Bracket Breakdown: Albuquerque

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

U-Who? U-Dub.

Yes, the University of Washington is the region's top seed, and while the Huskies' resume may not be that of the other three No. 1 seeds, know that the Huskies are legit, if unknown.

The problem with the Pac-10 is it plays late at night and on Fox Sports, a multimillion dollar deal with the devil that has far more to do with the conference's underexposure than an East Coast media bias.

It's so bad that, nationally, Washington actually plays in the shadow of Gonzaga.

So if you don't know them, get to know them. The Huskies (27-5) come into the NCAA tournament playing as well as any team. They just bested Arizona for the Pac-10 tournament title. Coached by Lorenzo Romar, they are led by the dynamic 5-foot-9 Nate Robinson, the perfect leader for an undersized team (only one starter is taller than 6-6).

UW made its national intentions early when it rolled through Utah, Oklahoma and Alabama to win November's Great Alaska Shootout. It's only gotten better since.

"We are not the biggest team in the world but all year long we stayed together," said Romar, who was an assistant on the 1995 UCLA title team.

Despite all of this, the questions will remain about Washington until they get to St. Louis. The other top seeds – Illinois, Duke and North Carolina – have pedigree. The Huskies just have promise.

Three Storylines:

1. What's up with Wake?
The Demon Deacons are at a crossroads. At 26-5 they had a legitimate case for a No. 1 seed. But they looked terrible in getting knocked out of the ACC tournament in the first round.

Of course, the loss was mostly because star guard Chris Paul was suspended for throwing a below-the-belt sucker punch on North Carolina State's Julius Hodge. But that too was a curious development, an act of aggression that seemed out of character for Paul.

Now a second seed, the Deacs could come out refocused and motivated – or have trouble regrouping. They still are good enough to win it all, but only if they are maximizing their talents.

2. The seeds
Washington is a No. 1 seed instead of Wake? How does Louisville, which was campaigning for a top seed after winning the 18 of its last 19 and taking the Conference USA title, wind up with a No. 4? How about George Washington, champion of the normally strong Atlantic 10, getting a 12? Of course, the Colonials face Georgia Tech, just a 5 despite playing to form in the ACC tournament. If ever there were a regional with some confusing seeds, this is it.

3. The Zags
Gonzaga hasn't been a Cinderella in a while. They also haven't been back to the Sweet 16 since 2001. Nevada upset the Bulldogs last year. Arizona got them in that overtime classic in 2003. Wyoming shocked them in 2002. There can be no complaining about seeding or respect this time; Gonzaga is a 3 seed. This also may be Mark Few's best team yet, a terrific blend of skill and size. But first the Bulldogs need to get through to the second weekend.

Who Will Win?: Louisville.

The Cards aren't just playing well, they are playing Rick Pitino's system well. When teams do that, they are tough to beat.

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

The Tigers probably would have been at worst a 6 seed if Utah State hadn't upset them in the Big West final. But this still is a team that won 22 consecutive games at one point this year and was ranked 16th nationally in the final AP poll. That's quite a resume for an 8 seed.

Upset Special: Creighton over West Virginia.

Yes, the Mountaineers arrive playing extremely well after shooting their way into the Big East championship game. But Creighton has been in the NCAA tournament six of the last seven years and is rested and focused. WVU will have to be ready.

Fun Potential Matchup: Gonzaga vs. Washington (Elite Eight).

These bitter in-state rivals met on Dec. 1 in Spokane, and the Bulldogs won 99-87. This would be arguably the biggest game in state history.

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 while filling out your Albuquerque Regional bracket:

  • Toughest Mascot: The Wake Forest Demon Deacon. No one can cause mayhem like an evil man of the cloth.
  • Coolest School Colors: UCLA blue and gold.
  • Best Coach: Texas Tech's Bob Knight.
  • Best Academic Reputation: Wake Forest.
  • Prettiest Campus: UCLA.
  • Best Home Court: Freedom Hall, Louisville.
  • Best State Bird: Western Meadowlark (Montana).
  • Best Alum: Jackie Robinson (UCLA).

Five Stars to Watch

Chris Paul, So., G, Wake Forest: Don't let the below-the-belt punch that earned him a one-game suspension cloud your view of Paul. He is a dominant talent at both ends of the court and an extremely determined competitor looking to lead his hometown school to the national title.

Nate Robinson, Jr., G, Washington: The 5-9 guard is the most exciting talent in the country, a former UW defensive back who despite his size somehow plays most of the game above the rim. Tune in, enjoy – and don't blink.

Kevin Pittsnogle, Jr., C, West Virginia: At 6-11, with a colorful name and an even more colorful arm full of tattoos, Pittsnogle doesn't look like a guy who can burn you. But we dare you to leave him wide open from behind the arc (39.8 percent).

Francisco Garcia, Jr., F, Louisville: A long, lanky slasher who already has declared he will head to the NBA draft after the season – but not before he continues to excel in Rick Pitino's up-tempo offense.

Adam Morrison, So., F, Gonzaga: He can hit from deep or put it on the deck and get into the lane. This Spokane product is the real deal (18.5 ppg) and gives the Zags an explosive go-to guy they've occasionally lacked in crunch time.

Notes

  • No coach from a low-major league does a better job than Greg Marshall, who has his Winthrop club in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time in seven seasons. With minimal resources, he just keeps winning, including a 27-5 record and 18 consecutive victories this year.
  • The 8-9 matchup is a tale of two teams headed in different directions. Pacific has won 22 of its last 23. Pitt has lost four of its last six.
  • With Bob Knight's Texas Tech team playing UCLA, once coached by John Wooden, the fact that the two all-time greats have a cool relationship will be rehashed.
  • Knight has continued to show his considerable coaching acumen by getting a team that was fading down the stretch to make a charge to the Big 12 title game. If they play like that, The General could make a push for another Final Four.
  • With Knight and his advertisement-heavy sweater in the NCAA tournament, you know it will be a good month for O'Reilly Auto Parts.
  • How far has the A-10 fallen this year? Last March the league had two teams (Saint Joseph's and Xavier) in the Elite Eight. This year GW is the only representative, and the Colonials are seeded 12th. Ouch.
  • If Washington makes it to the Final Four, Romar will know where to get the best Italian food on The Hill. Before heading to Seattle he was the coach of the Saint Louis Billikens.