Florida over Wake Forest in the first round. A classic 12-5 upset.

Regional final: Purdue over Villanova.

Kansas beats Purdue. Syracuse beats Kentucky.

In a fitting way to end a rematch of the 2003 final, Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor blocks Syracuse guard Andy Rautins' three-point attempt at the buzzer to give the Jayhawks their second championship in three years.

Man, I can't wait to do this for real in four weeks.

• It was a brilliant move by Bruce Pearl to play so much zone against Kentucky, even though that's not his team's standard operating procedure. Why any coach would play a single possession of man-to-man against Kentucky is beyond me.

• In fact, I have to wonder why, given the success Jim Boeheim has had going zone fulltime the last several years, more coaches don't do just that. I think it comes down to the macho belief that if you play zone, you're conceding that your guys are not as good as the other coach's guys. Uh, maybe they're not, coach.

• Prediction: Kentucky will lose at least one game in the next 12 days. The 'Cats are going to play five games during that span, four of which come on the road against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Georgia.

• One last thought from the Kentucky-Tennessee game: Anyone else notice that Tennessee's undershirts were illegal? They're supposed to be a solid color and the same as the game jerseys, but UT's undershirts had white stitching on them. You won't be seeing those in the NCAA tournament.

• How does an Arizona team fighting for its tournament life lose at home to Oregon State?

• It's time to start talking about Sherron Collins as a national player of the year candidate. He is only by far the most important player on the nation's best team.

• Too many people are arguing that Rick Barnes should shorten his rotation, as if that is a cure-all to Texas' problems. Jay Wright plays 11 guys at Villanova and it seems to be working out well. If you have a lot of good players, the best thing you can do is play 'em.

• One of the best rules changes of the last 10 years was the decision to count technical fouls toward a player's personal fouls.

• Keep your eye on Lewis Jackson's minutes at Purdue. The sophomore point guard played 20 minutes (6 points, 5 assists, 0 turnovers) in the Boilermakers' win over Iowa. That's the most he has played in five games since returning from a broken foot suffered this preseason.

• How about Brian Zoubek pulling down 17 rebounds for Duke in just 22 minutes during the Blue Devils' rout of Maryland. Zoubek may be limited physically, but he serves a very useful purpose for this team.

• By the way, the rumors that have Coach K going to the New Jersey Nets are patently ridiculous. His jones to coach professionals is being fully satiated by his role with USA Basketball. He can also win while doing that. Think that would be the case if he were coaching the Nets?

• I am mystified by the disappearing act Michigan State's Raymar Morgan has pulled. Over his last five games, the Spartans' senior forward has averaged 5.2 points. It's no coincidence that Michigan State lost three of those games.

• Whenever I see Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, I am reminded of the phrase my SI colleague Michael Bamberger once used to describe him: He looks like the guy down the street who picks up the newspaper in his pajamas.

• Texas Tech is a great example of why you can't just look at a team's RPI ranking to determine its tournament status. The Red Raiders are ranked 36th, and their overall strength of schedule checks in at 19th. Yet, they have just one win over a top 50 team, and that came at home against Oklahoma State. Their big win at home in overtime over Washington, which briefly vaulted them into the rankings, looks a lot less impressive now than it did then. That's why Texas Tech's loss at home against Texas A&M was such a missed opportunity. And it doesn't get easier from here: Next the Radiers face Baylor on the road, followed by Texas and Kansas State at home.

• Likewise, Virginia Tech is a great example of why you can't just look at conference standings and records. If you'll recall, two years ago the Hokies went 10-6 in the ACC and got left out. Now they are 20-4 and tied for second in the ACC loss column with Wake Forest with a 7-3 conference record. That should make them a shoo-in, but they too only have one win against a team ranked in the RPI top 50, and that came against Clemson at home. More damning is their nonconference strength of schedule, which ranks 340th. Virginia Tech is in very good position, but it can't afford any bad losses the rest of the way, and it needs at least one more quality win. Beating Wake Forest at home Tuesday night would be an excellent start.

• I'd love to see one of the stat geeks out there come up with a way to chart what players are doing in game-pressure situations -- say, in the last five minutes of the game with the scoring margin at six points or fewer. Can you get on that for me, Pomeroy and/or Gasaway?

• I've picked on Butler's Matt Howard a lot this season, so let me give him his due. He has been playing much better the last few weeks and had his best game of the season in the Bulldogs' win at Cleveland State, the second-place team in the Horizon League. Howard registered 21 points and 13 rebounds. But best of all: only three fouls.

• I disagree with the argument, which has been made often in the wake of the controversial timeout call at the end of the Syracuse-UConn game, that teams should no longer be allowed to call timeout unless there is a dead ball. This strikes me as an over correction. All we have to do is go back to the way it was before 1997, when coaches were given the ability to call timeout. If a coach wants a timeout, he should have to tell the player, and the player should then tell the ref. End of problem.

• Penn State guard Talor Battle has to be first team All-Good-Player-Bad-Team.

• It's a mystery sometimes why certain things work, but smart coaches don't mess with success. When BYU senior guard Jonathan Tavernari was struggling with his shooting earlier this season, he asked coach Dave Rose if he could come off the bench. Rose agreed, and since then Tavernari has played much better. Instead of reinstalling him in the starting lineup, Rose has continued to bring Tavernari off the bench, and to good effect. Tavernari had a team-high 19 points in the Cougars' win over Air Force last weekend.

• I have been dismayed by the increasing trend of midseason firings, but I'd say Penn interim coach Jerome Allen has proven he deserves to be made permanent. The Quakers lost their first 10 games (Glen Miller was fired after the seventh), but have won three of their last five, including Friday's big upset of Cornell.

• Speaking of Cornell, sometimes a guy comes out of nowhere to have a big game, and it's the start of something big. And other times ... it's not. Exhibit A is Cornell's senior forward Jon Jaques, who exploded for 20 points off the bench in the Big Red's biggest win of the season over St. John's back in December. Jacques has scored in double figures just twice since then, and he put up a bagel in Cornell's narrow escape at Princeton on Saturday.

• Georgia Tech freshman forward Derrick Favors may be a great pro prospect, but he is not having a great season. Favors has limited offensive moves, and he is suffering from the Yellow Jackets' suspect point guard play. He has just one double-figure scoring game in his last five outings and completely disappeared against Wake Forest's tall front line Saturday, finishing with four points and two rebounds.

• Interesting to see Temple's Michael Eric, a 6-foot-11 sophomore from Nigeria, put up a career-high 19 points in Saturday's win over Rhode Island. If Eric can give the Owls a more consistent post complement to Lavoy Allen, that will be a game changer for them.

• I hope LSU coach Trent Johnson has some good players coming in next year. Not only is his team royally bad (0-11 in the SEC, 9-16 overall), but his best player, Tasmin Mitchell, is a senior.

• I say it every year, but there are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Notre Dame on the bubble.

• This is a big week at Wisconsin. Bo Ryan told me he should know in the next couple of days when -- and whether -- junior forward Jon Leuer will return from his broken wrist. A few of Ryan's players have been forced to gain from experience in Leuer's absence, so if he comes back with enough time to get up to speed, the Badgers will be an even better team than they were before he went out. That's a scary thought.

• Sorry to see Ed Davis' season effectively come to an end at North Carolina because of a broken wrist. But I cannot fathom why he continues to be listed as a top 10 -- or even a top five -- NBA draft pick. Davis might have potential, but right now he is an above-average college player at best. If somebody drafts him that high, it could very well cost that somebody his job.

• Could the season get any worse for Oklahoma? Willie Warren, who was already having a terrible season, is out indefinitely with mono, two freshmen were cited for shoplifting last week, and now freshman forward Tiny Gallon has been suspended for reportedly having improper contact with an agent before the beginning of the season. In a word: Oy.

(Last week's rankings on my ballot in parentheses)

1. Kansas (1)2. Kentucky (2)3. Villanova (6)4. Purdue (8)5. Syracuse (3)6. Kansas State (7)7. Duke (11)8. Ohio State (12)9. Georgetown (4)10. West Virginia (10)11. Michigan State (5)12. Gonzaga (14)13. Vanderbilt (15)14. Tennessee (13)15. New Mexico (17)16. Wisconsin (9)17. Baylor (16)18. BYU (19)19. Pittsburgh (NR)20. Butler (21)21. Wake Forest (NR)22. Texas (23)23. Texas A&M (NR)24. Temple (NR)25. Xavier (NR)

Dropped off my ballot: Georgia Tech (18), BYU (20), Cornell (22), South Florida (24), Northern Iowa (25)

Skinny: I thought I was finishing my ballot early by completing it around 2:00 on Sunday afternoon. Then those two big upsets from the Big East happened, throwing my fellow voters and me for a loop. Obviously, Syracuse and Georgetown should pay a price for their losses. But how steep should that price be?

The Associated Press doesn't give us any instructions on this stuff, so it's up to each individual voter to decide what is important at this point in the season. I try to balance a team's entire body of work against what it has done recently. You could make a case that Syracuse, with just two losses, still deserves to be ranked fourth, but I knocked the 'Cuse down a peg because both of their losses came at home. Plus, Louisville had just gotten embarrassed at St. John's. Meanwhile, I only dropped Georgetown five spots because, while Rutgers is not a good team, the RAC is still a tough place to play. On the other hand, I also had to consider that the Hoyas lost recently to South Florida at home. I can give a team a mulligan for one loss against a middling Big East team, but two in two weeks is harder to justify.

Michigan State suffered the other big tumble at the top, mostly because the Spartans' loss to Purdue came at home. West Virginia lost twice last week, but I couldn't see fit to punish the Mountaineers too badly for losing to a team ranked ahead of them (Villanova) and to a good team in triple overtime on the road (Pittsburgh). The Panthers deserved to be rewarded for that win, though, so they're back on my ballot after being absent for just one week.

I wasn't sure where I was going to rank Wake Forest, but I knew the Deacons were going to be on my ballot. I'm assuming my fellow voters will agree because we've been a little late coming around on this team. Wake Forest has now won six of its last seven games to surge into a tie for second place in the ACC. Its nonconference wins over Gonzaga, Richmond and Xavier are looking even better now than when they happened.

I am still not ready to drink the Atlantic 10 Kool-Aid, but Temple did knock off Villanova a while back, and Xavier's road win at Florida on Saturday was impressive, so those guys are back on the board. (Remember the Musketeers also nearly knocked off Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse.) The other teams I strongly considered but didn't rank were Northern Iowa, Siena, Missouri and Ole Miss. Better luck next week, guys.

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