Shanoff's WUC: My Bracket Is Already Busted

Today's Calls: Syracuse vs. My Bracket, Illinois (and Others) vs. the Bubble, Tiger vs. the Masters, LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Broadway, Joe Mauer vs. Shoulder Injury, Chad Ochocinco vs. VH1 and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: In an astounding new personal record, my NCAA bracket is already busted. ↵

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↵Heading into Selection Sunday, my operating principle -- for the last two months, really -- had been that I was picking Syracuse to win it all. ↵

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↵The 'Cuse may or may not have lost their position as a No. 1 regional seed. But they have lost two straight. Their starting center, Arinze Onuaku, the heart of their 2-3 zone, is hobbled. They aren't deep. ↵

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↵And, even if Onuaku is healthy enough to play, the notion that they are capable of winning six straight games has been seriously -- if not completely -- undermined. What is the biggest enemy of a solid bracket? Doubt. ↵

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↵The anchor of any fan's NCAA bracket is their champ. If you feel good about that, everything else just kind of flows. When you start your brackets on Sunday night, start with your Final Four and work back. ↵

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↵But I'm not sure you should be listening to me. After all, my bracket is busted and the Tournament's first round is still a week away. ↵

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↵Today's Top Tournament Story Line: De facto "play-in" games. These are the teams who arguably should secure a bid off the bubble with a win today -- or be kaput with a loss. Five to watch: ↵

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↵• San Diego State, which barely survived Colorado State last night. Still: If they beat No. 8 New Mexico today, they should be in; if they lose, they're out. ↵

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↵• Illinois, which -- from most conventional wisdom -- is currently out, can put themselves on the right side of the bubble with a win today over No. 13 Wisconsin, which is locked in and playing for pride. ↵

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↵• Mississippi State, which is currently out but can provide a pretty dramatic data point by winning head-to-head with Florida, which is barely on the right side of the bubble. ↵

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↵• Ole Miss: If the Rebels lose to No. 15 Tennessee, they might go from "barely in" to "barely out," depending on what other teams on the Bubble are doing. But if they win, they're definitely in. ↵

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↵• Rhode Island: Could the Rams earn their way from "out" to "in" simply with a win over St. Louis today in the Atlantic 10 quarters? ↵

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↵More Story Lines to Watch: ↵

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↵• Bubble Watch: Memphis is definitely out. And, in case their bubble status wasn't DOA as it was, UAB lost, too. That is good news for the above bubblers. Suddenly, C-USA is a one-bid league, featuring UTEP, which should win the conference's automatic bid. ↵

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↵• Whither Kent State? They were the presumptive MAC tournament champs, but got bounced out in the quarterfinals. Are they worthy of an at-large bid? Recent bracket forecasts had them as a 13-seed; if they were good enough for a 13 as an auto-bid, aren't they good enough for a 13 as an at-large bid? That said: The 13 spot presumed winning the MAC Tourney. Losing in the MAC quarters? Rough on the resume. ↵

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↵• Big East: Da'Sean Butler FTW! How deep is the Big East this year? Its tournament semifinals features a 3-seed (West Virgina), 5-seed (Marquette), 7-seed (Notre Dame) and 8-seed (Georgetown). All are Tourney locks. ↵

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↵• Big Ten: Where should Purdue be seeded on Sunday night? It comes down to "resume" vs. "reality" -- they just aren't the same team without Robbie Hummel. If they lose to Northwestern, their seeding will plummet. ↵

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↵• Big 12: The league's bids are locked. The only question is if Kansas doesn't win the tournament title, can Kentucky steal the top overall NCAA seeding from what feels today like a KU lock? ↵

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↵• ACC: Tech now in? Not that beating UNC this year is all that impressive, but Georgia Tech likely wrapped up its at-large bid with a win over the Tar Heels last night. ↵

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↵• Pac-10: Arizona St is off the bubble ... and out, after losing to Stanford. In a Pac-10 season as sorry as this one, wouldn't it be amazing if sub-.500 UCLA won the league's auto-bid (then got slotted as, like, a 15-seed?) ↵

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↵• Milestone: Arizona's streak of 25 straight NCAA Tournament appearances is over. I think it might not be matched in the next 25 years. ↵

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↵• Small league title games: As if their rivalry wasn't already insane, Lehigh and Lafayette play for an NCAA bid. I have a soft spot for Lafayette, which features Mike Gruner, who led my high school to an improbable state basketball title a few years ago. (More: America East, Big West, MAC, MEAC, Southland and SWAC. All will fill out the bracket's 15- and 16-seeds.) ↵

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↵Unrelated to the NCAA Tournament ... ↵

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↵Will Tiger's first tournament back be the Masters? There was initial speculation he'd play Bay Hill in Orlando at the end of the month, but that was beaten back by the new meme: Tiger returns at Augusta. If that's true, the Masters will be the most-watched golf event in the history of the sport. ↵

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↵This must be the kind of quality PR influence that Ari Fleischer is providing him. (You might remember Fleischer from such PR "challenges" as: Defending the BCS! Defending the post-Favre Packers! Defending Mark McGwire! Can't say the guy hasn't cornered a market.) ↵

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↵NFL Offseason: Where will LaDainian Tomlinson go? Minnesota seemed to have a strong case, but I love his fit in New York, where Rex Ryan will make him the new Shonn Greene (as Greene became the new Thomas Jones). And LT in a major media market like NY? He loves the spotlight. ↵

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↵NBA Talking Points: The Magic sure seem ready for the postseason. ↵

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↵MLB Spring Training: Sore right shoulder for Joe Mauer? Put on the alert signal!!! ↵

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↵"Floating Realignment": I appreciate Dan Levy's passion that the idea is not a good one, although I look at it slightly differently: That MLB is even openly talking about innovations. (Let's remember: "Controversially" adding the Wild Card was the single-greatest change to the game of the last few decades, and plenty of people hated the idea of that.) "Floating" may not be a good idea, but realignment sure is. It's very possible that Selig was anchoring high so that the next idea -- however radical -- seems conservative by comparison. (Yes, yes: A salary cap would be the best innovation of all, but I'll take new thinking where I can get it.) ↵

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↵Coaching Carousel: St. John's has an open college hoops coach position, and if I was the Johnnies, I would put a huge offer on the table for Memphis wunderkind Josh Pastner, a recruiting dervish who isn't distracted by going dancing right now. ↵

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↵Jersey Watch: The "Agent Zero" era is over. Gilbert Arenas has applied to change his jersey number from his classic 0 to 6. It's a shame for two reasons: Arenas had come to define zero as a jersey number (it represented the number of minutes his detractors said he would play at Arizona). Oh, and LeBron is already claiming 6. ↵

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↵Do you want to date Chad Ochocinco? Here's your chance. (Between this reality show and his entry on Dancing with the Stars, Ochocinco is about to catapult to superstardom.) ↵

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↵RIP: Merlin Olsen, best known to a generation of fans as the friendly bearded guy talking about football on TV -- or perhaps from "Little House on the Prairie" or "Father Murphy." Also, obviously: An all-time great player. ↵

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↵The Last Word: Bracket insanity is coming Monday. ↵

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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. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff. ↵

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

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