CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Forget about all the storylines Yes, North Carolina finally
has a healthy Ty Lawson. Tennessee's postseason experiment involving J.P. Prince
as the starting point guard is interesting. Washington State guard Taylor
Rochestie's unselfishness to give up his scholarship next season is noble. Even
Derrick Caracter's disappointing collegiate career is semi-newsworthy.
But the real story is that all has gone according to plan in the East
Region, and now we've got a bunch of big boys slinging it out in Charlotte with
a Final Four berth on the line.
It doesn't get any better than this.
The Cinderella stories are entertaining, but when the Sweet 16 rolls around,
it's almost always about the top teams advancing (unless your name is George
After witnessing Upset City last Friday in Tampa — a day in which all four
underdogs pulled off the upset — I'm ready to see the heavyweights go at it.
That's why I'm in Charlotte.
That's exactly what's going to go down here on Thursday, when No. 1 North
Carolina faces No. 4 Washington State, followed by No. 2 Tennessee against No. 3
Louisville. All four of the teams were in The Associated Press preseason top 10.
Out in Phoenix, you've got one big-time program in UCLA. The Bruins play
Western Kentucky and then get the winner of Xavier-West Virginia. That's a road
clear of major potholes for Ben Howland's club.
The Midwest has Kansas, Wisconsin, No. 10 Davidson and No. 12 Villanova.
The only region that compares is down south, with Memphis going against
Michigan State and Texas facing Stanford.
Still, it doesn't stack up to the quartet in Charlotte. The Tar Heels enter
the Big Dance as the top team in the nation and have the best college basketball
player in the country. Even if you are pro-Michael Beasley, North Carolina's
Tyler Hansbrough is the best college basketball player who hasn't been
It's the 40th time that North Carolina will play in the NCAA tournament, tied
with UCLA for second behind Kentucky (49).
"We knew from the time the brackets were announced that this was the
toughest one in the tournament," Tar Heels sophomore shooting guard Wayne Ellington said. "All the top seeds advanced, and that means you've got a
lot of great teams here."
Like Louisville, whom the Tar Heels could potentially see in the Elite Eight.
The Cardinals have eight Final Four appearances under their belt and a coach in
Rick Pitino who has gone to the Final Four with three different schools. They
are also one of the hottest teams in the country since New Year's.
Then you've got a Tennessee team that has established itself as more than
just a football school since Bruce Pearl's arrival — and don't expect that to
change anytime soon. The Vols began the season ranked No. 7 in the country and
have been a fixture near the top of the polls all season long, even moving all
the way up to No. 1 for a week after a road win at Memphis.
"Right from the selection show, we knew it was going to be tough for the
No. 2 seed (in the East)," Vols senior shooting guard Chris Lofton said.
"Next thing you know, we see us as the No. 2 seed. We knew it was going to
be difficult coming in, but now look at it."
The one school that may appear out of place is Washington State, but the
Cougars were a preseason top-10 pick after its unlikely run a year ago to the
NCAA tournament. Washington State was expected to challenge UCLA for the Pac-10
title, and while it didn't quite live up to the preseason hype, the Cougars were
still the third-best team in the top conference in the nation.
"I don't think us being here gives any credibility," Cougars junior
forward Daven Harmeling said. "We don't get a lot of respect, and
Maybe not compared to their brethren out here in Charlotte.
Jeff Goodman is a senior college basketball writer for FOXSports.com. He can
be reached at GoodmanonFOX@aol.com
or check out his blog, Good