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I realize that these days the whole NCAA Tournament is completely deconstructed and hyper-analyzed within an hour of the field being announced, but even now I still cherish the following Monday morning, when I print out the bracket and really spend some time looking at the match ups.
* Let's start in the East Regional, for obvious reasons. I've been going back and forth on Texas' first-round opponent, Cincinnati. On the one hand, the Bearcats present some very substantial challenges for this Longhorns squad, and in Gates they have a player who makes the loss of Wangmene particularly painful. On the other hand, when I look around at some of the teams near Cincinnati on the S-Curve -- Vanderbilt, Murray State, Wichita, Statte, Florida, New Mexico -- and I'm reminded to be thankful the Longhorns didn't draw an opponent that buries opponents beneath an avalanche of threes. Texas will have its work cut out for it, but if the Longhorns strength of getting to the line wins out over the Bearcats strength of defending well without fouling, I like our chances.
* Not that Texas is in any position to be thinking about the second round, but should they advance, the draw in the Round of 32 would be, um, more problematic. Assuming Florida State dispatches St. Bonaventure, the Seminoles possess precisely the kind of towering frontcourt that this Texas team simply isn't equipped to handle. Bill Connelly wasn't crazy to pick Florida State to win the East.
* Elsewhere in the East, I'd love to see a Wisconsin-Vanderbilt match up in the 4/5 game, and with their abundance of shooters think the winner presents an interesting challenge to top-seeded Syracuse.
* Moving down the bracket to the Midwest, North Carolina shouldn't have any trouble reaching the second weekend, but Michigan is a tougher opponent than most realize, and if Kansas can make it to the Regional finals, the duo of Robinson and Withey gives them one of few frontcourts that can match up with the Heels. As good a year as Georgetown has had, it's tough to imagine them bowing out in the First Round yet again, but... Belmont can play. The Hoyas will be tested in their opener once again.
* Moving to the West Regional, I'm excited to see New Mexico and Long Beach State play, although it's too bad they're pitted against one another, as I'd love to see both teams with a chance to get to the Sweet 16. Michigan State looks like a good bet to bully its way straight through to the Regional finals, but it's hard to see that offense outscoring Missouri, whose offense doesn't look like it can be slowed down by anyone right now. I've got the Tigers coming out of the West.
* And last but not least, though Kentucky was rewarded with the weakest No. 2 seed in Duke, the South is a strong grouping overall, with a dangerous defending champion No. 9 seed, an exceptional (and underseeded) mid-major in Wichita State, a No. 3 seed stuffed with NBA talent, surging VCU, and an Indiana team that's already defeated the Wildcats once. Kentucky will have to earn it if they are to return to the Final Four again this year.
* The opening round tips off Tuesday night, the Madness really gets going on Thursday morning, and Texas will tip with Cincinnati from Nashville on Friday morning at 11:15 a.m. CT.
Your thoughts on the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket?
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