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Thursday, March 01, 2007's Grant Wahl "Revisiting the Magic How Our Magic Eight Has Fared"

Revisiting the Magic
How our Magic Eight has fared and more notes
Posted: Wednesday February 28, 2007 2:51PM; Updated: Wednesday February 28, 2007 2:51PM

What have we learned during this college basketball season? Well, after four months we've learned that it's a felony to possess 'shrooms in the state of Washington (who knew?); that the most genuinely touching moment of the year would feature a teary-eyed Bob Knight; and, not least, that there's no clear favorite heading into the NCAA tournament.

That's another way of saying it's a good time to check back in on our Magic Eight, the list of eight teams from which we guaranteed the national champion would emerge. Keep in mind, this was back in early January, but it's worth seeing where those teams stand today. Here goes (in alphabetical order):

The Wildcats are an underwhelming 6-8 since the Magic Eight came out on Jan. 10. And while we still think this crew is capable of making a tournament run, there are just too many flaws to win a national title. To wit: lack of depth, no significant big guy, poor defense, up-and-down chemistry, Jawann McClellan's mysterious slide and a general softness. Is that enough for you?

The Gators have done a heck of a job lowering everyone's expectations, losing three of their last four -- and with it the tag of "favorite" heading into the NCAA tournament. The question is whether we'll look back on this stretch a month from now the same way we view Florida's mediocre SEC campaign in '06, which is to say as a meaningless blip on the way to a title run. When you see what this team brings to the table, that scenario is extremely plausible.

Sports Illustrated's preseason pick to win it all is humming along, demolishing teams at home and showing encouraging toughness on the road (witness this week's nail biter win at Oklahoma). What do we make of the no-shows by Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins in Norman? The Jayhawks can make up for it and still win in a tough environment.

The young Heels should have closed the door on Maryland when they had the chance, and now they find themselves in a dogfight -- that few observers had anticipated before the season -- to win the ACC . That said, we still think the Tar Heels' overwhelming force will serve it well in March, as long as they settle down and play some defense.

We'd feel better about the Vols if they had picked up more wins on the road this season. True, there's still no impact big man, but Tennessee plays well together, and Bruce Pearl's press is going to mess with most NCAA foes' heads even before the game starts.

The Bruins are the closest thing we've seen to a model of consistency, and for that reason, they have the inside track to the overall-No. 1 seed. But what they've accomplished without a major post presence has been underplayed in some quarters. Has anyone raised the prospect that Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison could both be first-team All-Americas? The idea is starting to grow on us.

The Cougars appeared as a fluke Magic Eight inclusion to some detractors, but what's happened since has only reinforced the idea that Tony Bennett's team deserves total respect from the Establishment. Don't be surprised if the Beast in the Palouse knocks off UCLA this week.

|The 'Bag is less worried about Wisconsin's two losses last week than we are about Brian Butch's elbow injury, which might keep him out of the NCAA tournament. Did the Badgers peak too early? And do they lack the focus to get the ball in Alando Tucker's hands when it matters most? Tucker's your guy in crunch time, guys. Use him.

Which Magic Eight omissions might cause us problems? Let's count 'em:

• Ohio State. The Buckeyes already proved us wrong by winning the Big Ten; there's no reason they couldn't do it again in the NCAAs.

• Texas A&M. The only Big 12 team that has beaten the Aggies this season is Texas Tech (twice). A&M's defense makes it a solid Final Four candidate.

• Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Louisville. The three scariest teams in the Big East still suffer from enough flaws that we can envision long tournament runs without them winning it all.

Memphis. We wish the Tigers had faced a little bit tougher level of competition than C-USA has been able to offer.

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