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March 16, 2008

THE PARTICULARS

Most overseeded: Washington State (24-8) got the benefit of the doubt as a No. 4. It went 7-5 over its past 12 games and it was only 4-7 against top-50 RPI teams. The Cougars were swept by Pac-10 foes UCLA, Stanford and Arizona and finished No. 23 in the RPI.

Most underseeded: Indiana (25-7) was one spot ahead of Washington State in the RPI but wound up as a No. 8 seed. Indiana went 8-4 in its final 12 games and was 5-5 against RPI top 50 teams. The Hoosiers did lose three of their last four, but a No. 8 was a surprise.

Best player: Forward Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina. If you seriously thought there was another choice, you've got a problem. "Psycho T" is just as valued for his will to win as his terrific numbers (23.1 ppg, 10.3 rpg).

Best player you've never heard of: Guard Demetric Bennett, South Alabama. In five games against NCAA Tournament teams, Bennett (20.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg), a 6-4 senior guard, averaged 25 points and 6.8 rebounds. He dropped 39 points and eight rebounds on Mississippi State.

Best first-round matchups: The 6-11, 7-10 and 8-9 matchups all hold plenty of intrigue. In the 6-11 game, you've got Oklahoma of the Big 12 against St. Joe's of the Atlantic 10. The leading scorer and rebounder for the Sooners is Rivals.com five-star freshman Blake Griffin (15 ppg, 9.4 rpg). The leading scorer and rebounder for the Hawks is Pat Calathes (17.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg), the older brother of five-star freshman Nick Calathes of Florida. In the 7-10 game, it's a mid-major matchup featuring Butler and its terrific backcourt of Mike Green and A.J. Graves against South Alabama and its dynamic guard trio of Bennett, Domonic Tilford and Daon Merritt. Don't forget the Jaguars won't be playing too far from home in Birmingham. The 8-9 game has Indiana and Arkansas, teams steeped in NCAA tradition. It's one of only two first-round games this year that match teams that have won national titles (Marquette-Kentucky is the other).

MCCLELLAN'S PICKS

First round: North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisville, Washington State, Notre Dame, Arkansas, South Alabama, St. Joe's.
Second round: North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisville, Notre Dame.
Sweet 16: North Carolina, Louisville.
Final Four Pick: North Carolina.

HUGUENIN'S PICKS

First round: North Carolina, Tennessee, Louisville, Washington State, Notre Dame, Butler, Indiana, St. Joe's.
Second round: North Carolina, Louisville, Notre Dame, Butler.
Sweet 16: North Carolina, Louisville.
Final Four Pick: North Carolina.

THE BUZZ

You'll read and hear plenty about North Carolina getting to play in its home state until the Final Four, but look out for South Alabama playing in Birmingham for the first two rounds. George Mason still has two players who were starters on the Cinderella Final Four team of two years ago, forward Will Thomas and guard Folarin Campbell. They are the leading scorers for the Patriots. Indiana hasn't made it past the second round in its previous three NCAA appearances, and it figures to have a tough time stopping that streak with a first-round game against Arkansas and a potential second-round game with top-seeded North Carolina. The Hoosiers and Tar Heels have met only twice in the NCAA Tournament, and IU won both meetings. Notre Dame was a six seed in last year's tournament when it was upset by No. 11 Winthrop. This year the Irish are a five seed, paired against No. 12 George Mason. The winner of the ND-GMU game plays the winner of the 4-13 game between Washington State and, lo and behold, 13th-seeded Winthrop. Tennessee's first-round opponent, American, is making the first NCAA appearance in school history. But coach Jeff Jones is no NCAA newcomer. He guided Virginia to five NCAA bids from 1990-98. American's top player is 5-11 guard Garrison Carr, who made a school-record 129 3-pointers this season. For the sake of comparison, that's 16 more than Chris Lofton has this season in one fewer game. The region features two Rivals.com five-star freshmen, Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and Indiana's Eric Gordon. St. Joe's is making its first NCAA appearance since its run to the Elite Eight in 2004 behind guards Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, both of whom are now in the NBA.

ANALYSIS: East | Midwest | South | West | CAPSULES: East | Midwest | South | West

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. ET and can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be heard on Rivals Radio every Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET and can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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