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Sticking with UConn

With apologies to Wichita State fans, the real shocker of college basketball’s NCAA Tournament so far was how easily Nevada got bounced out by Montana in the first round. Wolf Pack fans that had the opportunity to catch the game must say that it was a surprise and horror to watch.

For the Pack it was uncharted territory being a favorite in the tournament and having the arena crowd rooting against them. In the past the Wolf Pack responded much better as the hunter and not the hunted, like against the Grizzlies this year. Not to mention that Nevada was a dreaded 5 seed versus a 12.

Of course Nevada wasn’t the only favorite sent packing during another one of the NCAA Tournament’s bracket-busting weekends. When teams like Northwestern State, George Mason and Bradley are pulling off upsets, people begin to comprehend how truly unpredictable this tourney can be. There just isn’t that much difference between the top and bottom teams invited.

As far as the future of Nevada’s team is concerned, major changes are impending. Star forward Nick Fazekas is a certainty to skip his senior season and enter the NBA draft. Fazekas has nothing more to prove at this level, and as a late first round pick he would immediately join a playoff team.

It does also appear that head coach Mark Fox will be leaving. Fox is a former assistant at coachless Kansas State, which is a perfect job for him to land if it is offered.

Nevada fans need not despair the loss of Fox, whose team was ill-prepared for the Montana game. Although the Wolf Pack shot 47 percent, they were defenseless in giving up 87 points, weren’t as physical, never led, and didn’t want to win as badly as Montana. When Nevada was attempting to mount a comeback, Fox was hit with an embarrassing technical foul that just added to the deficit rather than fired up his team. Fazekas will be the bigger loss.

National Championship – Looking at the current Sweet 16 brackets, it still is no easy task to determine who will be this year’s champion or who will even get to the Final Four. That’s part of the beauty of the NCAA Tournament.

Predictions: As mentioned last week, never have all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four, and only once did all four fail to get that far. A No. 7 seed has never got as far as the Final Four, and only once did a seed higher than 8 ever get there. During the last five years no Southeastern Conference schools have reached the Final Four, and for seven consecutive seasons two teams from the same conference have made it.

If history holds true, at least one but not all four No. 1 seeds will be eliminated by Sunday, as will LSU, Florida, Georgetown, Wichita State, George Mason and Bradley, sad as it is to say.

Washington Regional – No. 5 seeds like Washington are 5-25 in the regional semi-finals, so expect No. 1 seed Connecticut to beat the George Mason – Wichita State winner on Sunday. If Washington somehow beats UConn, jump on the Washington bandwagon, as No. 5 seeds are 4-1 in regional finals.

Atlanta – No. 1 seed Duke will get by LSU, then squeak past the Texas – West Virginia winner.

Minneapolis – The winner between Villanova and Boston College will beat out either Florida or Georgetown. Those third-round games, though, are both toss-ups.

Oakland – Memphis should take care of Bradley, but the Gonzaga – UCLA game will be the best third-rounder to watch.

Final Four – Connecticut, Duke, Villanova, and UCLA.

Third round bets against the point spread: Connecticut -6; Duke -6; Memphis -6 1/2.

Fourth round – Taking the underdogs against the spread has been the way to go recently in regional final games. The opening line dogs went 4-0 last year, and they were 3-1 from 1998-99 and 2003-04, and 2-2 each year in between.

National Champion – The pre-tournament pick of Connecticut is alive and well so far.

Note – Next week this column will be returning to its regular spot in Friday’s sports section.