Nothing is intentional with the NCAA tournament selection committee. Nothing ever is. And I'm saying that with a straight face. But I'm also saying this with a straight face: The selection committee unintentionally gave Duke a free pass into the Elite Eight.
From there the Blue Devils are on their own -- but for the first three rounds, Duke was given a glorious road that will funnel the Blue Devils directly into the South Regional title game, where they might just run into one of coach Mike Krzyzewski nightmares: a former assistant coach.
His name is Mike Brey. He coaches Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is another startling facet about the South Regional: A few weeks ago, Notre Dame was a bubble team in all sorts of trouble, what with star forward Luke Harangody out for the season, we all thought, with a knee bruise. Harangody eventually came back, albeit at something well below 100 percent, and Notre Dame kept on winning.
So here are the Irish with a No. 6 seed. Pretty remarkable. And they're bearing down on Duke, which will get a reprise of its 84-37 opening-round blowout of Winthrop in 2002, followed by an easy game in Round 2 against the Cal-Louisville winner and then an even easier game against whoever's waiting in the Sweet 16.
1. NBA wasn't for us: That first-round game between California and Louisville should be sponsored by Greg Oden, seeing how the game is a battle of NBA washouts. Cal is coached by Mike Montgomery, who went 34-48 in back-to-back seasons with Golden State. Louisville is led by Rick Pitino, who had one winning seasons in six tries with the Knicks and Celtics. Little more than a decade ago, people would have laughed if you'd said Mike Montgomery, then at Stanford, would lead Cal against a Rick Pitino team from the Bluegrass ... but not Kentucky. Bizarre game. Great matchup. And I apologize to Greg Oden. Love that kid. Hope he makes it.
Doyel: 10 things to know about Duke
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2. Aggregate of Aggies: Does the selection committee have to be so cruel to those of us who prefer to use abbreviations in our brackets? Over in the Midwest, the committee has OSU (Oklahoma State) bearing down on OSU (Ohio State) in a possible second-round game. Here in the South, the committee has the Aggies and the Aggies meeting in the first round: Utah State vs. Texas A&M. In a more relevant note, this could be the year Utah State finally does something more than show up at its NCAA tournament venue. (I know, not fair: Utah State beat Ohio State in 2001.) Under Stew Morrill, the Aggies have impressively reached the NCAA tournament seven times this century. They have unimpressively lost six times in the first round. Not this year, says me and my bracket.
3. Did Purdue get screwed? Not really, no. The Boilermakers were a borderline No. 1 seed before All-American candidate Robbie Hummel got hurt, and they won more than they lost after he went down ... and still they plummeted to a No. 4 seed. But they weren't hosed. They were treated fairly. Without Hummel, the Boilermakers beat two awful teams (Indiana, Penn State) and one average team (Northwestern) -- but they lost to Michigan State and then, in the Big Ten tournament, to Minnesota by 26 billion points. So the No. 4 seed fits. Until Siena knocks them out in the first round. Don't get mad at me, Purdue fans. Get mad at my bracket.
South Regional Picks
Who will win: Duke will win this sucker by winning three easy games -- against Winthrop, California and Utah State, says my bracket -- and then by holding off Notre Dame in a dreaded Teacher vs. Pupil matchup between Krzyzewski and Brey, his assistant at Duke from 1987-95.
Dark-horse pick: How much time you got? I like No. 12 Utah State to face No. 13 Siena in the second round, with Utah State advancing. Plus I like No. 7 Richmond to get past second-seeded Villanova and into the Sweet 16. Apparently I don't like light horses.
Most likely upset: Siena over Purdue in the first round. Did you see how bad Purdue looked in the Big Ten tournament against Minnesota? Gross. Awful. Meanwhile, Siena is one of those teams that just wins. Lesser competition? Sure. But Siena knows how to win. Purdue knows how to look awful against Minnesota.
Best mascot: Lots of Aggies in this region, but I'm going with the Monarchs of Old Dominion. Not sure which Monarch they're supposed to be -- the monarch butterfly, or the leader of a monarchy like the one in England. I hope it's the latter, and that Old Dominion is led onto the court by a mascot with big ears and nasty teeth.
Best point guard: Villanova's Scottie Reynolds is more of a scorer than a passer, but that's OK because he's one hell of a scorer. With six points against Robert Morris, he'll pass the 2,200-point mark for his career.
|Villanova's Scottie Reynolds is the point guard to watch in the South Regional. (Getty Images)|
Best coach:This isn't really going to cause an argument, is it? Mike Krzyzewski has three national titles. He has 10 Final Four appearances. He just led the United States to the gold medal. I hear you over there in Louisville, and I'm trying not to laugh at you there in Berkeley, but ... come on. Just admit it. Coach K wins this category.
Best reputation Baylor gave Duke a run, but I'm going with the Blue Devils again. That was a joke about Baylor, but not a joke at the expense of Scott Drew. The man cleaned up one crazy, borderline-evil mess and has led the Bears into the national elite. Very impressive. Still, Duke has the best rep in this region. Louisville's rep took a beating on a restaurant table, and you know what I'm talking about.
Five stars on display
1. Jerome Randle (California): Best pure shooter in this whole tournament, right here. Randle is second in the country in foul shooting at 93.5 percent. Dude hasn't missed a free throw in more than a month. He also shoots 41 percent on 3-pointers and averages 18.7 ppg. He's only 5-foot-10, so you probably won't see him in the NBA, so enjoy him now.
2. Ben Hansbrough (Notre Dame): Name look familiar? Yeah, this is the little brother. This 6-3 version of Hansbrough is a guard who transferred from Mississippi State, sat out last season, and is averaging 11.8 points and 4.4 assists and shooting 41.6 percent on 3-pointers.
3. Jon Scheyer (Duke): He came to Duke as the Blue Devils' next great shooter and instead became their next great point guard ... and a pretty darned good shooter, too. Scheyer made the switch to the point last season in place of Greg Paulus, and this season he is averaging 18.7 points and 5.1 assists.
4. JaJuan Johnson (Purdue): Johnson is a 6-10 center who can clear small buildings in a single bound. He also averages 15.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
5. Ryan Rossiter (Siena): Davidson didn't make it into this field, so neither did Davidson power forward Steve Rossiter ... but his little brother is here. Ryan averages 13.9 points and 11.1 rebounds (seventh in the country) and is one of the most improved shooters in the country. As a freshman he shot 33.8 percent from the floor. Over the next two seasons, he has nearly doubled that. Wow.
Five random notes
1. Baylor guard Tweety Carter scored more points for a high school team than anyone in this country, ever, with 7,457 points at Reserve Christian (La.) School. But because the national governing body doesn't count the points he scored in seventh and eighth grade, his official total is 5,748 points -- still good for second.
2. If Notre Dame and Baylor meet in the second round, it would be a renewal of an old regional, and familial, rivalry for Baylor coach Scott Drew. He coached at Valparaiso in 2002-03 -- following his father, Homer, who then replaced him when Scott went to Baylor. And Valpo is about 45 minutes from South Bend, Ind.
3. Winthrop has one player scoring in double figures on the season. One. His name is Reggie Middleton, and he averages 10.3 ppg. As a team, Winthrop shoots 25.5 percent on 3-pointers. None of this is good.
4. Old Dominion has its share of international players again this season, with sophomore guard Trian Iliadis from Australia, freshman center Anton Larsen from Denmark and senior forward Gerald Lee from Finland. Lee is the only regular of the bunch, but he leads the team in scoring at 14.6 ppg.
5. Richmond coach Chris Mooney, whose team could face Villanova in the second round, is a Philadelphia native though he didn't play for 'Nova. He went to Princeton. His wife also is from Philadelphia, but she didn't go to 'Nova either. She went to Penn. Apparently the Mooney family has something against 'Nova.