The season started with people predicting as many as 10 teams from the Big East making the NCAA tournament’s field of 65. OK, it came up a little short with only seven teams being included, but all were seeded sixth or better and a record three of them were No. 1 seeds.
So here’s a look at the NCAA tournament from someone who saw every minute of all 15 games of the Big East tournament, including all six overtimes in the Syracuse-Connecticut quarterfinal classic (seedings in parentheses, winners in uppercase):
LOUISVILLE (1) vs. Alabama State-Morehead State winner (16) — If the Cardinals swept both titles in the Big East, this should be a walkover.
SIENA (9) vs. Ohio State (8) — The Saints knocked off Vanderbilt in the first round last year, and most of that team is back.
UTAH (5) vs. Arizona (12) — Most people didn’t even have Arizona in the field. Luke Nevill, a 7-2 center, leads a solid Utah defense that will have the Wildcats out.
WAKE FOREST (4) vs. Cleveland State (13) — The Demon Deacons were ranked No. 1 for a week this season, and the Vikings aren’t good enough for another surprising run like 1986.
WEST VIRGINIA (6) vs. Dayton (11) — The Mountaineers like to switch defenses, and Dayton won’t be able to come up with another close win.
KANSAS (3) vs. North Dakota State (14) — The Jayhawks open defense of their national championship against a team which made the tournament in its first season in Division I.
SOUTHERN CAL (10) vs. Boston College (7) — Coach Tim Floyd got the Trojans turned around in time to win the Pac-10 title; it should help that the Eagles are one of those teams that seems to only get up for big-time opponents.
MICHIGAN STATE (2) vs. Robert Morris (15) — It would be a shock if Robert Morris could handle the Spartans on the boards.
LOUISVILLE vs. Siena — The Cardinals’ pressure will be too much for the Saints’ guards.
WAKE FOREST vs. Utah — The Demon Deacons are big enough up front to offset Nevill, and they are just too good in the open court.
WEST VIRGINA vs. Kansas — The Mountaineers’ 1-3-1 zone with 6-9 freshman Devin Ebanks on the top will make it tough for the Jayhawks to get their offense going.
MICHIGAN STATE vs. Southern Cal — The Spartans are very physical, and their Big Ten style should prevail over the Trojans’ fullcourt pressure.
LOUISVILLE vs. Wake Forest — This should be one of the most entertaining games in the tournament, but the Cardinals will keep their end-of-season roll and 3-point success going.
WEST VIRGINIA vs. Michigan State — The first of the Big East’s impressive wins will be because of the zone forcing the Spartans into an outside shooting contest.
LOUISVILLE vs. West Virginia — These teams had a close one to end the Big East regular season but that was in Morgantown not at a neutral site with a Final Four berth at stake.
CONNECTICUT (1) vs. Chattanooga (16) — The Huskies are one of the few teams to enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak. It’s over against the Mocs.
TEXAS A&M (9) vs. Brigham Young (8) — Mike Singletary of Texas Tech can’t help BYU with 29 straight points like he did against the Aggies in the Big 12 tournament.
PURDUE (5) vs. Northern Iowa (12) — The Boilermakers finally seem to be over the various injuries that slowed them in the regular season.
WASHINGTON (4) vs. Mississippi State (13) — The Huskies were stunned by a loss in the Pac-10 tournament. The Bulldogs were stunned by winning the SEC’s.
MARQUETTE (6) vs. Utah State — The Golden Eagles have lost five of six, but all the losses were in the Big East to ranked teams.
MISSOURI (3) vs. Cornell (14) — The Tigers’ all-out style for 40 minutes should wear down the Ivy league champs.
MARYLAND (10) vs. California (7) — The Terrapins have triumphed in some must-win games lately, and the Golden Bears haven’t.
MEMPHIS (2) vs. Cal State Northridge (15) — The nation’s longest winning streak will reach 25 games without much of a problem.
CONNECTICUT vs. Texas A&M — The Huskies have plenty of people up front to share the load of stopping Aggies forward Josh Carter.
WASHINGTON vs. Purdue — Big man Jon Brockman should be able to lead the Huskies to the second weekend.
MARQUETTE vs. Missouri — Even without injured point guard Dominic James, the Golden Eagles have a lot of veterans, and the Tigers don’t have a lot of postseason experience.
MEMPHIS vs. Maryland — The Tigers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, and they have plenty of people to cover Greivis Vasquez.
CONNECTICUT vs. Washington — Hasheem Thabeet, the 7-3 shotblocker, will dominate inside, and Connecticut’s veteran guards should prevail in this battle of Huskies.
MARQUETTE vs. Memphis — The Golden Eagles are very good on the perimeter defensively even without James, and the Tigers are a poor 3-point shooting team.
CONNECTICUT vs. Marquette — The Golden Eagles’ run ends at the hands of another Big East team, because the Huskies just know them too well.
PITTSBURGH (1) vs. East Tennessee State (16) — The Panthers should be a beast coming off a Big East quarterfinal loss to West Virginia.
OKLAHOMA STATE (8) vs. Tennessee (9) — The Cowboys can really fill it up from 3-point range with four players who have hit at least 50.
WISCONSIN (12) vs. Florida State (5) — This is more than the mandatory 5-12 upset, this is a tough defensive team taking advantage of a team of NCAA newcomers.
XAVIER (4) vs. Portland State (13) — The Musketeers have struggled down the stretch, but they can score from every position.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH (11) vs. UCLA (6) — The Bruins don’t travel well in the NCAA tournament. Their three-year Final Four streak should end across the country at the hands of the tough combo of Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders.
VILLANOVA (3) vs. American (14) — The Wildcats could take cabs to the game at the ‘‘other’’ home court and still have money for a hot dog.
TEXAS (7) vs. Minnesota (10) — The Longhorns started the season as a Top Ten team, and when A.J. Abrams is hitting 3s they still look like one.
DUKE (2) vs. Binghamton (15) — The Blue Devils won the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, while the Bearcats won the America East.
PITTSBURGH vs. Oklahoma State — The Panthers’ strength inside will offset the Cowboys’ perimeter success.
XAVIER vs. Wisconsin — The Musketeers can get out and run to score, and the Badgers have trouble when teams do that.
VILLANOVA vs. Virginia Commonwealth — Villanova’s balance will be a problem for the Rams, who rely so much on guard Eric Maynor.
DUKE vs. Texas — This should be a push from 3-point range, but the Blue Devils do a better job of scoring off turnovers.
PITTSBURGH vs. Xavier — The Panthers’ frontline, especially center DeJuan Blair, won’t have much trouble against the Musketeers.
VILLANOVA vs. Duke — The Wildcats’ guards do a great job on defense, and Dante Cunningham is better inside than anyone the Blue Devils have there.
PITTSBURGH vs. Villanova — The Panthers and Wildcats split in the regular season with Villanova’s win coming when DeJuan Blair was saddled with foul trouble.
NORTH CAROLINA (1) vs. Radford (16) — The Tar Heels are 25-1 in NCAA games in their home state.
BUTLER (9) vs. Louisiana State University (8) — The Bulldogs are a lot like Xavier, a team that handed the Tigers a convincing home loss.
WESTERN KENTUCKY (12) vs. Illinois (5) — The Hilltoppers won two games last season and their advantage here was the absence of injured Illinois guard Chester Frazier and the fact the Illini have a lot of trouble scoring.
GONZAGA (4) vs. Akron (13) — The Zags are a well-rounded team that is still reeling from a first-round loss to Davidson last season.
ARIZONA STATE (6) vs. Temple (11) — The Sun Devils lost to USC and its pressure in the Pac-10 final. The Owls just can’t match that.
SYRACUSE (3) vs. Stephen F. Austin (14) — The Orange have become a national favorite since their six-overtime win over Connecticut.
MICHIGAN (10) vs. Clemson (7) — The Wolverines’ zone spreads opponents out and causes upsets like the ones over Duke and UCLA.
OKLAHOMA (2) vs. Morgan State (15) — The Sooners have a lot more than Blake Griffin.
NORTH CAROLINA vs. Butler — The Bulldogs might keep it close, but they don’t have a Tyler Hansbrough or Ty Lawson.
GONZAGA vs. Western Kentucky — Both teams are balanced, but the Bulldogs are deeper.
SYRACUSE vs. Arizona State — Syracuse’s 2-3 zone should make it tough for James Harden to get his teammates involved.
OKLAHOMA vs. Michigan — Having several good guards will allow the Sooners to handle the zone and allow Blake Griffin to have his usual 20-10 outing.
NORTH CAROLINA vs. Gonzaga — North Carolina has had trouble with quick guards like Jeremy Pargo, but most teams have had a hard time with the Tar Heels having so many players who can score.
SYRACUSE vs. Oklahoma — The Orange’s zone has plenty of size in the back to try and slow down Griffin. Jonny Flynn, the point guard who played 67 minutes against Connecticut, will make it tough on the Sooners.
NORTH CAROLINA vs. Syracuse — It’s hard to believe all those players who decided to return to Carolina for a chance at winning a national championship wouldn’t reach the Final Four.
CONNECTICUT vs. Louisville — The Huskies beat the Cardinals handily in Louisville, and Thabeet and Jeff Adrien will take away going inside as an option, putting a lot of pressure on the Cardinals’ outside shooting.
PITTSBURGH vs. North Carolina — Blair against Hansbrough should be entertaining, but the Panthers’ inside defense should make the difference.
CONNECTICUT vs. Pittsburgh — The third meeting between these teams will cap the Big East’s dream tournament, and the Huskies will finally get the best of the Panthers, giving coach Jim Calhoun his third national championship.