Words from the Wise: Upsets, rivalries and home-field advantage

Are you like me? Is your March Madness bracket sitting in the bottom of the trash can? Between the Sweet 16 and the Final Four, all four No. 1 seeds went by the wayside. The last time no top seeds were present in the Final Four was 1980, when Louisville ultimately defeated UCLA for the title. Understandably, 11thseeded George Mason has been the revelation. Lucky to be included in the tournament at all, it has cut a huge swath, eliminating No. 6 seed and 2000 champion Michigan State, No. 3 seed and defending champion North Carolina, No. 7 seed Wichita State and top seed and 2004 champion Connecticut. It is for this exact reason we love sports. Everyone loves cheering on "David," especially when he is a rank outsider; and nowhere else is the distinction between the haves and the have-nots greater than college basketball. The top schools operate slick, streamlined programs like professional teams. They get millions for appearing on television and this exposure, they play against the other big teams in the big games, and all the top prospects want to play for them. This is the reason that a school like Duke has been able to produce an assembly line of star-studded teams. But in the heat of the moment sport isn't about the uniform you are wearing but the person inside the uniform. George Mason and LSU, in particular, have been displaying passion, discipline, dedication, enthusiasm and teamwork in copious quantities - as opposed to the "deer-inthe-headlights" look that Connecticut, Duke, Villanova and Memphis displayed. Winning six sudden-death games in a row means you need a fair dose of luck to be the champion, but the team left standing on April 4 won't be there because of luck alone. If the NCAA Division I men's basketball championship is a sprint, then the Major League Baseball season that begins on Sunday is a marathon. We are on the threshold of a brand new 162-game season. After the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and the Chicago White Sox last year, which team is going to be next to break its longstanding drought? There are plenty of other questions to be answered over the course of the upcoming season, such as what will happen to Barry Bonds, how will the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry play out after the defection of Johnny Damon to the "Evil Empire," and can anyone challenge the Atlanta Braves in the National League East? There are also plenty of questions regarding the opening legs of quarterfinal action in the Champions League. Each of the four matchups offers up a mouth-watering contest. At this stage of the tournament, there are no pushovers and each team left is capable of lifting the trophy in Paris. There are two trains of thought as to whether it's preferable to play the first leg at home or away. All things being equal, I think it is better to play at home first. The reason being that any goals you score in the second leg will be worth double. Recently, AC Milan and Inter Milan - who share San Siro Stadium - had opposite fortunes. AC Milan has won twice when it hosted the first leg, while Inter lost on two occassions it traveled first. Home ground is also a big deal in Australian soccer, which begins its 2006 season on Thursday when St. Kilda treks across to the other side of the country to take on the West Coast Eagles. This is the second year in a row that the Saints have begun the year with a difficult opening assignment. Similar to the White Sox, not many are giving the Sydney Swans much chance in defending the premiership they so famously won last September. They are the highest priced defending champions ever. But then again what do the bookmakers know? According to them, George Mason should have been eliminated in the first round. dwisemanway@hotmail.com