MINNEAPOLIS -- You work in an office. It's a big office with hundreds of people. You all have hard jobs: everyone toils at their stations every day, struggling to put in efforts that will be recognized. When you get a pat on the back and a "good job," it always seems so fleeting... nobody remembers your name the next day. You just can't seem to get ahead in the world.
But there's that one guy, let's call him Mr. G. He's a real junior achiever, he's got big dreams and plans. He's handsome, he's from a mysterious place far off the grid, and the mere mention of his name is a conversation starter (how do you pronounce that?). The ladies love
him. He's like the most interesting guy in the world from that beer commercial. And the bosses have taken notice: because of some dazzling numbers he put up a while back, he's getting perks and benefits that you just can't get access to. Executive washroom keys, a spot at the big-boy lunch table in the caf, invites to private parties with valet parking -- considering his humble beginnings, Mr. G's a great story.
Such a great story that he survived a stretch when he wasn't bringing in the big numbers like he used to. Mr. G was coasting for a while. It didn't matter, though: he was so dashing, so in with the in crowd, he was given the benefit of the doubt... something you can't seem to get no matter what you do. Mr. G, you look tired, I believe you'll be alright.
But Mr. G always lands on his feet. And now he's back
. And you feel good for him, you're not going to begrudge his success. You're not going to whine about it. He's a symbol of what can be, a reminder that you really can make it out of the mailroom -- and you need that hope to keep slogging into work every morning. But you're not exactly going to hold the elevator door for him when he comes running down the hall.
And perhaps now you can see why will not
be following Gonzaga into the Sweet 16 to Memphis.
I don't care if you agree or not, this is our single exception and always has been. We tolerate Gonzaga, and admire its accomplishments. But friends in high places have allowed the program get more out of a $12 million athletic budget than other low-resource schools could ever dream of getting. Even when the program slips a bit, loses a couple of first-round NCAA games, it's still held to the power-conference standard. George Mason, Western Kentucky or Butler should be so lucky.
Gonzaga will have nearly every nonconference game on ESPN whether it makes the Sweet 16 or not, and will consistently be ranked by poll voters with limited random access memory space for other small-college teams. Gonzaga gets breaks and luck and magic the rest of us can't, with a charmed life that for years was predicated on its ability to get by on charm. That's why it's complicated between us.
As it stands now, this is our first elimination day: Season 5 is over if all four of our remaining teams lose. We'll know after the first set of games if we're safe, or if the hopes and dreams of Hoops Nation rest on the green and gold. The only thing that can be said at this point is that we're not ready to see this end.  Wisconsin vs.  Xavier
- 2:20 pm ET
East Region - Boise, ID (Â» Boston)Athletic Budgets (2008): WISC: $91,342,336 XU: $12,815,704 (-$79m/13%)
It's an important conversation and exploration I hope we can have this coming week: why Xavier hasn't captured the nation's imagination, and why Gonzaga has. First, X has to take care of business in the lower end of the alphabet against a team whose entrance into this event can be explained by its NCAA team sheet: it average RPI loss was 39, which means that its 20-12 record was the result of high degrees of difficulty. Wisconsin owns the very thing that quality small-college teams need -- ball control. At 9.6 turnovers a game, the Badgers will get all the extra possessions they want. They'll slow it down and run their super-efficient offense. The Musketeers will have to hit their shots (which they do every night), rebound the crap out of the ball (shouldn't be a problem), and hide their own turnover problems (14.5 per game, 13th in the Atlantic 14). The key may be stopping the Wisconsin guards -- Xavier's been susceptible to big shooting nights this season. Upsetability: Relative.
 Dayton vs.  Kansas - 2:30 pm
Midwest Region - Minneapolis, MN (Â» Indianapolis)
Athletic Budgets (2008): UD: $16,832,124 KU: $65,707,112 ($-49m/25%)
North Dakota State was done in from the outside (Sherron Collins) and inside (local boy Cole Aldrich) on Friday, and the Flyers will have to hope that they get the opportunity to pick their poison. Both in combination are extremely deadly. The most likely scenario is that the Flyers' kitchen-sink perimeter defense can take Collins out of the game and deny him much of the space in which he created a career night against the Bison. The Jayhawks can be all thumbs in the backcourt, which can result in a lot of fantastic transition opportunities, and the Flyers can win if they can force steals and breakaways. If Kansas keys on Chris Wright, others will have to be ready to be heroes. And it's such a deep, balanced team that there will be plenty of opportunities to go around. Upsetability: Medium.
 Arizona vs.  Cleveland State - 2:40 pm
Midwest Region - Miami, FL (Â» Indianapolis)
Athletic Budgets (2008): ARIZ: $43,958,288 CLST: $8,759,138 (-$35m/18%)
As with Wisconsin, average RPI loss (46) played a big role in getting this Arizona team in. And as the Badgers did, the Wildcats backed their selection up with a big win: a destruction of Mountain West champion Utah. Arizona upped the tempo and blew the Utes off the floor, something that's going to be very difficult against this Vikings team. We talk about ball control so much you're sick of it, but the Vikings' six turnovers on Friday was the stat of the game -- staying in the 6-10 range will be very important today. Composure will also be a crucial element in this: Cleveland State already feels like they own the city of Miami, and 40 solid minutes of focus and shared scoring between the three top scorers can add up to the sweet number 16. Upsetability: Medium-high.
 Siena vs.  Louisville - 5:20 pm
Midwest Region - Dayton, OH (Â» Indianapolis)
Athletic Budgets (2008): SIE: $8,970,217 UL: $53,146,468 ($-45m/15%)
One thing the Cardinals will likely take away from Siena is its tempo-controlling power -- it's safe to say that there is no better defensive team in the country right now, and that's why UL is the No. 1 overall seed. And the roster is full of NBA works in progress, crafted by a master Italian sculptor. (Forgive me that indulgence, I'm practicing my hack sportwriter skills.) If there are holes, they've been well-documented already: lots of turnovers and bad free-throw shooting. Which sounds kinda like Siena on Friday night. The Saints will have to get back to their regular excellent ball control, be patient in finding the right shot, and hang close any way they can until crunch time. It's a team that has plenty of big-shot heroes -- including Ronald Moore, the Mid-Majority Baller of the Tournament so far (if there was such a thing). Upsetability: Medium-low.