Greg Auman, Times staff writer
Dangers for Hoosiers
Indiana held on and kept a No. 1 seed despite losing three of its final six games, including a loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten semifinals. It's a dangerous bracket, with Miami a strong No. 2 after winning the ACC tournament title. More potential giant-killers? To get out of the opening weekend, Indiana must get past either Lorenzo Brown and eighth-seeded N.C. State, which beat then-No. 1 Duke on Jan. 12, or ninth-seeded Temple, which has a win against then-No. 3 Syracuse. Miami beat the same No. 1 Duke team by 27 points, and you don't have to remind the Hoosiers about seventh-seeded Illinois, which knocked them out of the No. 1 ranking on Feb. 7.
Is there a better mascot for a play-in No. 16 than the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds? There's an easy bye-bye line, but the Blackbirds get a little help, with the First Four game Wednesday against James Madison, then no travel before Friday's game against the top-seeded Hoosiers. LIU-Brooklyn at least gives fans their money's worth — the Blackbirds have scored at least 90 in four straight games, and are playing in the tournament for the third year in a row. They lost as a No. 16 seed last year to Michigan State, but gave No. 2 seed North Carolina a run two years ago, trailing by just 10 with 1:55 to play in what would end up a 102-87 loss. James Madison, we should point out, has a local in freshman guard Andre Nation, a Durant graduate who played a year of prep school at Faith Baptist in Brandon. He's averaging 8.7 points per game.
There's a strong Big Ten presence in the entire tournament, but no more so than in the opening weekend in Dayton, where Indiana leads one pod and West second-seeded Ohio State leads the other. ... With Marquette losing its last game and Davidson coming in with 17 wins in a row, you might be tempted to pick the 14th seed as an upset, but as a warning: Davidson played only two ranked opponents all season (Gonzaga and Duke) and lost by a combined 32 points. .… So much of the preseason Hoosiers love was for star Cody Zeller, but some of the buzz has shifted to athletic junior guard Victor Oladipo, left, who put together back-to-back double doubles last week in wins against Michigan and Illinois.
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As much as every bracket-filler loses a 5-12 upset, it's hard for a No. 12 seed to make it out of the opening weekend with consecutive wins, which brings us to Cal's 6-foot-9 forward Bak Bak, left, who plays sparingly off the bench, averaging 1.5 points per game. Cal nearly knocked itself out of the tournament, losing its last two games, including an early Pac-12 tournament exit to a Utah team that had gone 5-13 in conference play.
Big East teams lurking
After Indiana and Miami, you have two Big East powers in third-seeded Marquette and fourth-seeded Syracuse, though they come in from opposite directions. Marquette finished in a three-way tie for the Big East title, but stumbled in the Big East tournament in New York, losing to Notre Dame in its first game after a double-bye. The Golden Eagles beat four ranked teams, including Syracuse, so don't take them lightly. Syracuse, meanwhile, had dropped four of five games entering the tournament, but made the final as a No. 5 seed, beating ranked Pittsburgh and Georgetown teams on back-to-back days before losing to Louisville in Saturday's final. You may not find a hotter 3-point shooter in the tournament than Orange senior James Southerland, who set a Big East tournament record with 19 3-pointers in his four games, including a 6-for-6 effort in the quarterfinals that set a Big East tournament record.