It’s Manic Monday. Wait, That’s The Bangles. I Mean, It’s Bracket Monday!

They know baseball. But do they know basketball? Badger fans hope not.

The Cal State Fullerton Titans baseball team has won four NCAA Men’s Baseball College World Series championships, the most recent coming in 2004. But their men’s basketball program has been decidedly less successful, having not made it to the NCAA tournament since 1978.

That thirty-year run of futility has come to an end this year, as the Titans won the Big West conference to earn an automatic bid to the field of 65. For their 24-8 overall record and 79th RPI ranking, the Titans earned a 14 seed and an opening round game against Bo Ryan’s third-seeded Wisconsin Badgers.

Upon learning of the matchup, most Badger fans likely gave it little thought, choosing instead to see who Wisconsin will play in the second round (it’ll be either USC or Kansas State). Some though, probably remember last year’s near-disaster, when the second-seeded Badgers fell behind 25-7 to the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders, a fifteen seed that had never been to the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin came back to escape by a score of 76-63 before then being upset in the second round by UNLV.

We’ll know within a week whether a similar fate will befall this year’s Badgers team or whether Bo Ryan’s Big Ten champions will survive past the tournament’s opening weekend for the first time since 2005, when Wisconsin advanced all the way to the Elite Eight.

What we do know already is that the NCAA selection committee predictably did not show much respect to the Big Ten, limiting the power conference to four bids: Wisconsin, fifth-seeded (in the South regional) Michigan State, sixth-seeded Purdue (West region), and eighth-seeded (East region) Indiana. 2007 Big Ten champion and NCAA tournament runner-up Ohio State, thought by many to have played themselves into the field with late-season wins over Purdue and Michigan State, apparently lost whatever chance they had by failing to win a game in this year’s Big Ten tournament. (Make no mistake, these tournaments matter: Purdue and Indiana looked to be no lower than five seeds before dropping their first games in Indianapolis.)

But any complaints fans of the Big Ten may have are likely to be drowned out by fans of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which also sent only four teams — North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, and Miami (FL) — to the NCAA tournament. This despite boasting the number one conference RPI ranking. Think 19-13 Ohio State got robbed? Certainly no more so than Virginia Tech, who finished their own 19-13 season by losing on a last-second shot to tournament overall number one seed North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals.

In the end, it was the Big East who stole the selection committee’s hearts: Their eight bids tied a tournament record for heaviest representation from any single conference. Certainly 12th seed (Midwest region) Villanova, widely considered one of the last teams into the tournament (and who might have been bounced had Illinois been able to upset Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament final), is as questionable a selection as any, finishing only 9-9 in conference play and ending its regular season by losing a 19-point game to Georgetown in the Big East tournament’s second round.

No such controversy seems to accompany the committee’s selection of number one seeds: North Carolina, Memphis, UCLA, and Kansas. All four programs were dominant all season long. Of course, that dominance doesn’t translate to the tournament, as no Final Four has ever consisted of the quartet of number one seeds. Is this the year that trend is reversed, or is this the year a 16 seed upends a number one seed? Just a couple of the possibilities that makes March Madness such a fascinating event. (Just think if they did something like this with college football . . . ah, let’s not go there now.)

Here’s a quick look at the four regions, from toughest to easiest:

East Region
The East bracket boasts not only the overall number one seed in North Carolina, but several scary teams that could easily put a stop to the Tar Heels’ ride to the Final Four. First and foremost is number two seed Tennessee, which appeared destined to be a number one seed before losing the SEC tournament final to Arkansas. Other potential Final Four teams include Louisville and Notre Dame, which both boasted a 14-4 conference record in the tough Big East, Number 21-ranked Washington State out of the PAC-10, and perennial Cinderella team Butler. Speaking of Cinderella, 2006 Final Four bracketbuster George Mason is here as well and has hopes of repeating its magic run of just two years ago. The most overrated team in this region is probably eighth-seeded Indiana, which is struggling mightily since the departure of head coach Kelvin Sampson; the Hoosiers look to have some early trouble as they take on SEC tournament runner-up Arkansas in the first round.

South Region
Say what you want about overall number two seed Memphis being from the weaker Conference USA; the Tigers played a tough non-conference schedule and ended the season with a staggering 33-1 record with their only loss coming in a close and wildly entertaining game to Tennessee. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that the Tigers didn’t lose a single road game all season. Looking to upend John Calipari’s team will be Big 12 runner-up Texas, PAC-10 runner-up Stanford, Big East tourament champion Pittsburgh, and perennial tournament teams Michigan State, Marquette, and Kentucky. The Wildcats stand as the most overrated team in this region, though, as their pedigree more than their average 18-12 record this season seemed to be what got them into the tournament as an 11 seed.

West Region
The number-one seeded UCLA Bruins seem to have as much momentum as any team heading into the NCAA tournament; they’ve won ten consecutive games, boast an overall 30-3 record, and won the PAC-10 regular season and tournament titles. But UCLA has survived several close calls recently, including a questionable foul call on March 6 that may have stole the PAC-10 title away from Stanford. So to reach their third Final Four in three consecutive years, UCLA will have to overcome challenges from teams including Duke (whose resume speaks for itself), Atlantic 10 regular-season champion Xavier, and powerhouses from non-power conferences Drake and Western Kentucky. Not to mention buried in this region as a fourteen seed is Georgia, a team no one wants to face after their remarkable run through the SEC tournament.

Midwest Region
To make it to their first Final Four since 2000, the Wisconsin Badgers will have to come out of a region that boasts not only Big 12 champion Kansas but perhaps the strongest number two seed in the entire bracket in Big East regular-season champion Georgetown. Beyond those two teams and the Badgers in the third-seed, teams to look out for include number five seed Clemson, which upended Duke in the ACC semifinals, tenth-seeded Davidson, which boasts the nation’s longest winning streak at 22 games, and eleventh-seeded Kansas State, which could win a couple of games simply on the abilities of Freshman of the Year Michael Beasley. Not to mention the Midwest bracket includes UNLV, which ended Wisconsin’s season in last year’s tournament. At least Texas A&M-Corpus Christi didn’t make the cut this year.


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