Shanoff's W.U.C.: It's the Stale 16

Today's Calls: March Madness vs. March Chalk, Tennessee Lady Vols vs. Oblivion, Your Bracket vs. Barack Obama's Bracket, Team USA vs. Japan, Rockets vs. Spurs, NFL draft in April vs. NFL draft in February and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: This year's NCAA Tournament is a dud. And you have to seriously question whether the entire event is in trouble. Here's the code, and you don't have to be Nicolas Cage in "Knowing" to crack it: ↵

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↵East: 1-2-3-4; South: 1-2-3-4; West: 1-2-3-5; Midwest: 1-2-3-12. ↵

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↵Those are the seeds of the teams that advanced from each region to the regionals. That nasty aftertaste in your mouth: Chalky, isn't it? ↵

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↵Sweet 16? More like Stale 16: 15 teams you would — based on seeding alone — expect to make it and only a single outlier (and not even a sexy mid-major, but a retread major program that is interesting only because it was the last at-large team to make the tournament field). ↵

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↵But the NCAA Tournament has been built on the unexpected, the underdog, the Cinderella. To be sure, the first two rounds have been a lot of fun, but with more near-miss upsets than actual upsets, the madness hasn't extended past the first weekend. ↵

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↵And that is terrible for the NCAA Tournament. ↵

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↵It started a year ago, when all four 1-seeds made the Final Four for the first time. It wasn't an intriguing aberration; apparently, it was ominous foreshadowing. ↵

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↵Let's hope the lack of parity throughout the 65-team field signals a lot more parity among the final 16. Otherwise, the NCAA Tournament risks a fate worse than parity: ↵

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↵Predictability. ↵

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↵Looking for a true shocker? Try the women's tournament: Two-time defending champ Tennessee suffered its first opening-round loss EVER. That's "E-V-E-R." The Lady Vols were not only 42-0 in the first two rounds of the tourney, but had never missed a Sweet 16 in 27 seasons. ↵

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↵Consider it one of the Top 3 most astonishing things to ever happen in the women's tournament bracket (up there with 1998's 16-seed Harvard over 1-seed Stanford). ↵

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↵It is an interesting contrast: If predictability is brutal for the men's NCAA Tournament, it is the opposite for the women; fans, particularly casual ones, WANT to see those powerhouse names — Tennessee, UConn, Duke, UNC, Maryland, Oklahoma, Stanford — as the bracket is whittled down. ↵

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↵Looking Ahead to the Men's Regional Semis: Well, let's make the best of it — based on the struggles that seemingly every survivor went through over the past four days, at least no team is guaranteed to advance. Or so we can hope. ↵

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↵Thursday ↵

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↵East: Pitt-Xavier; Duke-Villanova ↵

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↵Pitt doesn't LOOK like a regional champ. ↵

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↵West: UConn-Purdue; Memphis-Mizzou ↵

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↵Anyone But UConn vs. Anyone But Memphis? ↵

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↵Friday ↵

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↵Midwest: Lousville-Arizona; Michigan State-Kansas ↵

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↵Ugh: Arizona is our only Cinderella? ↵

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↵South: UNC-Gonzaga; Oklahoma-Syracuse ↵

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↵Most compelling regional, by far. ↵

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↵"How's Your Bracket?" That gaudy first-round record? Long-forgotten. Now it's all about how many Sweet 16 teams you have remaining; if your Final Four is still intact; and if you have anything that deviates from the 1-seed (+ Memphis) hegemony you will find on virtually every bracket. ↵

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↵From Friday morning through Saturday night, my own bracket busted. I made four big bets — three imploded before the weekend was over: (1) West Virginia to the Elite Eight; (2) UCLA over Villanova and ultimately to the Elite Eight; and (3) Texas over Duke. My bracket is now in ruins. ↵

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↵(It is little consolation to me that my bracket success through the first two rounds is the same as Barack Obama: We are both barely over the 50th percentile among typical bracket participants. If you used the National Bracket or picked entirely by higher seed, you'd be in the 80th percentile.) ↵

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↵More from around the sports world ... ↵

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↵— WBC: Another year, another disappointing finish for Team USA. Ousted from the tournament by Japan in the semis last night, USA's failure against the World is nearly as humiliating as it was in hoops. ↵

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↵(Unfortunately, due to the timing of the WBC, you will only see fewer American stars play in the WBC, not more. There was a commitment to USA Basketball's "Redeem Team" from the top — the NBA, the owners, the stars. You won't find that in baseball — and U.S. fans' interest in the event will erode even more.) ↵

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↵— NBA Instant History: Watch out for the Rockets. They took over first in the Southwest after beating the Spurs head-to-head. Is it possible Houston is better without T-Mac? (Hasn't that always been the speculation?) ↵

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↵— NFL: No changes to overtime system. Didn't this past Super Bowl come close enough to the dreaded "Coin-Flip Champion" that they see the OT system needs to be reformed before it impacts, say, the Super Bowl? What is the resistance here? ↵

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↵— NFL: Moving draft to February? Mistake. There seems to be a feeling that the NFL's strategy to make itself a year-round sport is stretching the league too thin; I'd argue it is one of the things that makes the league so strong. The current rhythm through the year is optimal. ↵

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↵More Draft: Sounds like the Lions have started to negotiate with the No. 1 overall pick. Or, perhaps, merely ONE of their choices for the No. 1 overall pick. For Lions' fans sake, I hope it's not Matthew Stafford. (Then again: Mark Sanchez would be even worse. How about this: Don't draft a quarterback at all.) ↵

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↵Speaking of Stafford, I will give him a ton of credit for one thing: He aced the Wonderlic with a 38. ↵

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↵— CFB: Weis-Watching. In the booth, on the field ... does it really matter where Charlie Weis "coaches" from? ↵ ↵

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↵— Scandal-watching: Oh, A-Rod, you're the gift that keeps on giving. ↵

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↵— New Media: Shaq used Twitter during halftime of Saturday's game, and his coach acted like an adult about it (rather than like Scott Skiles). Meanwhile, the Women's Pro Soccer League WANTS its players to tweet during halftime. Can't hold back technology, folks. ↵

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↵— Pop Culture: So when you watch endless amounts of the NCAA Tournament on TV, you see the same ads over and over. Some you love to see; some ... not so much. Best? Those Jordan ads with the fans lamenting March losses to Brand Jordan players. Creepiest? The Enterprise couple. ("Red or black? Both!" TMI.) ↵

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↵The Last Word: "Maybe we will go against each other in practice, I don't know. That would be fun, wouldn't it?" — LeBron James, talking about his rivalry with Dwyane Wade. ↵

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↵I love how LeBron is milking the 2010 think; it's totally disrespectful to Cavs fans, but for the rest of us, it's amusing. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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