Bracket Breakdown: Syracuse

Bracket Breakdown: Syracuse
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
March 13, 2005

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
Dan's Bracket Breakdowns: Chicago | Albuquerque | Austin | Syracuse

They have so much talent that their best NBA prospect (freshman Marvin Williams) doesn't start. They have so much experience that their starting five is something out of the 1980s – two seniors, three juniors.

They have so much firepower they broke the century mark six times this season.

Size, seniors, speed, strength. Whatever you want, North Carolina has it. This is perhaps the best team Roy Williams has ever coached (all those Kansas clubs included).

But Carolina also has four losses against 27 victories. Impressive. But maybe not as impressive as it could have been.

"We're going to go back to Chapel Hill and get back out on the practice court and see if we can get better," Williams said after Georgia Tech pushed the Heels around in the ACC semifinals. "We need to create more cohesiveness on both ends of the floor."

The good news is, Carolina is so good offensively it can make up for any defensive flaws and still win it all. The bad news is, the tournament's best regional is waiting to test the Heels.

That includes a dangerous No. 2 seed in Connecticut, third-seeded Kansas – an emotional matchup for Williams – and two very strong teams in surging Florida (4 seed) and Villanova (5).

So it won't be easy. Although Carolina is good enough to make it seem that way.

Three Storylines:

1. Kansas and Carolina
Ole' Roy is gonna cry if this ever happens. The nation's most painfully emotional coach (and proudly public about it) used to coach Kansas. He almost went to UNC (his alma mater) once, then promised he'd stay at KU forever, then left two years ago for Chapel Hill. He cried at every turn.

He recruited many of the current Jayhawks. He doesn't want to face them. They want to face him ("[The bracket] put a little smile on my face," said KU senior Michael Lee. "I would love to get a chance to play against my former coach."). It's going to be an Oprah special as much as a basketball game.

2. Bill Self
Meanwhile Self, the current Kansas coach, would love to play Carolina. Self is Joe Cool to Roy's bag of nerves, and if there ever were a tournament for Self to get over the hump and into the Final Four, this is it. Kansas is laying in the weeds; the Jayhawks struggled a bit down the stretch but are every bit as good as the No. 1 seeds. Adding to the drama is that, at some level, Self must wonder what life would be like if he had stayed at Illinois, where he recruited the bulk of the nation's No. 1 overall team before jumping to Lawrence.

This guy is three storylines all by himself.

3. Kevin Kuwik
The 30-year-old thought he would spend the season as an assistant coach for the Ohio Bobcats. But last fall he was called up to serve in the Army National Guard and spent the winter in Mosul, Iraq, as an engineer searching for roadside explosives. He took a two-week leave to return on the eve of the Mid-American Conference tournament, and perhaps not surprisingly, the inspired Bobcats responded with a dramatic charge to earn them their first bid in a decade.

CPT Kuwik will be on the bench for the NCAAs, where he ought to be a fan favorite for the entire nation.

Who Will Win?: North Carolina.

Dark-horse Pick (sixth seed or worse): Wisconsin.

They are well-coached, can really shoot and, if it weren't for Illinois, would have put together a dream season. The Badgers are a heck of a No. 6 seed.

Upset Special: Ohio over Florida.

Seven of the last 10 years, a Mid-American Conference team has sprung an NCAA upset. The Bobcats are balanced, fearless and riding an emotional wave. Florida has shown a historic vulnerability to the upset. The Gators can't afford to not come down from the high of winning the SEC tournament.

Fun Potential Matchup: Kansas vs. North Carolina.

So potentially nice, we'll mention it twice.

Or If You Prefer …

Maybe picking teams based on ability isn't your cup of tea. Hey, we all know anything works in the tournament, so here are a few other factors to consider in filling out your Syracuse Regional bracket:

  • Toughest Mascot: Iowa State Cyclones (would sweep up the toughest of animals).

  • Coolest School Colors: Minnesota maroon and gold.

  • Best Coach: UConn's Jim Calhoun.

  • Best Academic Reputation: North Carolina.

  • Prettiest Campus: Villanova.

  • Best Home Court: Allen Fieldhouse (Kansas).

  • Best State Bird: Roadrunner (New Mexico).

  • Best Alum: Dean Smith (Kansas).

    Five Stars to Watch

    Charlie Villanueva, So., F, Connecticut: He hasn't been as consistently terrific as recent UConn greats, but the 6-11 forward has the ability to take over games when he plays physically.

    Sean May, Jr., F, North Carolina: The Tar Heels have a flashy group of guards and small forwards, but the key to their success is the big man. Case in point, last week's victory over Duke where he went for 26 points and 24 rebounds, which prompted no less than Mike Krzyzewski to declare: "I love Sean May."

    Anthony Roberson, Jr., G, Florida: When "Peep" is on, the Gators are tough to beat. This year he's been mostly on, averaging 18.4 points, shooting 88.9 percent from the line, and very much looking to redeem himself from weak NCAA performances of the past.

    Curtis Sumpter, Jr., F, Villanova: One of four great Wildcat juniors, Sumpter is a beast who just gets things done around the basket. The Brooklyn native averages an unheralded 16.1 points and 7.1 rebounds and does plenty of the dirty work that has made Villanova good again.

    Eddie Basden, Sr., F, Charlotte: Basden teams with Curtis Withers to form a formidable forward duo. Athletic and tough, the 6-5 Basden has the speed to score on the perimeter (15.2 ppg) but the heart to battle on the boards (8.4 rpg).

    Notes

  • The NCAA calls it the "opening round game." Everyone else calls it the "play-in game." Perhaps it should be called the SWAC Invitational as once again the league's champion is in the lowly game. This time a worthy Alabama A&M club matches up against 12-18 Oakland on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. The winner gets plastered by the Tar Heels.

  • Central Florida is in the tournament with a 24-8 record. Imagine how good they would have been if twins Joey and Stephen Graham hadn't transferred to Oklahoma State, where they now are stars for the Cowboys.

  • It was just two years ago that Iowa State hit rock bottom after then-coach Larry Eustachy was caught drinking with college kids. His replacement, Wayne Morgan, has turned around the program in a hurry.

  • Speaking of programs on the rebound, New Mexico, which fell apart after the Dave Bliss regime, is back in the tournament for the first time since 1999. Nice work by coach Ritchie McKay.

  • Ticket brokers throughout the Southeast had their prayers answered when the NCAA sent both North Carolina and Duke to the Charlotte subregional. And while No. 1 seeds never get much love from neutral fans, you can expect some serious booing from opposing camps.

  • Duke and Carolina have never met in the NCAA tournament, but if seeds hold, they would meet in the Final Four this year. The teams split nail-biters this ACC season.

  • North Carolina State fans never seem 100 percent pleased with coach Herb Sendek. But he keeps getting the Wolfpack into the NCAA tournament.

  • Heading into the season, no coach had a hotter seat than Minnesota's Dan Monson, the architect of the Gonzaga program who had struggled in the Twin Cities. But Monson responded by getting the Gophers back to the NCAA tournament this year.

  • Connecticut assistant Tom Moore will try to make a good impression on fans at the Worcester, Mass., subregional. He is expected to be a prime candidate for the University of Massachusetts head job should the school fire Steve Lappas.

    Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

    Updated on Monday, Mar 14, 2005 2:34 am, EST

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