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NCAA TOURNAMENT OVERVIEW | J.A. ADANDE

Brackets leave some teams singing

March 12, 2007|J.A. ADANDE

THE big question coming into Selection Sunday was what song the committee members were listening to on their iPods: the Eagles "The Long Run" or Janet Jackson's "What Have You Done For Me Lately?"

We got the answer Sunday. It's Janet. (Miss Jackson, if you're nasty.)

It's no coincidence that the four top-seeded teams -- Florida, North Carolina, Ohio State and Kansas -- won their conference tournaments.

"They burnished their resumes," said Gary Walters, the committee chairman. "That was a differentiating factor."

Meanwhile, he said UCLA hurt itself by losing in the quarterfinals of the Pacific 10 tournament, right on the heels of dropping the regular-season finale at Washington.

So a formerly top-ranked UCLA team that won 15 of its first 17 conference games and a week and a half ago was being mentioned as the top-seeded team overall instead was dropped to the second line. The first stop didn't change (Sacramento, as expected), but the road back to the Final Four got a lot tougher.

At least the Bruins are in. At one point, Air Force was 17-1 and ranked 13th, but losing four straight at the end, including in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament, kept it out of the NCAA party.

As we saw the rest of the brackets filled in, it became obvious that it's not just a No. 1 seeding that's valuable, it's the No. 1 seeding that makes all the difference in the world. Florida got the top spot in the tournament and was rewarded with the easiest path to the Final Four. The Gators' Midwest bracket features a No. 2-seeded team, Wisconsin, that just got taken down by the size and speed of an Ohio State, two qualities Florida also possesses. Third-seeded Oregon lost seven conference games, the most of any No. 3 in the NCAA tournament. Fourth-seeded Maryland's late momentum came to an abrupt halt in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

UCLA doesn't have it easy. I'm a big believer in coaches who have had tournament success, and both potential second-round matchups for UCLA have. Indiana's Kelvin Sampson took Oklahoma to the Final Four in 2002 and the regional finals in 2003. Gonzaga's Mark Few has reached the Sweet 16 three times -- including a memorable game with UCLA last year. And lurking out there as a possible Sweet 16 matchup is the best coach of the modern era, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

But I think it'll be UCLA Coach Ben Howland's old team, Pittsburgh, that takes out Duke and then the Bruins. I'm not sure UCLA will have an inside answer for Aaron Gray. Make my theme music for this region LL Cool J's album "Walking With a Panther."

USC was stuck in a loaded East bracket that includes a potential second-round matchup against Texas and Kevin Durant -- the guy most likely to win a game single-handedly. He may not be able to carry the Longhorns all the way to the championship, but he's good enough to take out the Trojans.

I'm going to pick irrationally in the East. In honor of last year's darlings, George Mason, I'm going with another 11th-seeded team from Washington: George Washington. But only if their band promises to brink back Mason's theme song, "Livin' On a Prayer."

I'm going with the chalk in the Midwest and South Regionals. Not only does Florida have the easiest bracket, the Gators seem to have their energy and enthusiasm back. They never trailed in the Southeastern Conference tournament. Like Shalamar, they look ready for "The Second Time Around."

The emergence of Ohio State giant Greg Oden as an offensive force in addition to his long-standing intimidation on the defensive end means trouble for everyone else. I love Mike Conley's ability to get in the paint, and whatever he misses Oden can slam home. Ohio State will be bumping Jermaine Dupri's "Welcome to Atlanta" after rolling through the Dirty South Regional.

(Speaking of music, one of the most underplayed stories of the year has been the promo Talib Kweli did for the Big Ten. I don't know what I like better, Talib rapping in the commercials or the statement Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany put out: "Talib is a talented artist whose poetry, musical lyrics and rhymes speak to the values of education, effort and literacy." Who knew Delany was down with Talib Kweli?)

When it's all said and done, I like Ohio State. The committee actually made the Buckeyes the third No. 1-seeded team, and I'm sure their losses to Florida and North Carolina were a factor. If this were the BCS, that No. 3 ranking would exclude Ohio State from the national championship. Fortunately this is the much more equitable NCAA tournament, which Walters even described as a blend of Jacksonian and Jeffersonian democracy.

Whatever that means, selection and seeding quibbles aside, this is still the fairest system that exists. Everyone has a shot to get in by winning the conference tournament, and every entrant can get the championship by winning six consecutive games. Heck, it's an even better system than "American Idol." And we all know what song the winner will sing for the finale: "One Shining Moment."

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J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Adande, go to latimes.com/adande.

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