Looks like Cardinal Timothy Dolan has had a lot of practice in answering the one question that comes up in interviews — his chance of becoming the next Pope, when the conclave meets later this month. Earlier this week, Dolan told NBC News that he had the same chance of replacing “a-rod [at] third place for the New York Yankees.” That’s not the end of the sports metaphors either. Religion News Service has introduced its own Catholic version of March Madness with its Sweet Sistine brackets, where you can predict the next pontiff in a three-round system.

Before you start making picks in the first round, though, be sure to watch this brief overview of the cardinals that may be the most likely candidates to succeed the now-Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  Widely respected author and scholar George Weigel briefs NBC on the possibilities:

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One name that has intrigued many inside and outside of the Catholic Church has been Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. Those outside the Church have focused on his ethnicity as a message of diversity, and the reporter in this interview even calls this an “Obama moment.” That misses the point entirely. The Catholic Church has placed a new emphasis on evangelization, and will be looking for a leader with talent, skill, experience, and a track record on evangelization — and the places where that new evangelization has succeeded most has been Africa and South America. That’s why cardinals will be casting their eyes outside of Europe, but Weigel points out that Turkson may not be the best fit anyway:

NBC: Let’s talk about Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana. The writing in the article says in part, both because of his personality and the historic milestone some journalists have taken to calling this papal election an Obama moment for the church.  Could Turkson be a top pick?

Weigel: I know Cardinal Turkson . I consider him a friend. He’s a lovely man. He’s a good biblical scholar. He was a good pastor back in Kenya. He has not fit well in Rome . I think he would be the first person to tell you that. He doesn’t really feel comfortable being manager of the sort he’s had to be in the Roman curia , and I think the buzz about him is a reflection of his winsome personality, but he would not be candidly, in my top ten. He’s a wonderful human being , but this job now is going to require someone to undertake some serious reform of the Vatican bureaucracy, and I’m not sure he’ll be regarded as the man likeliest to do that.

In fact, Weigel considers this a “wide open” conclave, with the only real geographical impulse an anti-Italian one.  And Weigel concludes that American Catholicism has in fact rebounded over the last 20 years, producing many more vocations than in previous decades.  Maybe Cardinal Dolan should brush up on hitting the slider.

As I wrote earlier and announced on the Hugh Hewitt show on Thursday, I will be traveling to Rome to cover this conclave for Hot Air.  I have received credentials from the Vatican and will have access to the press center and media events, and I’m beginning to make contacts for interesting stories and on-camera interviews.  I’ll also cast a closer look on Eurozone stories, perhaps especially the impact of the Italian elections on the European debt crisis.  I may be there for as long as two weeks, depending on the conclave’s length and the events surrounding it.  It’s a once-a-generation event in most cases, and it’s a big story in both the secular and faith contexts.