Well we are coming down the homestretch on what ended up being quite the endeavor. So here is the final breakdown:
Villanova v Monmouth
The number one seed in the Minneapolis region is the Villanova Wildcats, a team that you likely havent thought about in quite some time. The Wildcats are best known for their Cinderella run in 1985, which led to a victory over Georgetown for the national championship in Lexington. That Wildcat team was led by a number of players, many of whom were later arrested, but all of whom combined to play nearly perfect basketball in that miracle season. This team is not much different as it is led by four guards, all of whom start and produce one of the smallest lineups in Division I. The Wildcats are coached by way-too-handsome Jay Wright who is a constant topic of conversation in my all-female office and has been voted "Best Dressed" coach four years running. The key for the Wildcats is the status of Allan Ray, a guard who literally had his eyeball knocked out of his socket during the Big East Tournament, causing even Ronnie Milsap to cringe. The Wildcats may be a team of destiny as they survived a turbulent plane ride that led to an emergency landing on an icy runway in Providence, Rhode Island, after the pilot had told people to prepare for a crash landing. If life is really like a Lifetime Movie of the Week, bet on Villanova.
Coming from the Northeast Conference is Monmouth, a team guaranteed to lose in an embarassing way. Monmouth qualified for the tournament after winning the play-in game, a ridiculous event where the NCAA forces two conference champions to fly to Dayton to play each other in a game watched by dozens, so that another at large team, this year Air Force, can be a sacrificial lamb in the main bracket. Monmouth's nickname is the Hawks, but thankfully they share little in common with their NBA counterparts in Atlanta, as Monmouth has been in the NCAA bash 3 of the last 4 years. Monmouth is located on the rarely seen North Jersey shore, which can be reached by driving through landfills, factories and hairspray on the Jersey Turnpike from New York City. Monmouth apparently has a fan in Bruce Springsteen who reportedly cheers the team on when he is not too busy wiping his sweat with 100 dollar bills.
Villanova by 30
Arizona v Wisconsin
In maybe the most intriguing first round game between well-known teams, Arizona takes on Wisconsin. This has been a bit of a disappointing year for Arizona, as they started out slow and never fully recovered, struggling even though they have a great deal of talent. They are coached by Lute Olson who is the most dapperly dressed old man in America, always wearing perfect cuff links, a suit with handkerchief and hair so pefectly white that it must be fake. Arizona has the longest streak of consecutive NCAA appearances in America at 21 and was able to keep this streak going in large part due to the contributions of Hassan Adams, who leads the team in scoring and steals, but also in arrests. In a surprise move, Adams has been arrested twice this season, for disturbing the peace and DUI, pulling off the rare triple double of team records. The Wildcats are hoping for a big performance from their outstanding freshman Marcus Williams, who shoots 44 percent from behind the arc, but is best known for telling a student newspaper that he has a moustache because "my girlfriend makes me." Ouch. Most embarassing admission since former Duke player Shavlik Randolph's mother said he had no girlfriend because "girls are out of his comfort zone."
The Wisconsin Badgers await the Wildcats and have slowly put together another season of boring basketball that you have not watched. Coached by Bo Ryan, the Badgers play a style of slow-down basketball that can best be characterized as "atrocious" to watch and has led legions of fans to pray that the Big 10 game of the week will not include the Badgers. The last time Wisconsin was a 9 seed however, they made the Final 4 in 1999, a season so bizarre, that a Billy Donovan-coached team actually had success. This year's Badger bunch is led by Alondo Tucker who scores 18 points a game and was quoted in this year's media guide as saying that the most famous person he has ever met was the Easter Bunny. When not blurring the line between fiction and reality, Tucker is one of the more prolific scorers in Big Ten history and with his help, the Badgers may get crazy and score in the 50s.
Arizona by 5
Nevada v Montana
In the game that no one in America can really believe contains an actual five seed, Nevada plays Montana. The Nevada Wolfpack are a team that has flown under the nation's radar screen, showcasing the modesty and reserved nature that is so often associated with the state of Nevada. Most folks remember the team 2 years ago that made a Sweet 16 run, led by Kirk Snyder, who was immediately drafted by the Utah Jazz and never heard from again. But few remember Nick Fazekas, another star on that team, who is now the leading scorer for the Wolfpack and ready to join the White People Invasion of the NBA in next year's draft. Fazekas has a compelling story as his grandfather, a Hungarian soldier, wrapped his wounded leg with a gasoline-soaked rage to promote infection so as to reduce the chance he would be carted off to the gulag by the Russian army. This trick worked and Fazekas' grandfather lived and his strategy was copied by Mike Davis trying to get out of his Indiana contract.
The Wolfpack will play the team from Big Sky Country, the Montana Grizzlies. The state of Montana is of course known for many things ranging from militiamen to psychotic mail bombers, but thanks to the work of this year's Grizzly team, Montana has a new thing to be proud of, beyond their coming repeal of gay adoption. The Grizzlies are coached by Larry Krystowiak, an individual you might remember from the 1980s NBA as he was the white guy with a gut that perpetually played for the Milwaukee Bucks and always seemed to have epic battles with Rik Smits and Marc Eaton. Krystowiak is buiding a winner in Helena, but is finding it hard to recruit the best players onto his campus. His current pitch, "Come to Montana....we are the least populated state in the Union!" has not been successful, but he is open to further suggestions.
In a game seven or eight people may actually watch, Nevada by 10.
Boston College v Pacific
Over the past few years, following the Boston College men's basketball program has been a bit of an odyssey. First they were in the Big East Conference and then they made their natural progression to the Atlantic Coast Conference, leaving aside such odd rivals as Syracuse and Connecticut and picking up strong local derbies against Clemson and Miami (Fl). In addition, the team was rocked with a gambling scandal, where some of the student athletes were alleged to be betting on games and possibly shaving points, thus explaining their putrid seasons in the late 90s. But Al Skinner turned things around and now the Eagles are everyone's trendy pick to make it to the Final 4. The Eagles are led by the one-two punch of Jared Dudley and Craig Smith, the two best players you have never seen play and starting center John Oates, the worst player you have never seen play. The Eagles are picking up the bandwagon Boston fans as seen by the fact that Jimmy Fallon and Ben Affleck were recently seen at a home game. We pray that they dont have great success in the tournament, if for no other reason than to be spared the articles of praise from Boston Sports Guy Bill Simmons.
Their opponents in round one are the Pacific Tigers. Located in Stockton, California (home of the farthest inland port in the world...a full 100 miles from the ocean), Pacific hails from the Big West conference and hopes to continue its tournament success. Last year the Pacific team made a Sweet 16 run, and hope to repeat that feat again this year, thanks to their ability to play an Al Skinner-coached team. Pacific is best known as a team that recruits a number of foreign players, most famously Michael Olowokandi, possibly one of the three biggest busts in NBA Draft history. When not receiving consolation notes from Sam Bowie, Olowakandi is attempting to live down the story of how he arrived on Pacific's campus, assuming by its name that it was next to the Pacific Ocean, but never bothering to actually check a map before he arrived on campus. His newest counterpart is Big West Player of the Year, Christian Maraker, a young Swede who was recently named winner of the "Astrin Lindgren Award" for Swede who best represents his country abroad. Word is that he beat out Dolph Lundgren, Tiger Woods' wife and a bikini team for the honor.
Boston College by 7
In the second round, go with Nova in a squeaker over Arizona and BC to run Nevada off the court. Only one more to go!!!