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Early Bracket Projections

January 27, 2004 Columns No Comments

The Season’s First Bracket

by Matt Jones

Well we have now passed the midpoint of the season and are in the
homestretch towards glory. Yes we have now reached the time of year where
everyone’s attention begins to focus on the upcoming NCAA Tournament and
announcers begin to use terms such as “spurtability” with such frequency
that you want to poke out your eyeballs. However there still are a couple
of weeks where we college basketball fans still have our beloved sport to
ourselves. The nation’s attention is focused squarely on the Super Bowl and
Howard Dean’s latest wrestling promo, and those folks who truly know the
game of college basketball can rationally discuss the subject without having
the casual sports fan or Dick Vitale say “Well no one is going to beat
Duke.” This is the time of year where Joe Lunardi and every other two-bit
sportswriter with a slide rule and calculator tries to formulate his bracket
based on computer numbers that inevitably put a team like Purdue at number
one. Yes this is the time for college basketball geeks which is exactly why
I love it.

I decided a few days ago that I wanted to participate in the free-for-all
bracket predictions, but in a slightly different manner. I want to do more
than simply predict the bracket, I want to actually predict who would win
the tournament if it were to occur today. Now this prediction is not based
on how a team will fare in March, as there is really no way to tell what
teams will get hot and which will fizzle down the stretch. Rather this is
January Madness, filled with all the excitement and sizzle of John Kerry
topped with the depth of Jessica Simpson.

The ground rules are simple. I took the latest Hoopville Top 25 poll and
used it, plus the seven teams who were just outside of the poll and made a
32 team bracket, which essentially is equivalent to the second round of the
NCAA Tournament. This meant leaving out all of the traditional Cinderellas
such as Weber State and Rider, but this is my tournament and I can do what I
want. Over the next few days I am going to simulate the tournament, giving
mini-summaries of how the games would play out. The ground rules are
simple. We are playing these games on a neutral court, in this case Madison
Square Garden in New York, so as to add a bit of flair to the occasion. As
in the NCAA Tournament, most games will be won by the favorites, but there
will be upsets throughout to keep things from getting stale. Each column
will contain the synopsis of a few games, culminating late next week with
the Final 4. So without further ado, here is the bracket:

Stanford v Utah State
Texas v Florida
North Carolina v Oklahoma State
Wake Forest v Western Michigan

Cincinnati v Creighton
Arizona v Wisconsin
Georgia Tech v Vanderbilt
UConn v LSU

St Josephs v Utah
Gonzaga v Mississippi State
Kansas v Oklahoma
Louisville v Maryland

Kentucky v South Carolina
Pittsburgh v Purdue
Syracuse v Texas Tech
Duke v Illinois

With those ground rules, we begin our tournament with the first round in the

#1 Stanford v #32 Utah State

When the brackets were released just moments ago, this was the game that had
all of America searching for their remote and looking to see if American
Idol was on. The Stanford Cardinal is the number one team in all of America
(at least in the polls that are not run by the media…aka the Duke Blue
Devil fan club) and has played the best and most consistent basketball of
the season. While Josh Childress’s hair has sparked many a discussion,
little that this team does has gained much attention on the East Coast, as
much of the media is too busy proclaiming J.J. Redick the best shooter in
NCAA history (yes that means you Digger Phelps). Matching up the Cardinal
with Utah State did not help matters a great deal as most college basketball
fans turned on the game hoping to see Rick Majerus, and instead found a boy
named Stew (Merril) roaming the sidelines. Similar to Dennis Kucinich when
he found out that even Willie Nelson was not going to campaign for him
anymore, Utah State fans realized they truly had no chance when their star
player Spencer Nelson broke his hand and was ruled out for the season.
Nevertheless like the true Aggies that they are, Utah State vowed to fight.
Yet the fight has a Tyson-Spinks quality and Stanford destroys the
overmatched Aggies 88-60.

#16 Texas v #17 Florida

After the dismantling the Gators took at the hands of Mississippi State on
Wednesday, Billy Donovan’s team came into this game with their confidence
shaken. With the exception of their fabulous run in 2000, Donovan’s Gators
have never been a particularly good tournament team and have been throughly
embarrassed the past two seasons in the Big Dance. In addition most Gator
fans refused to make the trip to New York City due to the cold weather and
their desire not to leave their position on their knees praying for Steve
Spurrier’s return. Thus conventional wisdom suggested that Texas was a
strong favorite and would be too much for Florida to handle. Alas, in this
case conventional wisdom was correct. Texas’s Brad Buckman overcame his
fellow boy band members on the Gators team by drowning a flurry of three
pointers in the second half and helping the Longhorns to a 78-65 victory.
Donovan responded after the game by signing four top 10 recruits and in his
grand Menudo style, summarily kicking David Lee off the team for becoming
“too old”.

#8 Wake Forest v #25 Western Michigan

When the pairings were announced, Demon Deacons fans were a bit worried
about their opponent. After all this is the school that had produced such
stars as “Thunder” Dan Majerle and Los Angeles Clippers’s sensation Chris
Kaman…oh wait, that was Central Michigan. Well at least Western Michigan
was the former home of the tiny scoring threat Earl Boykins, who electrified
the college and pro basketball world with his stunning play in the land of
giants….no that was Eastern Michigan. Well nevertheless Western
Michigan was ranked in the Top 25 and even though they were coming off a
surprising loss to Kent (motto: “we don’t need the State), they had notched
victories over Southern California and Arizona State earlier in the season.
However this time, the sanctity of the Garden and the scoring of Justin Gray
were a bit too much to overcome. Skip Prosser’s bunch harassed the
outmanned Broncos throughout the game and prevented them from becoming the
latest MAC team to shock the world. After the game Vytas Danelius got into
a shouting match with some rowdy North Carolina fans who told him that the
Deacons were overrated and would go down in the next round. Danelius simply
took off his uniform, and showed the fans his “I Don’t give a S*** About
North Carolina” T-shirt. They quickly scurried away and turned their
attention to Eddie Sutton’s hairdo.

#9 North Carolina v #24 Oklahoma State

As seemed to be par for the course for this side of the bracket, North
Carolina was coming off an embarrassing loss to Florida State in which they
blew a 24 point lead at the end of the game. They were up against an
Oklahoma State team that is consistently underrated and had only suffered
two defeats all season, both of them on the road, against BYU and Texas
Tech. Eddie Sutton’s teams always have a way of slipping in under the radar
screen and surprising their opponents with a suffocating zone defense and a
methodical style of play that keeps them close in every game. Unfortunately
for the Tar Heels, this is the exact type of play that frustrates them.
Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton began launching ill-advised shots and Sean
May got in late foul trouble, allowing the Cowboys to pull off the 68-63
victory. Most in the crowd were shocked, including New York City legend
Kenny Smith, who came to see his alma mater and to remind people that he has
two rings to Charles Barkley’s none. After reminding everyone around him of
that fact for the fifteenth time, he was punched in the face and forced to
listen to Bette Midler music for the rest of the night. Roy Williams left
the court after the game, began to cry and said he had never had a player
like Senior Jonathan Miller in his lifetime and that this season was

So in the East Stanford, Texas, Wake Forest and Oklahoma State move on. See
you soon for the West!


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