Midwest Regional

Ncaa Tournament

March 12, 2007|By KEVIN VAN VALKENBERG

GOING TO ATLANTA

Wisconsin. The Badgers, outside of a Final Four appearance in 2000, have almost zero basketball tradition. But that may change in the next few weeks. Wisconsin isn't sexy, but it's disciplined and smart, and it has one of the best coaches in the country in Bo Ryan, and one of the best players in Alando Tucker. Tucker, the school's all-time leading scorer, didn't play well in the Big Ten final against Ohio State, scoring just 10 points, and it probably cost Wisconsin a No. 1 seed, but that's unlikely to happen again. The key to the Badgers' run may be 6-foot-11 center Brian Butch, who is questionable with an elbow injury. A team like Oregon, loaded with nearly as many athletes as it is Nike swooshes, could give Wisconsin problems in the Sweet 16, but the Badgers played the fourth-toughest schedule in the country. Wisconsin, consistently rated as the best party school in the country, is never lacking for an excuse to tip back a few frosty beverages. But winning its first national title since 1941 might be the best buzz of all.

MOST OVERRATED TEAM

Florida. The only thing that makes us more uncomfortable than Joakim Noah's wispy mustache, which would probably get him teased out of most seventh-grade homerooms, is the Gators' uneven play late in the season. The Gators have the talent to repeat, but it might be surprising to see them named the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Sure, they've won 12 straight postseason games, but prior to the Southeast Conference tournament, Noah looked like he was playing with one eye on the NBA, and Taurean Green couldn't throw it in the ocean from the end of a pier. No team has repeated since Duke in 1991 and 1992. While Florida could pull it off, don't be surprised to see a team like Arizona or Maryland give them a scare.

MOST UNDERRATED TEAM

UNLV. The Running Rebels (28-6) are ranked 10th in the Rating Percentage Index, went 5-2 versus the rest of the field, and won their conference tournament. They're making their first tournament appearance since 2000. Point guard Kevin Kruger, son of coach Lon Kruger, is proof that, for whatever reason, nepotism works in Las Vegas as long as you're not Fredo Corleone. Kevin Kruger is averaging 13.6 points a game and 5.0 assists.

PRIME TIME PLAYER

Alando Tucker, Wisconsin. The 6-foot-6 senior guard averages 20.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF

Stephen Curry of Davidson. Dell Curry, who played for 16 seasons in the NBA and was a star at Virginia Tech, obviously passed down his silky jumper to his son, Stephen. Stephen Curry badly wanted to follow in his father's footsteps in Blacksburg, Va., but the Hokies weren't interested, so Stephen ended up at Davidson, where he led the Southern Conference in scoring (22.1).

KEEP AN EYE ON

Jackson State's Trey Johnson is the kind of guy who makes the NCAA tournament fun. He was second in the country in scoring (27.1 points per game), and he will put it up from the parking lot if you leave him open. The Tigers don't have a prayer against Florida, but watching Johnson drop 40 on the Gators might be fun.

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