Let the madness begin. The NCAA men’s basketball tournament begins in earnest with 16 games yesterday and 16 more today. By Sunday night, the 68-team tournament will be down to the Sweet Sixteen. You may finally know if you can win the March Madness office pool, or if you’re destined to lose again to the non-sports-watching receptionist who picks games based on which nickname sounds better.
There’s no dominant team in the tournament because of years of elite players leaving college early for the NBA. That should produce a wide-open event with the potential for some stunning upsets. Five teams entered the 2011 tournament with 14 losses. In the last 25 tournaments combined, exactly five teams entered with 14 losses. Just about any school can beat another, except when a No. 1 seed plays a No. 16 seed. In the 104 previous games between No. 1 and No. 16, No. 1 is 104–0. That doesn’t bode well for No. 16 Hampton University, an HBCU that takes on defending champion Duke tomorrow.
Questions abound: Will Duke become the first repeat champion since Florida in 2006–2007? Will guard Chris Wright make Georgetown a championship contender after missing nearly a month with a broken hand? How will St. John’s fare without injured guard D.J. Kennedy? And will Brigham Young, a top 10 team all season, reach the Final Four without center Brandon Davies, who turned himself in after violating the Mormon school’s honor code by having premarital sex?
In the NCAA tournament, teams are not placed in regional brackets based on geography, but to create competitive balance. So we say North Carolina will win the East, Connecticut the West, Kansas the Southeast and Pittsburgh the Southwest. And North Carolina, which cut down the nets in 2009, will do it again on April 4 in Houston. Led by freshman forward Harrison Barnes, senior center Tyler Zelle, and two-time NCAA champion coach Roy Williams, the Tar Heels have depth and discipline, and they appear to be jelling at the right time. And when it comes to filling out your bracket, having a cool nickname doesn’t hurt the Tar Heels’ chances either.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
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