Chalk is good ... if you are playing pool. It also comes in handy when you are teaching a lecture; funny that today's lecture will attempt to show why not to pick the chalk in this year's NCAA Tournament.
UConn has the best overall talent, but now that my esteemed colleague, Andy Katz, has ended the Huskies' chances of a national title by picking them to win it, we've cleared the biggest hurdle to a non-top seed winning it all. The other top seeds? Very good, but beatable -- exactly what we like to see.
(Texas fans, rest easy. You're not mentioned below because you were, in essence, considered the fifth top seed all season -- too chalky for me.)
Without further ado, here are five non-top seeds that could be cutting down the nets in Indianapolis on April 3:
For the 99 percent of you who don't have the Fox package on dish or digital cable, there's a pretty good chance you have missed seeing the Bruins play all season. If so, you've missed out on one of the bigger success stories of the season. In his third year in Westwood, Ben Howland successfully has integrated his hard-nosed defensive approach into a team with a good amount of individual offensive talent. The result was Pac-10 regular-season and tournament titles, despite a slew of injuries that would have felled lesser teams.
With any quasi-dark horse, the pick is reliant upon a combination of skill, location and draw. The Bruins are in the top 13 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored/allowed per possession) and also are in the top 20 in effective field goal percentage (accounting for 3-pointers). UCLA also will have about as home-friendly a path as there is in this year's Dance, playing in San Diego and then, if it makes the regional, in the Bay Area. Additionally, there aren't a lot of huge threats in the Bruins' half of the Oakland region and Memphis is probably the shakiest of the top seeds on paper.
With all the buzz over Tennessee and Florida in the SEC East this season, it was pretty easy to overlook the fact that the overall league champ (by two games) came from the West division. LSU slipped way under the national radar because of five nonconference losses, but those were by a total of 11 points to Ohio State, UConn, Northern Iowa, Cincinnati (with Armein Kirkland) and Houston.
The two big concerns are the health of redshirt freshman stud Tyrus Thomas, who should be OK to go after sitting out the SEC Tournament with a foot problem, and the possible residual impact of last year's awful performance against UAB (the 11th-seeded Blazers upset the sixth-seeded Tigers in the first round of the NCAA tourney). Assuming Thomas is healthy, the Tigers have two go-to guys -- inside with Glen Davis and outside with Darrel Mitchell -- and two very legitimate contributors (Tasmin Mitchell also averages 12 ppg). LSU is incredibly good on the offensive glass (ninth in the nation at 40.0 percent) and doesn't put you on the free throw line (fourth-best in the nation) -- a good combination for NCAA success.
The Tigers have a manageable first two games and definitely have the size and talent to beat Duke in a Sweet 16 game if they run into the Blue Devils.