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March 17, 2005

NCAA analysis: Albuquerque region

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
Of all four regions, Albuquerque might be the weakest, and as a result, the hardest to predict. The Washington Huskies, thanks to conference tourney losses by Kansas, Kentucky, and Wake Forest, was able to pull a surprise number 1 seed in the region. The balance in the bracket means that as many as seven teams have a legitimate shot of winning this bracket and a trip to the Final Four in St. Louis

Washington is the one seed, anchored by junior point guard Nate Robinson. The 5'8" guard is fast and has an otherworldly 43-inch vertical leap. They won the Pac 10 tournament, but finished second in the regular season behind Arizona. The 27-5 Huskies should roll Montana and the winner of the Pittsburgh-Pacific game, but their first real test could be their last in the Sweet Sixteen.

Washington will likely play either Georgia Tech or Louisville, who was somehow stuck with a four seed in the bracket despite being ranked fourth nationally in both the AP and Coaches' Polls. Both teams are hot, with Louisville winning their last seven games and the Conference USA tournament.

Tech turned a struggling season around with a run deep into the ACC tournament, losing to Duke by just four points. If they defeat George Washington, they will get their date with Louisville. Whoever wins that likely second round match up (the best game of the second round) could run Washington out of the Dance in the Sweet Sixteen game at the Pit in Albuquerque.

Look for Louisville to move to the Elite Eight; the Huskies are the most overrated seed, the Cardinals are most underrated seed of the whole tournament. Louisville is actually the higher ranked of the two teams.

Bobby Knight will also set up shop in this bracket, facing UCLA in the first round. The Bruins are in the tournament for the first time in three years, and they got a raw seed after they were upset in the Pac 10 tournament by Oregon State. Knight hasn't won a tourney game since he took the job in Lubbock.

The winner of that game will face Gonzaga most likely in the next round. The Bulldogs rolled through the surprisingly competitive West Coast Conference, and got their best seed ever since they began their six-year tournament streak in 1999. With a good Gonzaga run in the tournament, coach Mark Few might leave for a bigger program, and he has been mentioned in Virginia's search for a coaching replacement for the fired Pete Gillen.

West Virginia faces Creighton in the 7-10 game. The Mountaineers took themselves off the bubble with a shocking run to the finals of the Big East tournament, upsetting the top-seeded Boston College Eagles on their way there. An upset at the hands of the Creighton Blue Jays wouldn't be shocking; the Jays were upset in the Missouri Valley Tournament, and are seeded about two slots below their ability.

Finally, at the bottom of the bracket, Wake Forest is a two seed, despite being a better squad team than Washington all year. They entered the ACC Tournament ranked third in the nation, but were upset by N.C. State due to the absence of their star player, Chris Paul. Paul, who was suspended for that game, will be back for the first round game against Chattanooga, and with him on the floor, they are the best team in this bracket.

Wake will roll all the way to the Elite Eight, when they should face Louisville in what will be a great regional final. Look for the Demon Deacons to win that game and to get the Albuquerque Region's bid into the Final Four.

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