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Friday, March 07, 2008

The great state debate begins now

The great state debate begins now
BY JEFFREY MARTIN
The Wichita Eagle

The idea was hatched at, of all places, Koch Arena.

Back in December, already in the midst of a mediocre (at best) season, Wichita State was somehow putting the wood to LSU (thanks, John Brady), and it was mesmerizing watching Matt Braeuer duck, dart and dive his way around the court, the smallest guy on the floor but arguably the most effective.

By that point, we'd seen plenty of Kansas and enough of Kansas State, enough to know that the Wildcats looked vulnerable in the backcourt while the Jayhawks, even with an emerging Darnell Jackson, seemed a little soft up front.

And the Shockers needed help everywhere.

But then the daydreams began. We envisioned Braeuer in purple and white, feeding the ball to Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Taking it a step further, we pictured Beasley and Walker flanked in the paint by Darrell Arthur, with the ball being pushed ahead and distributed by Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson.

Talk about an all-state team.

How would it stack up against the rest of the country, we wondered.

So we brainstormed. What about a tournament, not unlike the NCAA Tournament, but not nearly as large? There aren't 65 states, after all. But without a Division I school in every state, or only one Division I school in each state, we were already starting with 39 eligible states and the District of Columbia.

A field of 32 made sense.

Slashing seven more states was a difficult but necessary procedure. But first, we compiled our teams -- a starting five plus a reserve and even a coach. Then our "committee" huddled in an office and pored over the data, with each member arguing his case for and against a specific state.

For instance, there wasn't much initial support for Nebraska. But after arguing the basic lack of quality big men roaming collegiate courts, Aleks Maric could be a difference-maker -- especially surrounded by a couple of Creighton gunners.

So Nebraska made it in the field -- as an 8 seed.

Oh, was it mentioned how we divided the field once we pared down to 32 states? Four regions -- East, South, Midwest and West -- with No. 1 seeds in each. Our 1s are North Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas and California -- and you could argue that each, if you add "Los Angeles" to California, might be No. 1 seeds in the actual NCAA Tournament.

How are we going to declare a winner? We're not -- that's where you, the reader, come in. We've taken the liberty of downsizing the field to the Sweet 16, but it's out of our hands from here. Starting today, there will a poll at Kansas.com featuring one game a day. In two weeks, on the actual Selection Sunday, we'll be crowning our champion -- with your input, of course.

Everyone has their favorites, which is obviously very different than who we suspect will actually win.

Take the boss, for instance. He wants to take a closer look at Tennessee's lineup -- with a potential starting five of Memphis' Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey, Tennessee's Chris Lofton and Vandy's Shan Foster, don't bother -- but he thinks that should be the team to beat.

But who will you, the reader, choose?

Given where we reside and the allegiance of local fans, who else could it be but Kansas?

And to think -- the man responsible, Braeuer, didn't even make the Sunflower State squad.

Kansas State beat writer Jeffrey Martin is peeved that his native Vermont wasn't given a special exemption into the Final Four. Reach him at 316-269-6763 or jmartin@wichitaeagle.com.

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