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It's easy to separate the facts from fiction on Selection Sunday

You know the moment: One minute left before the latest Cinderella team shocks the world, and each player on the bench looks like he'll jump out of his skin.

That's the NCAA Tournament.

So are Florida A&M's cheerleaders joining in on the victory dogpile at halfcourt, or Albany seemingly partying nonstop for 24 hours, or Miami of Ohio's Doug Penno banking in a triple to ruin Akron's season.

All three happened over the weekend during league championship finals, the dress rehearsal to The Show beginning Thursday. There's nothing left to do but start the theme music and comb Jim Nantz's hair.

By now, we're familiar with the slow buildup: The champion must win six games, each one segmented by TV commercials at four-minute intervals. Coaches, comfortable with the TV rhythm, plot from interval to interval and save their allotted timeouts for strategy.

Which means the tournament rations itself to the viewer four minutes at a time, pacing itself like a jockey saving ground in the backstretch. It always leads to drama at the end, when the coaches tear off their coats, seniors cry and the last shot triggers both delirium and misery.

As it's said in the business world, the product is proven. If you watch, you will be rewarded. Everyone wins — universities, advertisers, sneaker companies, etc. — even if 64 teams lose their final game.

The theater began with Sunday's announcement of the pairings, when Stanford squeaked in as the last qualifier listed by TV. That final 11th seed was longed for by Drexel, Syracuse, Air Force, Kansas State, West Virginia and Florida State, the six rejected by basketball's most exalted committee. To hear the pundits talk, the forsaken sextet either regroups in the NIT or jumps off the nearest bridge.

After all, there is no middle ground come March.

Let's muse on the college game's alleged truths, some affirmed by this year's bracket and others blown into tiny particles.

The West Coast always receives second-hand treatment at the expense of the power conferences and heavy moneybags from the East.

Not so this year. The Pacific-10 Conference's six bids were legitimate, and UCLA blowing the No. 1 seed was the logical result of losing its last two games to non-tournament teams. That said, it's hard to imagine a more lethal No. 3 seed than Oregon, which has positioned itself for a run not unlike the Ducks of 2002. Stanford's berth probably was a bow to the league's strong overall performance.

The Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East still rule the world.

It's as predictable as smoke along Tobacco Road. The ACC was so-so this year but still topped everyone with seven bids, a surprise only to the uninformed. It was encouraging, however, that the committee finally caught up to Syracuse. The Orangemen, preferring their Carrier Dome clout, refuse to match up with good non-league teams on the road. This season, they traveled only to Canisius (ouch!) and Oklahoma State in a virtual home game at Madison Square Garden (which they lost). Committee chairman Gary Walters said 104 teams logged 20 or more wins, and the previous high was 78.

Lesson: You no longer can fool the committee with adroit scheduling.

The mid-majors continue to gain respect.

Can't agree. Only six mid-majors, two fewer than 2006, worked into the bracket while 28 at-large spots went to teams from first-tier leagues. Those on the outside looking in no doubt were embittered by Nevada's loss to Utah State and Wright State's win over Butler. Regardless, being big still counts in college basketball.

A No. 12 seed always beats a No. 5.

It's happened the last six years, so let's identify the next upset. Yes, there it is: Old Dominion over Butler.

The Sub-Regional in Sacramento doesn't exactly overflow with thrills.

File under "wait and see." Anyone who's attended these sessions leaves Arco Arena with a smile. The spectacle itself — watching a Weber State trying to hang with the blue-blood Bruins — is worth the admission price. Indiana, which enjoyed its stay in Sacramento five years ago, trots into the house with its trademark candy-cane warmups and enough tradition to inspire a "Hoosiers" sequel. Indiana and Gonzaga present a delightful collision of old-school vs. new-school.

Observers also have circled Oral Roberts for a possible 4-vs.-13 upset over Washington State, one of the nation's feel-good stories. Nevada's loss over the weekend probably booted the Wolfpack from Sac to New Orleans.

Parity dominates the landscape. There is no clearcut favorite.

One is tempted to believe the above, given the absence of UConn and Syracuse and the vulnerability of Kentucky and Duke. But until further notice, we'll yield the floor to the defending champion Florida Gators. They slumped last season before winning their last 11 games, and they've already logged in their slump and rally this year. Players such as Joakim Noah, Lee Humphrey and Al Horford apparently can "flip the switch" and excel on a whim. Crossing them off your office pool remains a serious risk.

You've got four days to stock provisions for the next three weeks. As John Wooden says, "Be quick, but don't hurry."

Begin the Madness.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at 578-2300 or ragostini@modbee.com.

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