March Madness is already upon us

It's hard to believe, but college basketball's Selection Sunday is already just two days away. March Madness is in full swing with numerous conference tourneys helping to determine which schools will make it to the 65-team NCAA tournament. These tourneys are always extremely difficult to predict, as upsets are certain but not easy to pinpoint.

Note: These picks were made before Thursday's action.

Big East - It's impossible to bet against defending national champion Connecticut with nine straight conference wins, and its consistency of at least reaching the Big East championship game six out of the last seven years. Villanova has won six games in a row.

Atlantic Coast - Last year Maryland won as a No. 6 seed over a Duke Blue Devil team that went on to the Final Four. Third-place Georgia Tech went all the way to the national championship game. North Carolina is the favorite, but overall conference strength makes this one tough to call.

Big 12 - Kansas has lost four of its last six, and the Jayhawks are capable of being plucked by a hungry Texas A&M squad. The battle should come down to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Oklahoma is the Sooner State and not the Cowboy State, so the pick is always Oklahoma.

Big 10 - No.1 ranked Illinois faces little opposition in this conference. Indiana is a team to watch, though, needing a couple of victories to ensure an NCAA berth.

Southeastern - Does Kentucky win this conference tournament every year, or does it just seem that way?

Atlantic 10 - Every Joe should be picking St. Joseph's, the sentimental choice after losing a player to injury because of Temple head coach John Chaney's "goon" tactics. George Washington needs a win to secure an NCAA invite, and Xavier is at home.

USA - Favored Louisville should at least advance to the conference championship game. Memphis owns the advantage playing at home, but the Tigers must run the table to get to the national tournament.

Mid-American - This tough underrated conference is wide open, as Miami-Ohio finished first during the regular season with six losses.

Pacific-10 - On paper, Arizona should beat Washington in the Pac-10 Championship game. With one win, improving UCLA should solidify a spot in the final 65-team field.

Mountain West - Utah easily won the regular season championship by three games. The Utes' strongest challenge should come from second-place New Mexico, who is not assured of an invite to the Big Dance.

Big West - Pacific went undefeated in conference play and has cracked the Top 20. A Tiger loss here would be a big upset.

Western Athletic - Living in Nevada, it would be crazy to pick against first-place Nevada on its home court. UTEP should lose to the Wolf Pack in the final.

America East and Patriot - Although these conferences are not bettable in most sports books, Vermont and Holy Cross deserve mention. It would be a shame if either of these two good teams failed to win its conference tourney and was left out of the NCAA tournament.

• Opening round game - With the NCAA Tournament having been expanded to its current 65-team field, in past years the Tuesday Opening Round games have been barely noticeable. But not this time around. Oakland, Michigan (not California) and its 12-18 record is certain to be playing. Oakland, the No. 7 seed from the Mid-Continent Conference, made host and regular season champ Oral Roberts incontinent after an improbable championship buzzer-beater last Tuesday.

Prediction - It would be easy to assume that a team with a record like Oakland's would have a hard time advancing to the field of 64. But lately just the opposite is true. In each of the last three years, teams with losing records have won the Opening Round game. The pick is Oakland, even if it's a small favorite.

Question: Why is it that only one bracket has an Opening Round game? To make things equal, every bracket should have a play-in game, or the opening round should be eliminated altogether.

Note: Because ot the NCAA Tournament, this article will be presented in the Thursday Nevada Appeal for the next two weeks.

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