If you’ve watched the NCAA basketball tournament matchups over the past several decades, you will have noticed that the committee has a good sense of geography and history as it makes selections that end up serving as our March bracketological puzzle. And maybe the committee has a good sense of humor, too.
Consider Louisville, the No. 1 overall seed. Presumably the Cardinals are on solid geographical turf, as the No. 1 seed, opening in Lexington, 60 miles to the south, and then perhaps a second round in Indianapolis, 100 miles to the north. But those are perhaps the most inhospitable regional cities around, where fans of Kentucky and Indiana come to vilify Louisville, the outlier city.
And what of the mighty University of Kentucky Wildcats, the defending national champs? Disenfranchised. No bid to defend the title, given a paltry 21-11 record and disastrous losses, including losing their best player, Nerlins Noel, out for the season with a severe knee injury. In retrospect, it’s easy to second-guess Coach Calipari for playing the soft non-conference schedule.
Roy Williams, coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels could end up facing Kansas, the team he coached to many NCAA appearances, or perhaps UCLA, where three unhappy former Tar Heels migrated a few years ago. So many story lines, so little time!
Meanwhile, if the Cardinals get to Indianapolis, chances are they will face Duke, their future rival in the ACC, an improbable alignment beginning next year that combines Midwest teams Louisville, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame and upstate New York’s Syracuse into the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Anything can happen on the road to the Final Four, of course. Don’t count out Michigan State in the Midwest. The Spartans are defensive demons, strong inside and sometimes clutch. Some notable dark horses: Virginia Commonwealth, Florida Gulf Coast, Creighton, Montana.
The South is the strongest region, in my opinion, with Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan, Georgetown, Florida, UCLA, VCU and Minnesota. Any one of those teams could get to the Final Four, as they have in the past.
Big 10 teams are strong contenders for the Final Four. Indiana is a No. 1 seed, sitting pretty heading to Verizon Center in D.C. for the regional finals, maybe in a rematch with Butler or Illinois, but most likely a nail-biter against Jim Larranaga and the Miami Hurricanes.
It wouldn’t surprise me if either Ohio State or Wisconsin wins the West, although Gonzaga and New Mexico are worthy. Michigan could surprise Kansas or North Carolina, emerging from the South. Louisville, Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan.
Those would be my initial bets for a Final Four, sure to change tomorrow, once I’ve studied the teams a bit more. I’ve seen most of the contenders but confess I have no clue who will win between N.C. State and Temple, or Colorado State and Missouri. So many choices! “The Big Guessing Game,” my wife says. But she always picks the alma mater, Michigan State. And why not? The Spartans were the last Big 10 team to win the national championship, and that wasn’t the first time. A guy named Magic ruled the court when she went to school.
I myself am bound to Indiana by geography, history and emotion – the three seeds of human bias – so you will take my arguments with a grain of salt. But we all are bound to emotional attachments of one sort or another, so we share the best we can. Hoosiers do it better! I’ve seen it in the movies!
Let the games begin! Tell us what you think! How is this game going to go? Join the conversation on Facebook at Byrne’s Virtual Office Pool. If you’re coherent, you are invited to join other crack bracketologists at Byrne’s String Music, for the fine competition.
It’s a Fine Madness, March.