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A dance card with a new look The top seeds are big names but the undercard includes the likes of George Mason, Wichita State, LSU, Georgetown and Bradley

Raise your hand if your bracket had George Mason and Wichita State meeting this week in the Washington Regional.

Or if you had Iowa taking it on the chin in the first round. Or Bradley still kicking. Someone? Anyone? Didn't think so.

The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament has come and gone in disorder and amazement. There's no change at the top. The No. 1 seeds -- Duke, Connecticut, Memphis and Villanova -- rumbled ahead and only the Huskies came close to suffering a total meltdown.

But down below the top seeds, there was turbulence. This Sweet 16 has a different feel to it, with only four teams -- Washington, West Virginia, Villanova and Duke -- returning from last year. For the first time since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were still in college, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina are all missing from the Sweet 16. The Big Ten went in with six teams and is now out of business.

The hot league? Let's focus on the Valley. The pundits had rather loud opinions over the validity of four teams from the Missouri Valley Conference, then Wichita State and Bradley proved they belonged and perhaps Creighton and Missouri State should have been given more serious consideration.

"I do think that we've gotten some scrutiny that we don't deserve," said Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon. "All we did was go out and win games. We went out and scheduled people and played people on the road. We were smarter than most of America in our scheduling with the [Ratings Percentage Index], and we had some unfair scrutiny."

Now the tournament becomes more intense. Standing amid the wreckage of upsets, the top four seeds still look hearty. Everyone, that is, except UConn, a team wobbling on the edge like an SUV with two tires in the ditch.

In Washington, D.C., UConn has a virtual cakewalk to the Final Four, but after lackluster, unfocused performances against Albany and Kentucky, the Huskies are as mystifying as ever. Speaking of the Huskies, the nation will learn a lot more about the Washington Huskies' lottery pick in waiting, Brandon Roy. With Wichita State and George Mason meeting in the other semifinal, a mid-major is guaranteed a spot in the Elite Eight.

Duke, perennial as tax season and as dependable as the sun, heads to Atlanta with the third seed (Iowa) gone but faces formidable LSU as its next opponent. The Blue Devils defeated Southern University and George Washington by an average of 14.5 points, but quick, athletic teams like the Tigers give Duke trouble. How will Duke center Shelden Williams match up against 6-foot-9, 310-pound center and SEC Player of the Year Glen "Big Baby" Davis? The key for LSU is how well freshman guard Garrett Temple matches up against All-American J.J. Redick. Poor perimeter shooting has doomed the Blue Devils before.

Is this the same Texas squad that lost by 31 points to Duke on a neutral court and by 17 at home against Tennessee? Not even close. The Longhorns sent notice by storming through Penn and North Carolina State. Now they must deal with West Virginia.

In Oakland it's Memphis, the least recognized of the No. 1 seeds, and UCLA that merit watching.

Before TiVo and March Madness and the shot clock and baggy shorts, the Tigers were known as Memphis State and they excelled. The Tigers have amassed an astounding collection of high-flying athletes, played an impressive nonleague schedule, dominated Conference USA and are in line for their first Final Four appearance since the days of Keith Lee 21 years ago.

UCLA, another souvenir from the past, has been unseen in the Final Four since 1995 but they say defense wins championships and in the second round, Ben Howland's group held Alabama to 2-of-11 shooting from three-point range. A potential Memphis-UCLA regional final could be a classic.

In Minneapolis, Villanova, Boston College, Florida and Georgetown are all Final Four worthy.

Playing four guards is supposed to get you beat -- just ask Canisius -- but somehow Villanova has won 27 of 31 games. Boston College is perhaps the most unselfish team remaining in the field, while Georgetown is the most precise.

Still no one has laid a glove on the Gators, who were supposed to be a year away.

Florida's Joakim Noah and Al Horford are matchup nightmares, and Corey Brewer is a crossover dribble away from All-American status. If point guard Taurean Green plays with consistency, a trip to Indianapolis awaits. But it's not as easy as it sounds.

Play time is over. Time to get serious.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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