'If Duke played the Taliban, I'd pull for Taliban'

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Welcome to the all-Carolina-most-of-the-time edition of Bracket Racket, your one-stop shopping for all things NCAA on tournament game days.

It's been said that "God is a Tar Heel." Discuss.


The opposing argument is presented by NBC "Today" show host Matt Lauer. His Ohio University Bobcats meet North Carolina in St. Louis.

"I'm not very good at this, so I'm going with my heart," Lauer said. "Ummm, 57-52 Bobcats."

Not very good?

Lauer didn't pick his beloved Bobcats to win even one game, let alone two. And if it wasn't for producer (Tar Heel alert:) Megan Kopf, he'd have no idea what his alma mater is up against now: Five national titles, four times runner-up, a zillion Final Four appearances, the ghost of Michael Jordan. Last week, the Tar Heels even locked up the endorsement of porn fans — or at least their cheerleaders did.

Besides, the only sport Ohio U. excelled at before the tournament began, was, well, jubilating.

It's consistently ranked among America's top party schools, maybe because the street running through the center of campus is lined by nearly two dozen bars. Students spill out onto Court Street every year on the night the clock turns ahead — to protest the loss of a drinking hour. For a serious sports fix, most Athenians still make the 90-minute drive to Columbus to watch mighty Ohio State.

"And I was there in the days of Woody Hayes," Lauer sighed. "We were always the red-headed stepchild. For years, I got introduced as 'This is Matt. He went to Ohio State."

Lauer wasted plenty of time following sports, anyway, and plowed the rest into Ohio U.'s very good communications program. With crazy hours and three kids at home, he has less and less time to follow the bouncing ball on TV.

But lately, he has this recurring dream.

"Court Street erupts and if the weather's nice, the doors will be open, the TV sets blaring and you'll be able to hear it all the way," he said finally, "to Chillicothe."

Not a chance, Matt. But thanks for sharing.

And there will be a party no matter what.



AP business writer Christina Rexrode started calling CEOs at the start of the tournament for their brackets. The North Carolina alums who picked up the phone had few kind words for Duke.

Family Dollar CEO Howard Levine told her he went to UNC's basketball camp as a kid, and still wears his UNC hat to meetings to antagonize co-workers who went to Duke. So he was heartbroken when older son Brian chose to do the same.

"I told him, 'OK, you're going to Duke, and I can get over that,'" Levine recalled. "But you can't wear that Duke stuff when you come home.'"

Cute, but hardly impolitic. For that, we turn to U.S. Rep. Brad Miller.

After speaking with the state's five-term congressman last week, Rexrode decided to call back when North Carolina State made the Sweet 16 as well, and ask about divided loyalties.

"The way I deal with it is, I scream my lungs out for Carolina," Miller said. "I make no pretense that I am at all half-hearted in my support for Carolina. Nobody in North Carolina would trust a politician who claimed to be neutral on a matter as important as college basketball."

Miller said he rooted for N.C. State against Georgetown, And when they play out-of-state. And any time a Wolfpack win doesn't affect Carolina's ranking.

Duke is another story altogether.

"I have said very publicly that if Duke was playing against the Taliban," Miller said very publicly again, "then I'd have to pull for the Taliban."

Guess who's not running for re-election?



Most NBA stars own more than one. Miami's Dwyane Wade might buy another, just so he doesn't have to drive it around.

Wade, who played at Marquette, proposed a bet to Heat teammate, Udonis Haslem, who played at Florida. Their teams met Thursday night.

"It's going to be great," Wade chuckled beforehand.

"He has to put a Florida license plate on one of his cars," Haslem crowed afterward.

And you wondered why anyone would build a five-car garage.



Someday, we'll put AP college basketball writer Jim O'Connell on camera to deliver his picks in person. Fortunately, this is not that day. Here's the selectively edited transcript instead:

"Close your eyes. I promise I won't steal anything. Now remember Christian Watford's 3-pointer at the buzzer to seal Indiana's 73-72 win over Kentucky in December, the Wildcats' first loss of the season. Can you see it? Good.

"Now forget you ever did. The payback is going to be ugly. The Hoosiers won't have a 3-pointer that matters after the opening minutes.

"I know I said I would pick Indiana the rest of the tournament, but a revenge rematch against Kentucky? No ... can ... do.

"Now if the Hoosiers win," he concluded breezily, "I swear that I'll pick them the rest of the way."




If either No. 1 Carolina or No. 2 Kansas makes it to the Final Four, STATS LLC will be the first to salute a remarkable run of consistency. Since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, no more than two consecutive years have gone by without one or the other in the Final Four. The Tar Heels and Jayhawks have been there three times together over that span — 2008, 1993, and 1991 — but that can't happen this year with both in the Midwest region.



"I think that was the best game anybody has ever played against us and didn't beat us." — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, after the Orange escaped Wisconsin 64-63.





At TD Garden


Syracuse 64, Wisconsin 63

Ohio State 81, Cincinnati 66



At US Airways Center


Louisville 57, Michigan State 44

Florida 68, Marquette 58





At The Georgia Dome


Baylor (29-7) vs. Xavier (23-12)

Kentucky (34-2) vs. Indiana (27-8)



At Edward Jones Dome

St. Louis

North Carolina (31-5) vs. Ohio (29-7)

N.C. State (24-12) vs. Kansas (29-6)

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