King Kaufman's Sports Daily

NCAA Tournament: The last underdog goes down -- but how doggy was Davidson? Plus: Obama bracket clinches presidency.


King Kaufman
March 31, 2008 1:00PM (UTC)

If the Davidson Wildcats hadn't existed, it would have been necessary to invent them. In a way, they were invented.

The plucky, underdog, out-of-nowhere and so on and so forth Wildcats took the top-seed Kansas Jayhawks to the last possession Sunday in the Midwest region final in Detroit. Had Jason Richards' desperation 3-pointer gone in at the buzzer, No. 10 Davidson would have been only the third double-digit seed ever to make the Final Four, after No. 11s LSU in 1986 and George Mason in 2006.

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Kansas prevailed, 59-57, to achieve another, less-romantic milestone. This will be the first Final Four that features nothing but No. 1 seeds. Memphis blasted Texas 85-67 to win the South in Sunday's other game. On Saturday UCLA drilled Xavier 76-57 in the West and North Carolina beat Louisville 83-73 in the East.

This is evidently one of those years when the race does go to the swift and the battle to the strong, which is the way to bet anyway, as you may have heard.

And that's how you did bet. You being the people, the mouth-breathing masses. The public, as represented by the bracket of the CBS SportsLine users, picked the four No. 1s to go to the Final Four, something not one other member of this column's esteemed Panel o' Experts -- see the next item -- had the sand to do.

So you're not a bunch that has a soft spot for plucky underdogs. But you bet on Davidson. That says something about Davidson.

The people's bracket gave the thumbs up to the NCAA selection committee's seeding decisions, picking only five upsets in the whole Tournament, and that's if we include your choice of UCLA over Memphis in the semifinals, the third-highest No. 1 over the second-highest, not exactly a Buster Douglas kind of thing.

Three of the other upsets you picked were slight, one seed position separating the teams. You were right about No. 9 Texas A&M over No. 8 BYU in the first round and wrong about a pair of 5-over-4s in the second, Notre Dame over Washington State and Clemson over Vanderbilt. Neither Clemson nor Vandy got that far, having both been upset in the first round.

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The only upset you picked where more than one slot separated the team was No. 10 Davidson over No. 7 Gonzaga in the Midwest. And you were right, of course. In spades. Davidson went on to beat No. 2 Georgetown and No. 3 Wisconsin before giving No. 1 Kansas a hell of a scare. Kansas coach Bill Self ended the game on his hands and knees on the sideline, slapping the hardwood in joy and relief over his team's escape.

Davidson was also a chic pick among the experts, on the Panel and not. Ten of the 13 Panel o' Experts members who have attended kindergarten and are not the NCAA selection committee picked Davidson over Gonzaga in the first round. "Beware the team that draws the Wildcats in Round 1," warned ESPN.com before the brackets were announced.

And why not? This was a team that entered the NCAA Tournament on a 22-game winning streak, and while all of that came in the small Southern Conference, the Wildcats had played tough games against North Carolina, Duke and UCLA early in the season, losing to those three by a combined 18 points. They played tough defense and had a guy, Stephen Curry, capable of lighting up the scoreboard.

It was pretty clear to most of us that the selection committee, which may have done its best-ever job of seeding, underseeded Davidson. The college basketball-watching world looked at the Wildcats and said, "There's no way there are 36 teams better than these guys. They're better than the 7-seed in their region."

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And it's a theory around here that at least some of the great underdog runs that have given the NCAA Tournament so much of its flavor have really been underseeded teams that overachieved some, not properly seeded teams that came from nowhere. It wasn't that long ago that the committee was routinely seeding big-conference mediocrities No. 5 or 6 while hanging a double-digit on fine teams like Gonzaga and Southern Illinois.

The distinguished gentlepeople seem to have figured out that good teams can come from smaller conferences, and that might not be so great after all. For one thing, it's more fun to get red-faced with rage over this or that seeding injustice than to nod at the brackets on Selection Sunday and say, "Fine, no complaints here."

More importantly, if the committee's going to get the seedings right, we're going to have fewer underdog runs by low seeds, because there are going to be fewer good teams in underdog's clothing. Had Davidson been about a 7, its run would have been exciting -- remember when 8-seeds Wisconsin and North Carolina went to the Final Four in 2000? -- but not quite the story it was with the Wildcats never needing the home uniforms worn by the favorite.

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So maybe it's a good idea for the selection committee to get one or two wrong every year. Find some pretty good team from a smaller conference and knock it down a few pegs. There's deniability -- come on, they're 28-3 but whom have they played? -- and of course the team will still lose that first-round game some of the time anyway.

But if it pulls a Davidson and gets hot, you've really got something. Imagine, a 10-seed making the Final Four!

Do I think the selection committee had that in mind when it put a 10 on Davidson's heads three weeks ago? Certainly not. But maybe it should have. It really worked out nicely.

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Panel o' Experts standings [PERMALINK]

Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is going to win the Panel o' Experts, but Obama has clinched the contest-within-a-contest between the candidates, which will decide the presidential election.

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McCain, mired in 14th place -- last among those on the Panel who have lost their baby teeth -- can earn points only by North Carolina winning its semifinal and the Championship Game. Obama, who has 70 points on him, also has the Tar Heels to win it all, so McCain can't pick up any ground.

Now that we've settled that, we don't have to pay those guys much mind over the next seven months, right?

Most years, if you just pick the favorite in every game you'll do pretty well in whatever pool you're in, though you probably won't win it. This year, if you'd picked the favorite in every game except for your correct pick of Davidson over Gonzaga in the first round, you'd be leading the Panel o' Experts. In other words, how do you feel about taking Notre Dame over Washington State now?

As it is, you, the hulking mob, are tied with the NCAA Selection Committee for first place, and if you're both right that North Carolina is going to win the championship, you'll win the contest if the Tar Heels beat UCLA in the title game and the committee will win if they beat Memphis. As mentioned last year when you, the populous, won, the prize of dinner at my house would not apply.

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Last place has long since been locked up by my son, Buster, coin-flippinest 5-year-old not currently running for or serving as president of the United States. And rightly so, as his heretofore trusty quarter picked Stanford to win the Tournament, which resulted in banishment from my place of residence.

For the quarter, not the kid. Come on, how irrational do you think my hatred for Stanford is?

All I said was no cookies till he's 15.

Here are the standings through four rounds, with correct picks worth 10 points in the first round, then 20, 40, 80, 120 and 160 in subsequent rounds.

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Expert     Points     Poss. pts.     Champ
1. CBS SportsLine users
980
1,380
UNC
1. NCAA Selection Committee
980
1,380
UNC
3. Stewart Mandel, Sports Illustrated
950
1,350
UCLA
4. Jonah Keri, ESPN/N.Y. Sun
880
1,280
UCLA
5. Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated
870
1,270
UCLA
6. Yoni Cohen, YoCoHoops.com
860
1,260
Kansas
7. Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated
860
1,140
UCLA
8. Tony Kornheiser, Washington Post
820
1,220
UCLA
9. Gregg Doyel, CBS SportsLine
800
1,200
UCLA
10. Seth Davis, CBS/S.I.
780
1,180
UCLA
10. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
780
1,180
UNC
12. King Kaufman, Salon
730
1,010
Kansas
13. Michael Wilbon, Washington Post
720
1,000
UNC
14. John McCain, R-Ariz.
710
990
UNC
15. Buster, Coinflip Quarterly
390
390
(Stanford)

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  • King Kaufman

    King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

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