While Super Bowl Sunday is still the greatest single day on the American sports calendar, the greatest month is March. And thankfully it is all over Down Under. The number of Aussies playing college ball in the USA is really growing, and the game is growing here as well. As the father of 2 basketball crazed kids, March is one of our favorite months.
It starts with the conference tournaments. Who will get the automatic bids? Who will steal one and bump a bubble team (Cal Poly in ’14, Wyoming in ’15….)? What talented mid or low major team will lose in their conference tourney and miss the dance. Watching who gets in is almost as fun as the tournament itself.
Then we all become expert “bracketologists” and await the First Four. I’ll admit that when they started the “play in” games a few years ago, I was not a big fan. But after VCU made a run from the First Four to the Final Four in 2011, I was sold. Now the challenge is to figure out which of the First Four teams can make a run. Note this year my choice was BYU. Oops!
The first weekend of the “real” tournament is the best weekend in my opinion. For each of us and our brackets, It isn’t whether an upset will happen, it’s picking the right ones. This is the magic that makes this tournament. Everyone loves to see David beat Goliath, and this tournament provides a few examples every year. Look at this year. Who can say they had UAB over Iowa State (personally I had ISU in the Final Four — bye bye bracket) AND Georgia State over Baylor? And UCLA doing anything? Oh, the madness!! Four straight days of basketball madness. I love it.
The other thing that is great about this tournament is that, inevitably, when you get to the Sweet Sixteen, the cream rises. Yes, almost every year there are 1 or 2 “surprises”, but it usually turns out that they aren’t such a surprise after all. They are actually good, but you just didn’t know it when you filled out your bracket. (though it is tough to make the case for UCLA this year…)
So here we are on Wednesday. The games tip off Friday (here down under) and I can’t wait to see what happens. And while I blew it with picking Iowa State to make a run to Indianapolis, I also picked Michigan State. So I have that going for me…
Lets take a look region by region and see where I think we’ll end up at the end of this weekend:
- Midwest — Also known as the Kentucky region. Really, who is going to stop these guys. West Virginia? I don’t think so…. I love Wichita State, and given that the ACC is the best conference (seriously, 5 Sweet 16 teams??!!!), you have to give Notre Dame a chance, but I really don’t see either one taking out Kentucky.
- East — Wide, wide open. NC State, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Louisville. These 4 are a bit like the Sesame Street game of “One of these things is not like the others”. NC State — a basketball school that can be credited for bringing March Madness to the forefront of US sports. Who can forget Lorenzo Charles dunking Derek WIttenberg’s last second shot for the championship in ’83? And Jim Valvano’s crazy “court storm”? Check out ESPN’s “Survive and Advance” if you have forgotten. Louisville — always a contender with Rick Pitino at the helm. Michigan State — do you want to be the person picking against Tom Izzo? He has more Final Fours than first round exits. Oklahoma — Sorry Mookie Blaylock and Blake Griffin, this is a football school. I picked them early and I am not changing now. Izzo and Michigan State
- West — The either or region. Xavier and North Carolina are nice teams, but this is either Wisconsin or Arizona. I can’t decide. They are 2 really good teams. But I’ve spent a lot of my life in Badgerland, so Wisconsin it is.
- South — Nice run UCLA, but it isn’t happening. Utah, tough luck drawing Duke. While I’m sure the lads from Gonzaga would love to see the Utes rather than the Blue Devils, Zags, sorry but you’ll have to beat the best to be the best. And this year I think they do it. Gonzaga, one of the original bracket busting mid majors that make this tournament so great, get it done and make it to their 1st Final Four.
There you have it. Kentucky, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Gonzaga. Check back next week to see who the winner will be…