There is one certainty every time the NCAA’s March Madness tournament rolls around, and that is that there will be any number of unforeseen upsets. Each year, Cinderellas and Mighty Underdogs and Little Trains That Could rise up and shock more powerful opponents. That is a given, and it’s the aspect of this particular competition that makes it in the eyes of many fans the most compelling of any sporting event out there.
It is true that in the end, the Final Four bracket is usually populated by the powerhouse programs – a pair or more of Number 1 or 2 seeds, but the road to reach the Final Four is always littered with fallen favorites. But this year prepare for Upset City 2.0. As of this week, there have been 43 Top 10-ranked teams in America not just upset, but upset by unranked opponents! That is a record up to this point in a season. It portends a roller-coaster tournament and one that should deliver on its promise of suspense and surprise with great dividends!
Joe Lunardi is the resident Guru of what has come to be known as ‘Bracketology’ – the art of predicting what teams will get one of the coveted 68 invitations to play in the tournament. Lunardi publishes his brackets each week now, leading up to the committee’s official picks which are only three weeks away. Selection Sunday is March 11th. Currently, Lunardi has the four top seeds in the various regions as follows (teams don’t necessarily have to reside in a geographic area to be placed in that bracket): Virginia in the South; Villanova in the East; Kansas in the West; and Xavier in the Midwest. Of these four teams, Kansas has been a top seed or near the top for many years – although this year they have six losses and it’s kind of surprising to see them in this highest spot. Villanova has been a recent top seed (and has always had very highly ranked and respected teams over the years.) Virginia plays a gritty defense-first under coach Tony Bennett (not sure if he sings too), although they haven’t broken through with a Final Four run in the tournament since the 1980s. Xavier out of Cincinnati always has tough teams, but a number one seed in the NCAA tournament would be a first for them.
It’s interesting in college hoops these days to watch the battles between the dominant programs (North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, etc.) that have the one-and-done blue chippers (players must spend a year in college or another league before being eligible for the NBA draft) and the mid-major colleges that may not have the raw talent but make up for it through the cohesiveness that comes with playing together for three or four consecutive years. Xavier is an example of one of these very formidable mid-majors. (Fun fact – look for actor-comedian Bill Murray at Xavier games. His son Luke is an assistant on the staff – and will probably be a head coach one of these days soon.)
As for our local favorites – fear not…well…maybe fearsome as to whether they’ll make it in the tourney! Lunardi has the Syracuse Orange currently ranked as a 12 seed in the South region, which would mean an extra play-in game against (possibly) Texas according to Lunardi. And in the West region, he has St. Bonaventure perhaps facing Baylor in a play-in game. So our Western New York teams may have a showdown with two Texas teams if Lunardi’s predictions hold true. The Bonnies have been on the short-end of the selection committee’s decisions in recent years, so we truly hope they make it in.
Honestly, there’s a lot of basketball to be played in these next three weeks, and many things can and probably will change. Whatever happens, all indications are that we will be treated to another thrill ride before we crown a NCAA men’s basketball champion.
As for the NCAA women hoopsters? Know this – U Conn dominates women’s basketball like no team perhaps has ever dominated any sport in the history of competition. Any sport, anywhere, any era. Do we exaggerate? The Lady Huskies won 111 games in a row recently! That being said, we cannot forget that they were upset last year in a thrilling Final Four game against Mississippi State (breaking the 111- game streak). They haven’t lost yet this year…and they very well may be on a collision course for a repeat Final Four game against Miss State. And a U Conn team with a bitter taste in its mouth from last year’s defeat…that is a scary thought! Stay tuned!
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