Around this time of year, college basketball lovers have something to look forward to. It is the time of year when thousands of people frantically fill out brackets and compete with their friends to see whose is the most accurate. It is the time of year when fans can wake up early in the morning and watch basketball games until the sun sets. It is the time of year when unknown teams become cinderella stories, when promising young players become stars, and when powerhouses prove their strength, depth, and readiness to contend for a championship. It is mid-March, and with Selection Sunday wrapped up and the field of 68 teams set in stone, the chaotic, electrifying event that is the NCAA Tournament, also known as March Madness, has begun. In a year with no clear-cut favorite and a handful of teams that have a solid chance to win the championship, the next few weeks will surely be an unpredictable thrill-ride complete with wild buzzer-beaters, unlikely upsets, and surprise heroes.
For those unfamiliar with this year’s tournament format, the teams are assigned to one of four regions (West, East, Midwest, and South), and each region has teams ranked from 1 to 16. Each region has a play-in game in which the winner earns a spot in the tournament, creating a field of 68 total teams.
The Top 8
This year, the four number one seeds are Indiana, Kansas, Louisville (the overall number one seed), and Gonzaga, USF’s West Coast Conference foe. Although these teams are considered the most dominant in college basketball, none of them have been invincible throughout the season. It has been a uncommon year in that no team has truly proven to be ahead of the rest, as five different teams have been ranked number one in the nation in the AP poll and lots of fluctuation has occurred within the conferences.
Indiana spent much of the year as the number one team but lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Conference Tournament. Gonzaga has an impressive record of 31-2 and earned a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, but their schedule was only the 72nd most difficult out of the 347 Division 1 teams, which qualifies as the weakest schedule among the four teams with a No. 1 seed. Finally, there is not a noticeable drop off from the No. 1 to the No. 2 seeds (Duke, Georgetown, Miami (FL), and Ohio State). Duke is currently the number one ranked team in the RPI Rankings, and Miami is the first team ever to win an ACC regular season and tournament title yet not receive a No. 1 seed.
As is the case with the NCAA Tournament every year, there is much speculation as to which teams have the best chance to win the championship and which upsets will occur. Also, there are usually debates concerning the possible unfair seeding of certain teams, as well as complaints that teams that deserved to be selected in the tournament field were left out. ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge, a game in which people submit their brackets in hopes of correctly predicting the outcomes of games and winning prizes, offers insight into what people are anticipating to happen in the tournament. So far, Louisville has been picked to win the championship in 19.9% of the brackets, a higher percentage than any other team. Indiana is second at 16.3%, followed by Miami, Kansas, and Duke.
As far as predictions for the Final Four, Louisville leads again, with 49.7% of brackets picking the Cardinals to be one of the last four remaining teams. Interestingly, Ohio State has only been chosen to win the tournament in 5.9 percent of the brackets, but 39.9% think the Buckeyes will reach the Final Four. In another curious trend, at 25% Duke is the eighth most popular choice to make the Final Four, but has been selected by 8.6% of the brackets to win the championship, good for fifth place.
At this point, the most popular upset pick has been No. 9 seed Missouri beating No. 8 seed Colorado State. The most common choice for a more drastic upset has been No. 11 seed Minnesota prevailing against the No. 6 seed UCLA.
An Imperfect System
A common argument among bracket experts has been that No. 12 seed Oregon should have been seeded higher, considering that they won the Pac-12 Tournament, and also that UCLA, the team they beat in the Pac-12 Championship, received a No. 6 seed. There has also been talk that Middle Tennessee State did not deserve a place in the field of 68 due to the fact that it has not won a game over an RPI top 100 team all year.
Despite possible slip-ups by the selection committee and inconsistencies in seeding, the general energy surrounding this NCAA Tournament suggests that it will be one of the most exciting and unforgettable tournaments in a long time. The lack of an obvious frontrunner has created much uncertainty and led to many different teams being given a chance to compete for the championship.
“I don’t think there’s any consensus favorite. I just don’t think there’s a team that has distinguished itself,” CBS basketball analyst Clark Kellogg said.
Later this week, the games will begin, and along the way each team will look to find its identity and make a run for the title. As the surprise upsets and outstanding individual performances arrive, a small quantity of teams will emerge as elite contenders, and opinions will continue to change until the championship game is over. No matter what happens, the intriguing premise of the 2013 NCAA Tournament ensures that this month will bring plenty of “madness” for fans to enjoy.