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SEC, C-USA could meet a lot in NCAA

By By Stan Torgerson / sports columnist
March 16, 2004
The two conferences with Mississippi teams as members done good. Pardon the redneck slang, but they really did. They done good.
The SEC had six of their teams invited to the NCAA tournament. So did Conference USA. The SEC is no surprise but I must admit some eyebrows were raised when Conference USA had as many teams make it to the tournament as the Big Ten and the Pac 10 did put together.
That makes me wonder if the league has been underestimating its football potential all these years. Yes, there is a difference between having 15 players in one sport and 85 in another. But if there are enough top basketball athletes in the Cincinnati, Charlotte, DePaul, Louisville, Memphis and UAB neighborhoods, could it be there are enough who would like to play big time football as well. We'll never know.
We will know, however, how the SEC and Conference USA stack up in talent and coaching. If UAB can beat Washington in the first round they will likely have to play Kentucky next. Make that 1-0 for the SEC.
If Charlotte can beat Texas Tech and then the winner of the St. Joseph's-Liberty game they would possibility run into Florida in the Sweet 16. Make that 2-0 for the SEC.
Memphis and South Carolina go head to head in the first round. Memphis is a No. 7 seed and South Carolina earned a No. 10. Make that 2-1, the SEC still on top.
Cincinnati has no chance to play an SEC team until they get to the round of Eight. There is no SEC team in their immediate bracket.
But there is an absolutely exciting prospect for both leagues, as you move down in round two of the Atlanta Regional. Louisville plays Xavier in their first game, while Mississippi State only has to get by Monmouth. At that point the Cardinals and the Bulldogs would go face to face, or head to head if you prefer.
Las Vegas will make Mississippi State the favorite, as they should, but Louisville can be a very tough customer. We'll go with the odds but with our fingers crossed. Make it 3-1, SEC.
Alabama also can't play someone from Conference USA until the round of Eight because there isn't such a team in its bracket.
But move on down a couple of notches and there sit Vanderbilt and DePaul with a possible matchup in the Sweet 16. Vandy would have to get by Western Michigan and the winner of North Carolina State-Louisiana-Lafayette.
That doesn't seem too hard to me. DePaul, however, would first have to beat a tough Dayton bunch and follow that with a win over either Connecticut or Vermont, likely Connecticut.
Vanderbilt-DePaul is a long shot but it is possible. If it happens Vanderbilt will likely have too much size for DePaul since the Commodores have a 7-2 center and a near 7-footer up front. Make it 4-1 SEC.
So which team from each league has the best chance to hang around the longest. In the SEC, you've got to select Kentucky. After all, the selection committee said Kentucky is the best team in the entire tournament and on most days that is true.
As for Conference USA, Cincinnati is a four seed meaning the selection committee says they are likely the best their conference has to offer. They're my choice to still be playing when the other Conference USA teams have packed their uniforms and basketballs and gone home.
There has never been a NCAA Tournament in which all four finalists were No. 1 seeds, not yet at least. I don't think there will be one this year. If there were, Duke would be playing Stanford in the Final Four. Kentucky would be matched against St. Joseph's.
But my reading is the same as Billy Packer's. St Joseph's didn't deserve a No. 1 seed, not with their schedule of cupcakes. St. Joe's may make it to the Sweet 16 with a first round win over Liberty, but there's a chance it will go down in the round of 32 against either Bobby Knight's Texas Tech team or Charlotte.
Year after year, however, I look to see who has won our office pool, and it almost always is somebody who I swear threw darts at a dartboard in order to make his or her selections. The true experts, people who walk, talk and breath basketball, who pick with their head instead of their hearts are almost invariably left sitting on the sidelines.