I am writing this post from the Wachovia Center, where I have come to pick up a fresh pile of reading material that includes the ever-popular NCAA Men's Final Four Records Book. But I am writing in a hurry once again, and by the time you read this post I will probably be back at the office doing actual work.
But I have a moment to give you something that you often ask for in chats, which is for names of media luminaries in the house. Thus far, BYU, Texas A&M and Chattanooga have been the only teams to practice and give interviews. The Connecticut writers are here, but those who will come for UCLA, Villanova and American won't be here fora few hours.
The big names so far have been Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News, Associated Press national college basketball writer Jim O'Connell and ESPN.com's Dana O'Neil. Boston Globe national college sports writer Mark Blaudschun is here, as is USA Today's national writer Kelly Whiteside. The local contingent so far is Bob Cooney and Ed Barkowitz from the Daily News, Ray Parrillo and Kevin Tatum from the Inquirer, Dan Gelston of the AP and Andy Jasner for who knows how many out-of-market publications.
Now for my picks in the South Region. Once again, a reminder that I am making the same picks here as I made in the full-bracket contest in our reader group for Philly.com's Hoops Hysteria contest. I have made a bunch of different picks in the round-by-round contest, just for the heck of it. We'll see which bracket does better.
1. North Carolina over 16. Radford in Greensboro, N.C.
Radford proved that it can beat a fast-paced team when it took down VMI in the Big South tournament championship game. Even though the Highlanders' campus is within driving distance of Greensboro, and even though Ty Lawson apparently won't play, the Heels will win their big dance opener easily for the second year in a row.
9. Butler over 8. LSU in Greensboro, N.C.
This isn't much of an upset, by seed or by talent. I wouldn't have minded if no SEC teams got at-large bids this year, because the conference was awful across the board. Bulldogs forward Matt Howard will pound away against Tigers star Tasmin Mitchell, and another mid-major will triumph against a BCS name.
12. Western Kentucky over 5. Illinois in Portland, Ore.
Speaking of mid-majors beating BCS names, here comes another one. Illinois point guard Chester Frazier might not play this game after undergoing surgery on his injured right hand last week, and the Rose Garden crowd will be packed with Gonzaga fans pulling for the underdog.
4. Gonzaga over 13. Akron in Portland, Ore.
Call it mid-on-mid crime if you want, but the Bulldogs are one in name only. They're ranked fifth in Pomeroy, sixth in offensive efficiency, ninth in defensive efficiency and sixth in lowest offensive turnover percentage. In other words, they're really good.
11. Temple over 6. Arizona State in Miami, Fla.
I realize I am picking against history here to no small degree, because Fran Dunphy hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1994. His Owls had the talent to do it last year, but had a nasty matchup with Michigan State and had to play the game at 10:30 a.m. Denver time on Thursday.
This will be an afternoon start on Friday, and I bet the American Airlines
Arena Arena (the Center is in Dallas) will have a big contingent of Owls fans in the stands. We've probably underrated the Sun Devils this week - they're ranked 12th in Pomeroy, fifth in offensive efficiency and second in effective field goal percentage. James Harden is a beast and Jeff Pendergraph has the ninth-highest effective field goal percentage in the country despite having attempted only one three-pointer all season.
But for all I've written about his offense, Fran Dunphy is a defensive coach first. Between that and the opportunities Arizona State's zone defense will give Dionte Christmas, I think the Owls get it done.
3. Syracuse over 14. Stephen F. Austin in Miami, Fla.
The Lumberjacks are dancing for the first time ever, while the Orange are doing so for the gazillionth time. Even though Jim Boeheim's team has played seven overtimes in the last week, Stephen F. Austin is ranked 323rd in offensive rebounding percentage, 267th in three-point shooting percentage and averages 29.8 percent shooting from the free throw line. Uh, yeah.
Syracuse pounds the glass and wins this game fairly easily.
7. Clemson over 10 Michigan in Kansas City, Mo.
I'm a little nervous about this pick. John Beilein is a great coach, the Wolverines players seemed really happy to have made the field on Selection Sunday and the Tigers have lost four of their last five games. Neither team shoots free throws well, but Michigan ranks 255th in two-point field goal percentage given up. I'll close my eyes and take the ACC over the Big Ten again.
2. Oklahoma over 15. Morgan State in Kansas City, Mo.
Apparently, John Thompson the elder wants Bears coach Todd Bozeman to be the next coach at Virginia. If his team beats the Sooners, he'll have a case. If Blake Griffin gets the ball enough, he won't. The latter is far more likely.
1. North Carolina over 9. Butler in Greensboro, N.C.
It might be close or it might not. I haven't seen enough of Butler this season to know if they've played above their level or if their young roster is really that good already. What I do know is that the Tar Heels are playing in Greensboro and you don't pick against that no matter how much you want to.
4. Gonzaga over 12. Western Kentucky in Portland, Ore.
The Hilltoppers gave us a hell of time last season by beating Drake and San Diego in last year's NCAA Tournament. For the second year in a row, they'll face a West Coast Conference team after knocking out a team from a Big Ten state. But without Courtney Lee and Ty Brazleton to hit the big shots, Western Kentucky won't be able to counter Gonzaga's firepower.
3. Syracuse over 11. Temple in Miami, Fla.
It will be fun to watch Fran Dunphy match wits with Jim Boeheim, but it won't be so fun to watch Sergio Olmos and Lavoy Allen match frontcourt muscle with Rick Jackson, Arinze Onuaku and Kristof Ongenaet.
I think the Owls can do a pretty good job of containing the Orange's guards, but Boeheim - for all that people criticize him - is smart enough to know when to pound it inside.
2. Oklahoma over 7. Clemson in Kansas City, Mo.
The tallest regular player on the Tigers' roster is 6-9 forward Raymond Sykes. You tell me how they'll contain Blake Griffin.
Regional Semifinals in Memphis, Tenn.
1. North Carolina over 4. Gonzaga
Another game where it would be great to see the mid-major team triumph, but as with Butler the Tar Heels will win. Gonzaga could make a real game of this, but I'd feel better about their chances if they had beaten Connecticut back in December instead of losing in overtime. Or if they'd beaten Memphis at home last month. The Bulldogs played a good non-conference schedule but their best wins by Pomeroy were against Oklahoma State and Maryland.
2. Oklahoma over 3. Syracuse
Another game on which I could go either way. I'm taking the Sooners because of Griffin, but I could come to regret that very quickly if he gets in foul trouble. I also think this could be where the Orange finally run out of gas. So I take the Sooners.
Regional Final in Memphis, Tenn.
1. North Carolina over 2. Oklahoma
Blake Griffin is a great player, maybe the best in the country. But he'll meet his match in Tyler Hansbrough. The Sooners' three-point defense is also somewhat middling, and their best guard is a freshman. If Hansbrough and Griffin neutralize each other, look for Ty Lawson and in particular Wayne Ellington to make the difference and send the Tar Heels to the Final Four.