Heading into this weekend's regionals, a few things are becoming clear in the NCAA tournament.
First, being named the top seed in a region may not be as cushy as advertised.
Second, for all the talk of the wave of parity that allegedly swept through college basketball this year, it is mostly the same, predictable faces that grace the regional table.
And finally, a good defense will still usually beat a good offense.
Here's a little historical perspective. This year marks the fifth time since the tournament began seeding teams in 1979 that all four top seeds have advanced to the regionals. But never have all of the top seeds advanced together to the Final Four.
Still, only once, in 1980, has the Final Four been devoid of top seeds, and there is no reason to think that that will happen this year.
Nevada-Las Vegas remains the overwhelming favorite to win the West, advance to Indianapolis next week and win the national championship, though Sunday's 62-54 "squeaker" over Georgetown was closer than most expected.
Arkansas struggled in its second-round Southeast match with eighth seed Arizona State and looked eminently beatable. But the Razorbacks, who have already won a whopping 33 games, should be able to handle Alabama tomorrow night, then dispatch Indiana, in what could the tournament's best individual game Saturday.
Try as we might, there really seems to be no way that North Carolina can't get to the Final Four, especially with all the dangerous teams -- Syracuse, UCLA and North Carolina State -- out of the field.
If the Tar Heels can't get past Eastern Michigan and either Temple or Oklahoma State, then they don't deserve tickets to the Final Four, much less to play in it.
The shakiest of the top seeds is the Midwest's Ohio State, which had trouble dispatching Towson State and Georgia Tech, neither of which reminded anyone of those UCLA juggernauts of the '60s and '70s.
Each of the remaining seeds there -- Duke, St. John's and Connecticut -- appear capable of putting the Buckeyes out. And if the Blue Devils win the region, take heart, for the inevitable blowout to UNLV would come in the semifinals, not the title game.
On the notion of parity, here's something to consider: Not only did all four top seeds make it to the round of 16 (Sorry, but "Sweet 16" goes the way of "March Madness," "On The Bubble" and "Big Dance"), but so did three of four seeds in the two, three and four slots.
Only three teams from the lower end of the brackets, Temple and Eastern Michigan, seeded 10th and 12th in the East, respectively, and UConn, the 11th seed in the Midwest, got this far.
And the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Big Eight, which between them have won nine of the last 12 championships, account for nine of the 16 remaining spots in the tournament.
The Southeastern Conference, which got five bids, is down to just one team, Alabama, making its sixth trip in 10 years. But no one's worried, because spring football will be along shortly.
As for the idea that defense talks and offense walks in the tournament, ponder this: Of the 17 teams that led the nation in scoring, eight were invited to the tournament, and only three of them -- UNLV, Arkansas and Duke -- are left.
And those three teams, at last check, play ferocious, in-your-uniform defense.
* ON THE ROAD TO NEW ORLEANS: The women's Final 16 is shaping up as an interesting battle, with the top overall seed eliminated, one of the other top four seeds teetering, and a fair share of upsets.
Top-ranked Penn State, which assumed that role after second-ranked Virginia lost in the ACC tournament semifinals, became the first top seed in the 10-year history of the NCAA tourney to get knocked out in its first game, losing to James Madison.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, who had been No. 1 for all but one week of the regular season, got a big scare, beating Stephen F. Austin 74-72 on a last-second jumper by center Heather Burge, after coach Debbie Ryan had vowed that Virginia's next five opponents after their ACC tournament loss would pay.
And just as on the men's side, the talk of parity is just that, talk. Only two of the top 16 seeds failed to make the regionals and the SEC, long the dominant league in women's play, has four of its teams in the Final 16, three of them in the same region.
* PICKIN' AND GRINNIN': Fearless Prognosticator is 32-for-48 in tournament selections in the office pool, despite losing the entire East region. The best pick of the tournament was Richmond over Syracuse, while the worst was Princeton to beat North Carolina.
But, undaunted and ever positive, here's what the Final Four should look like: West: UNLV; Midwest: Ohio State; Southeast: Arkansas; East: Temple.