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Top of the Arc - March 25, 2009

March 25, 9:15 a.m.: The NCAA tournament selection committee did a great job. The NCAA tournament selection committee did a poor job.

Both sentiments are defensible, depending upon your vantage point.

On one hand, the committee nailed the top 12 overall seeds in the tournament because, for the first time, all are still standing as the event heads to its second weekend. This is a who’s who round of 16, with the field laden with the sport’s current powers. There are no impostors.


Only three remaining teams – Memphis, Xavier and Gonzaga – hail from outside the top six power conferences, and it would be foolish to characterize any of the three as “mid-major.” Memphis, last year’s national runner-up, is in its fourth straight round of 16. Xavier reached the West Region final last season. And Gonzaga has been to 11 straight NCAA tournaments. The lowest seed still remaining, Arizona, has been to 25 straight NCAA tournaments.

The games should be competitive. It was not all bad that four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four last season. All we got was a national title game for the ages.

On the other hand, there is no Cinderella, no Davidson-like team, no George Mason-like story line. Not even a Western Kentucky or a Butler or a Siena is still alive. Upsets make the tournament what it has always been, and we don’t nearly have enough of them.

Only four at-large teams from outside the power conferences earned bids. If you want to blame the committee for that, just remember that four of the final few at-large selections --- Dayton, Maryland, Wisconsin and Arizona – won at least one game in the tournament, so those teams certainly were capable.

On to Thursday’s games, ranked in order of most intriguing:

Missouri-Memphis will be a tennis match. If Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie continue to hit from the outside, Memphis will be tough to beat. Tyreke Evans, as always, needs to stay out of foul trouble. He played much better in the Tigers' second tournament game than in the first, when he was still battling some lingering effects from food poisoning, according to family members. Can Missouri Coach Mike Anderson beat Memphis? Sure, as he was the last Conference USA coach to beat the Tigers, when he coached Alabama-Birmingham in March 2006.

You’ll see a great battle of guards in the Villanova-Duke game. But Duke may have met its match in the Wildcats. The Blue Devils will need another strong game out of Gerald Henderson, who had 24 points in the narrow victory over Texas in the second round. Kyle Singler will need to continue to make shots from the outside. But Villanova forward Dante Cunningham also has been playing well, and he could be the difference for the Wildcats. Duke will have a hard time finding an interior answer for Cunningham.

Purdue could have lost both of its games. Connecticut won easier than anyone. A.J. Price is playing great. He has scored at least 20 points in three straight games, and he has made at least four three-pointers in two straight games. Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson gave the Boilermakers the boost it needed to outlast Washington. Johnson had 22 points and four blocks. Purdue needs to control the tempo make the Huskies – other than Price – shoot from the outside.

Pittsburgh has only won its games by nine points. So what? There are no style points here. It’s not the BCS. Point guard Levance Fields is back playing at a high level. DeJuan Blair, a usual, will need to stay out of foul trouble. Xavier is a balanced team, much like the team that reached the round of eight last season. But the Musketeers have committed 70 more turnovers than their opponents this season – that’s a problem.

By Eric Prisbell  |  March 25, 2009; 9:16 AM ET
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