Washington, D.C. notebook: Thinking ahead

Greg Abel

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Greetings from the Washington, D.C. bracket, the official headquarters of big programs from state schools like Connecticut, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kentucky and Illinois. Give the University of Washington a few more years atop the Pac-10 and they'll fit into this category as well, although those Huskies aren't quite basketball blue bloods yet. That status is reserved for the program from Storrs that seems to have challenged for the national title every year for the past decade.

By now everyone should have done their homework and entered at least one pool, contemplated three or four others, decided which 12 seed will take down a five and determined how many No. 1s will advance to Indianapolis.

If you have not, shame on you, but perhaps in the spirit of the D.C. region, we can lobby congressional representatives to make the Monday following Selection Sunday a pseudo national holiday for the hoops minded among us. I'm not saying shut everything down, but I do think it would be downright American for employee-friendly bosses from (U.C.) L.A. to Boston (College) to allow a good four to five hours at the office for activities including bracket over-analysis, pool entry form completion and general tournament banter.

For a comical look, take a peek at the bracket Tony Kornheiser filled out for the Washington Post, complete with astute observations such as the fact that Albany's two wins over Binghamton probably won't help much against Connecticut in the 1 vs. 16 game.

This year's Washington bracket is the one they used to call the East, of course, before geo-political correctness, the play-in game and the pod system did to the simplicity of the NCAA Tournament what Starbucks did to ordering a cup of coffee. But let's not focus on the negative.

After all, this is the most electric time of the year in college hoops. Here in the nation's capital, the experts love the ultra-talented Huskies of the UConn variety to win this region and the whole tournament. Their feeling probably has something to do with the fact that coach Jim Calhoun has four to six future NBA players on his roster. Dick Vitale loves the Huskies, and picks them to win it all in USA Today.

Dickie V. is not exactly going out on a limb, but any fan has to be impressed with the sheer depth of talent at UConn. Basically, the Huskies have great players at every position, go eight deep and even enter the big tourney with a recent motivational loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Now that's thinking ahead.

STORY LINES: Intrigue abounds. In the second round, for example, we could see Kentucky vs. UConn and North Carolina vs. Michigan State, games that would feature teams that have won five of the past eight national championships (UConn has done it twice).

The third-seeded Tar Heels and fifth-seeded Washington Huskies both head into the tournament as hot and confident teams despite losses in their conference tournaments. They both ended the season on 8-2 runs and the Tar Heels are a particularly fun bunch to watch, what with Roy Williams' up-tempo style, a completely revamped roster from last year's national championship team and bravado gleaned from an 8-2 record on the road, including a victory at Duke to end the regular season.

Count Murray State coach Mick Cronin as a fan of Carolina's "pit bull" of a forward, Tyler Hansbrough. Cronin says that Hansbrough was his favorite player to watch this year.

At the risk of stretching things a bit, UNC fans might be a tad concerned about a dj vu scenario as a No. 3 seed playing 14th-seeded Murray State. Back in 1999, a third-seeded Tar Heels team fell in the first round to equally unheralded No. 14 Weber State. I'm just saying.

A LITTLE LOVE FOR ALBANY: The 16th-seeded Great Danes beat Vermont in the America East championship game, and with it came a date with the Huskies in Philadelphia on Friday. Hey, Albany could have suffered the indignity of the Tuesday night play-in game, so it's not all bad.

There's not much doubt as to which dog has a bigger bite, but at least one Albany player figures a No. 16 seed has to beat a No. 1 sometime (it's never happened). Said sophomore guard John Iati: "You always hear people talking about this year, or next year, one of these years, a 16 beats a 1 … So why not Albany?"

Why not, indeed? Go Great Danes, that's what I say. Of course, the likelihood of Albany beating UConn is right up there with the chance that HBO would whack everyone's favorite increasingly obese mob boss in the first episode of the Sopranos after a year-and-half-hiatus, so that really … can't … uh … happen. Can it?

THINKING OUT LOUD: We have a few more days to get into more of the story lines, but here are some quick thoughts on some first-round games.

  • Kentucky (8) vs. UAB (9) – Kentucky (21-12) has been rather mediocre this year and UAB (24-6) is the second-best team from a mediocre Conference USA. I usually avoid picking directional schools or state universities that must be identified by their city location, so I like Kentucky in this one, but that's just me.

  • Wichita State (7) vs. Seton Hall (10) – OK, if the Missouri Valley Conference is so good that it gets four bids, why does its regular-season champ, which went 24-8 and 14-4 in the conference, get a No. 7 seed? Seton Hall has some good wins this season, but they also, ahem, lost to Duke by 53 points and to UConn by 42. My favorite part about a potential run in the tournament by Wichita State is that it will probably give CBS a reason to show Xavier McDaniel highlights. Talk about a Shocker. During his senior year, the X Man averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds.

  • Washington (5) vs. Utah State (12) – For six straight years, a No. 12 seed has made it to the Sweet 16. So is Utah State the one this year? I have absolutely no idea and neither do you.

Greg Abel is a freelance writer based in Baltimore whose work has appeared in Sporting News, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal. He is covering the tournament exclusively for Yahoo! Sports from Philadelphia this week and Washington, D.C., next week.