Commentary: Who’s the Sweetest of the Final 16?

A week of maddening upsets changes the look of NCAA brackets.

Posted: 03/26/2014 02:58 PM EDT
Commentary: Who’s the Sweetest of the Final 16?

The odds have spoken to all of us. Now that we have that $1 billion baby out of our minds, we can do the serious work that remains in trying to figure who the heck is gonna win the NCAA Tournament.

After the first week of play, big names had been sent back to their campus with disappointment in their duffel bags. One-and-done took on a different meaning altogether when you were Duke and you lost to Mercer.

But victories like Mercer’s ought not surprise anybody — not when we’re talking about March Madness. A team with a roster of seniors shows the importance of teamwork over raw talent.

As much as Duke fans like the influx of blue-chippers each season, those blue chips don’t stick around long enough to bring a title for the Cameron Crazies; they’ve watched as Kyrie Irving, Austin Rivers and, possibly, Jabari Parker arrived in Durham, North Carolina, with much fanfare and then bolted before making their mark on Coach K’s hoops program.

What this revolving door of talent has led to is for lesser programs, teams like Dayton and Virginia, to compete and beat the storied teams in the field.

Now, no one is suggesting that any team but a top-tier program will take home the NCAA championship, because to think otherwise is to believe Cinderella is real and not a figment of some writer’s imagination. Yet a person’s imagination must be wild to envision what has happened to the brackets. Hard numbers and strengths of schedule tell nothing about team chemistry or great coaching, which isn’t just found at the Dukes of college hoops.

The San Diego States of basketball come around more and more each mid-March to destroy our well-thought-out bracket and ruin our chances of winning Warren Buffett’s $1 billion for a perfect – 9.2 quintillion-to-1 odds be damned – bracket.

With the Sweet 16 lineup set, what do we have in it? Some of the usual suspects, for sure, remain in the draw: Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, UCLA, North Carolina and Kentucky. Yet they are a lock for nothing. The only thing they’re assured of is the next game, and our betting big they will win that next game is to take a risk not worth the bother.

One thing we should have learned from following sports awhile is that the people involved in these games, whether deeply or on the margin, aren’t fearful of risk. They thrive on the electricity that fuels the moment; they are men and women who relish being on the white-hot arena floor.

It is that heat that keeps us riveted to the game; it is that heat that makes us go stock-raving mad when the predictable proves not as predictable as we’d first thought.

So we’ll be back for more of that madness on Thursday – back glued to the TV even if none of Buffett’s billions are there for the winning. We can’t turn away from any of this. It’s all too interesting; it’s all too maddening.

And what sports fan doesn’t love a dose of madness each March?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Denis Poroy/AP Photo)

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