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March 5, 2008

No. 2 seeds can fall early in NCAA Tourney

MORE: Conference Tourney Primer | Drive to 65 | Daily Bubble Watch

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
Feb. 27: Room for two?
Feb. 20: Worried Wildcats
Feb. 13: Same story?

The chances of all four No. 2 seeds advancing past the first round of the NCAA Tournament are good.

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 (and 65 in 2001), it has happened 19 of a possible 23 times, including six consecutive years. In 2001, Iowa State became the fourth team to join the infamous 15-over-2 club when it suffered a shocking upset to Hampton in Boise, Idaho.

But the chances of all the No. 2 seeds advancing past the second round drops dramatically. In fact, it's highly unlikely to happen this season.

One fan who sent a question to the mailbag this week pointed out that at least one No. 2 has failed to get past the second round in each of the past 10 NCAA Tournaments. The streak actually goes back 11 consecutive tournaments and it often includes multiple upset victims. In fact, half of the No. 2 seeds (22 out of 44) over that period have failed to get past the second round.

So, who will be the victim(s) this time around? We answer that question, along with others about whether Xavier deserves to land a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament, how far Wisconsin will advance in the NCAA Tournament, whether Connecticut can win the Big East Tournament, what the odds are of Illinois making an improbable run to the Big Ten Tournament title and who is the safest choice to reach the Final Four, in this week's mailbag.

ANDREWS'S MAILBAG
Trouble for twos

At least one No. 2 seed has lost in the first or second round in the past 10 NCAA tournaments. Five times, two No. 2 seeds went down in the second round (2006, 2005, 2004, 2003 and 2001). Twice, three No. 2 seeds have lost in the second round (1999, 2000). Assuming four of the following teams will be No. 2 seeds, which is most susceptible to an early exit Texas, Georgetown, Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, Tennessee, UCLA, Connecticut, Xavier, Stanford or Louisville? In my opinion, Georgetown seems to lack a dominant scorer that can take over a game and Duke lacks the inside presence needed to make a run at the Final Four.

NIT-bound Villanova fan Paul Russell from Matthews, N.C.
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I knew that four No. 2 seeds had fallen in the first round (Richmond beat Syracuse in 1991, Santa Clara beat Arizona in '93, Coppin State beat South Carolina in '97 and Hampton beat Iowa State in 2001), but didn't realize there was such a trend of No. 2 seeds not getting past the second round.

Your research got me wondering about how No. 1 seeds have fared in the first weekend, so I took a look and found that six times in the past 10 NCAA Tournaments, all four No. 1 top seeds reached the Sweet 16 (including each of the past three years).

As far as your question, I think Georgetown and Tennessee are the most "susceptible" candidates out there. I can see both those teams going deep in the NCAA Tournament, but I also can see them losing to someone they shouldn't.

Georgetown plays too many games that come down to the final minute. That often is to their advantage, since John Thompson III's roster is loaded with experience and savvy, but it is also dangerous. You leave enough opponents hanging around and eventually someone will make you pay.

Tennessee has the opposite problem, often taking control of a game early, then surrendering a big lead. We saw it last Sunday when the Vols went up 20-5 on Kentucky, but allowed the Wildcats to climb back into the game before escaping with a 63-60 win. They may not be so fortunate again.

X=3?

How does Xavier project as a No. 3 seed when they are playing weak teams? The same scenario happened a couple years back with George Washington and they wound up as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Rock from Winston-Salem, N.C.
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George Washington, which was upset by Temple in the second round of the 2006 Atlantic 10 Tournament, actually was a No. 8 seed to the surprise of many, including myself in 2006 despite a 26-2 overall record and a 16-0 mark in league play.

Nothing of the sort will happen to Xavier if they happen to fall early in the A-10 Tournament, which is held in Atlantic City, N.J., this season.

Unlike GW, the Musketeers put together a brutal non-conference schedule (ranks 16th-toughest in the nation), then went out and beat four opponents in the top 50 of the RPI: Kent State, Indiana (on a neutral court), Creighton and Kansas State all four of whom could get into the field of 65.

The A-10's improvement is another major factor in Xavier's lofty status. The league is enjoying its best season in several years, ranking seventh in the RPI conference ratings; it was 11th two seasons ago.

Even in the worst-case scenario, I think Xavier will be a No. 4 seed. The Musketeers' resume is strong, far stronger than that of George Washington two seasons ago.

Huskies' hopes

Do you think Connecticut can win the Big East Tournament?

Moe from Brooklyn
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I wouldn't be surprised to see UConn coach Jim Calhoun holding the tournament title trophy on the night of March 15.

Louisville is the trendy pick right now, since the Cardinals have won 15 of their last 17 games. But the Huskies also are one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won 12 of their past 13.

I think the Huskies are just as talented as the Cardinals, maybe even more so with the emergence of point guard A.J. Price, who has looked like an NBA-quality guard this season.

Also, the return of shooting guard Jerome Dyson, who rejoined the team last week after a nine-game suspension, may give the Huskies a slight edge over the league's other elite teams. An athletic slasher, Dyson was averaging 14 points per game before his suspension.

Crystal ball

How far do you think Wisconsin will make it in the NCAA Tournament?

Steven Nguyen from Milwaukee
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Obviously, a lot will depend on their draw, but regardless I expect Wisconsin to be in the Sweet 16. I can't see the Badgers falling anything below a No. 4 seed, and they probably will be able to overpower their first couple of opponents on the inside.

Senior guard Michael Flowers, who held Michigan State's Drew Neitzel to three points on 1-of-10 shooting, can stymie some of the most talented scorers on the perimeter.

But I'd be surprised if Wisconsin goes any further than the Elite Eight. The team lacks great guard play, and sophomore point Trevon Hughes, a first-year starter, is their only truly good ballhandler, something great defensive teams will exploit.

Banking on the Bruins

In your opinion, which team do you feel has the most consistency? What's a team you can count on to go to at least the Elite Eight or Final Four?

Trevor from Costa Mesa, Calif.
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If you are looking to go for the safest route possible when filling out your bracket, then UCLA is your team.

Coach Ben Howland has taken the Bruins to each of the past two Final Fours, and his latest team has more experience, more talent and far more balance than the previous two.

Four of the players in UCLA's rotation have played in the national title game. Five have played in the semifinals.

Among that group are two-year starter Darren Collison, one of the nation's top point guards, and forwards Josh Shipp and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who have six years of starting experience between them.

That group alone probably could carry UCLA to the Final Four. Add Kevin Love, who may be the top center in the country, to the mix and the Bruins have to be the favorite to win it all. Love, a 6-foot-10, 270-pound freshman, provides a massive inside presence, which is exactly what has held the Bruins back in the past.

Long odds

If you were a gambling man, what type of odds would you give on Illinois winning the Big Ten Tournament?

Lucas from Champaign, Ill.
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I'd say somewhere around 50-1, and even those long odds may be kind.

The Illini can get no higher than the eighth seed, which means they must play on the first day of the tournament and win four games in four days a feat that has only been accomplished once since the Big Ten started its tournament in 1998.

Iowa won four games in four days as a No. 6 seed to win the 2001 tournament. Two other teams that played on the first day have reached the final, including No. 11 seed Illinois in 1999.

But a repeat performance seems highly unlikely. With a format where the top five seeds receive first-round byes, Illinois probably would have to beat three of the top five teams in the league Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State to win the title. The Illini's record against that quintet is 0-9.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.



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