Madness just starting for U

Todd Zolecki

The analysis is inescapable, brackets are continually spewing from copiers, experts are springing up everywhere and prognosticators won’t stop prognosticating.
And it’s just getting started.
By the time the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is finished, every statistic will be digested, every paper will be sifted through and every number will be considered.
It truly is March Madness. Every person has an opinion. The big upset pick. The sure team to win the title. The ultimate pool sheet.
This year the tournament has a more interesting twist with Minnesota in the hunt. The Gophers are the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional. For those watching in-state, there is hope that the Big Ten champions can bring back one more trophy before it’s all done.
Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett likes Minnesota’s chances to go deep in the 64-team field. The Badgers are one of only three teams this season to beat the Gophers (27-3).
“I think they’re going to be a tremendous tournament team,” he said. “The only thing I worry about with them is they’ve had a lot of close games. And sometimes you just don’t know what happens in tournament ball in close games.”
Others around the country don’t like the Gophers’ chances. During the past two years, Big Ten teams have bowed out early. The most notable is Purdue, which lost in the second round as a No. 1 seed last year. The conference has a 3-11 NCAA record the past two seasons.
The Washington Post’s Tony Kornheiser summed it up best with this observation: “The Big Ten bites.”
His attitude toward the Big Ten is shared by others. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim also said the Big Ten is overrated. The Big Ten has six teams in the tournament this year, and Syracuse did not make it.
So who’s right? Boeheim or Bennett? Taking into account the Ratings Percentage Index, which is a formula used to help determine the tournament field, the Midwest Regional is the strongest of the four. That means the Gophers might have the toughest road to the Final Four.
With the lowest average RPI rating being the strongest, the Midwest is the best at 48.9. The West has a 50.0 rating, the East is a 50.8 and the Southeast, according to the RPI, is the weakest at 57.9.
“We’ve got a tough bracket,” Gophers forward Courtney James said. “But we know we can win. The teams we’ll be playing are pretty good. They’ll try to knock us out, but as long as we execute like we should, we should be all right.”
Those who worry about a first round upset to Southwest Texas State on Friday shouldn’t be concerned. If history keeps its current course, the Gophers will win. Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 no No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 16 seed.
Number crunching is a favorite pastime for those watching the three-week tournament. Of the top five teams in the Midwest region, the Gophers have the best record against teams in the tournament at 11-2. UCLA, the No. 2 seed, is 8-6. Third-seeded Cincinnati is 5-6; No. 4 seed Clemson is 7-7, and No. 5 seed Tulsa is 5-5.
The Gophers and Southwest Texas State have both played Stephen F. Austin this season. Minnesota pounded SFA, 101-55, in the season opener at home. The Bobcats beat SFA at home, 86-71, but lost on the road, 65-55.
If the Gophers reach the second round, they’ll play either Temple or Mississippi.
Ole Miss lost twice to Alabama this season. The Gophers also lost to Alabama.
Temple shared two opponents with Minnesota. The Owls opened the season with an overtime loss to Wisconsin and lost three times to Rhode Island. The Gophers split their Big Ten series against the Badgers and won at Rhode Island during the nonconference season.
“It’s going to be tough after that first game with Temple and Mississippi,” Gophers junior Eric Harris said. “The coaching staff will prepare us.”