March Madness 2009: The Field of 65

(Editor's Note: March Madness officially begins tonight, March 17 with a play-in game between Alabama State and Morehead State in Dayton to determine which team will face top seeded Louisville. That game can be seen on ESPN. The first round of the championship tournament begins Thursday, March 19 at 12:20 p.m. EDT. CBS will broadcast the tournament. The full television schedule can be found here. Various satellite systems and the NCAA online also feature full coverage of the tournament.)

by Dan Aspan

Special to iVoryTowerz

This year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association selection committee managed to narrow the tournament field to 65 teams without facing much criticism. In fact, annual critic Dick Vitale is applauding the selection committee for their efforts this season. Although Vitale feels St. Mary's was snubbed (and I would agree), the committee did a great job to ensure that the most deserving teams will get a shot at college basketball's Holy Grail this spring.

There is some debate about Memphis deserving a #1 seed over UConn, but the two teams are in the same regional bracket and will face off if both are good (and lucky) enough to survive that long.

Louisville captured the #1 overall seed after defeating Syracuse for the Big East championship. Syracuse has got to be winded, but their superb play in the Big East gives me the feeling that they can at least make a Sweet 16 run. They should have no problem shredding #14 seed Stephen F. Austin, and the winner of Temple v. Arizona State (I'm going with the Temple Owls) shouldn't pose too much of a threat for the Syracuse Orange. However, Temple is hot coming off their victory over Xavier and their beating of Duquesne to claim the Atlantic-10 crown. A Syracuse-Temple match-up could be a barn burner if it becomes apparent that fatigue has caught up with the Orange.

The overrated seed of the tournament, in my mind, is Xavier out of the Atlantic 10. The Xavier Musketeers had a great year, getting off to a sizzling 9-0 record which included a win over #2 seed Memphis. But I don't see them as one of the top 16 teams in the tournament, after losing down the stretch to inferior conference opponents like Richmond and Charlotte. Look for Florida State to upset the Musketeers in the second round.

As for the Villanova Wildcats, the selection committee might as well have given them a two round bye, giving them a well-deserved #3 seed but placing them in their hometown Philadelphia. The Wildcats may not even break a sweat until they suit up in Boston for the Sweet 16 round of play. There are intriguing matchups all over the bracket, and the first weekend promises to provide some great March Madness action.

(For another viewpoint on the 2009 NCAA pre-tournament please see: "March Madness: Number 1 Doesn't Matter. Yet.")

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