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Madness That Captivates On The Way to One Shining Moment

The NCAA Men's Basketball tournament is a happening that captures the imagination of the hard-core and the casual fan, seemingly from coast to coast, no matter who’s making a run and who’s inexplicably gone bust.



 

All that I don’t know about March Madness was confirmed yet again last year at this time, as yet another compelling, captivating NCAA Tournament continued to confound.

The drama included:
No. 2-seed Michigan State (my alma mater) going dancing for the 19th consecutive season after a 26-5 regular season and fresh from three more wins and a Big Ten Tournament championship. The Spartans had been to the Final Four the previous season. They had three future NBA players on their roster. And they were coached by Tom Izzo, a man with a well-deserved reputation for annually working magic in March.

The Spartans lost in the first round to No. 15-seed Middle Tennessee State.

It also featured:
No. 10-seed Syracuse, which had struggled through a 19-12 regular season and a one-and-done ACC Tournament to the degree that it had its very inclusion in the field of 68 openly questioned. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi attributed Syracuse getting an at-large bid to either “poor judgement or power-conference politics” on the part of the selection committee. Doug Gottlieb of CBS was “stunned” the Orangemen gained an invitation to participate after losing their last three games in succession and five of their final six.

Syracuse made it all the way to the Final Four.

Count me among those who didn’t see either one of those developments coming.

But that’s the stuff that can happen when you’re talking March Madness.

That’s the stuff that seems to happen annually.

It’s so much more than just an occasional shocker from a Valparaiso, a George Mason or a Florida Gulf Coast.

Upsets happen, not as often as most probably suspect but often enough that there’s usually at least one out-of-nowhere storyline that unfolds prior to the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight and/or the Final Four.

That’s why, for my money, it’s the best three weeks in sports.

It’s a happening that captures the imagination of the hard-core and the casual fan, seemingly from coast to coast, no matter who’s making a run and who’s inexplicably gone bust.

The highs, the lows, the ecstasy and the excruciating agony, many times all in the same game, are what defines the NCAA Tournament.

To quote the great Dick Vitale, “Awesome, baby.”

But also difficult to figure.

Tough enough that a bracket in advance presented for these purposes wouldn’t be anything more than an exercise in educated (to an extent; I watch a lot of games) guesswork.

Still, there are some things you might want or need to know in advance of filling out your bracket, some things to chew on in advance of the Madness the way Jerry Tarkanian used to chew on that towel at UNLV.

Those would include:

  • Duke is going to get almost all of the calls all of the time. The Blue Devils are good enough that they don’t need them but they get them, anyway.
     
  • North Carolina has a big advantage in not demanding that its players attended real classes.
     
  • John Calipari’s next Final Four appearance will have a chance to be vacated based on that having happened twice already (UMass, 1996, and Memphis, 2008).
     
  • Calipari’s Kentucky team this season can go from blocking your shot at one end to dunking it on you at the other faster than any team I’ve ever seen.

And last but certainly not least:

  • Knowing the nicknames is important, especially if you’re trying to sound more in-the-know than you actually are (something that might help ease tensions in the event your office bracket inexplicably catches fire). Some of this year’s more obscure entrants at the bottom of the bracket are the Mountaineers (Mount St. Mary’s), the Jackrabbits (South Dakota State), the Norse (Northern Kentucky), the Catamounts (Vermont) and the Gaels (Iona).

Knowing as much could come in handy in the likely event one of them becomes this year’s Middle Tennessee State.

They’re the Blue Raiders, by the way, just in case that someone turns out to once again be Middle Tennessee State. 
  

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