NCAA Basketball Tournament Has No Clear Favorite

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Dance Will Feature Parity and Various Styles

By John Ventola

The 68-team NCAA Division I basketball bracket will be announced today. The tournament, which runs from March 14 until championship night April 3, will feature several teams capable of winning the national championship. Last season’s champion Villanova showed that the slippers (sneakers) can fit a Cinderella. With parity very much the current state of college basketball, true hoops junkies will not be surprised to see another underdog climb the ladders and cut down the nets come April.

Villanova, Kansas, Gonzaga, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisville, Notre Dame, North

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Carolina, Duke, Oregon, and Baylor are all highly regarded (although Oregon lost a key cog when Chris Boucher tore his ACL during the PAC-12 tournament).

Bracketologists will be able to easily position the top dozen teams based on overall and head-to-head competition, league strength, won-loss records, and other factors, but the other 52 teams plus the four play-in teams will be tougher selections. The “bubble teams” discussions could prove to be quite lively.

There are 32 automatic qualifiers, those who either won their league’s outright title, or their conference tournament (Kentucky, Duke, Arizona, Villanova, etc.). There are also approximately 29 at-large locks, teams that are strong but did not win league titles and automatic bids (Oregon, Louisville, North Carolina, UCLA, Florida, Baylor, Notre Dame, etc.).

As of today, there are three at-large near locks—Marquette, Xavier, and Michigan State. That leaves four spots, with nine bubble teams wishing and hoping (Vanderbilt, Kansas

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State, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Illinois State, USC, California, Iowa, Illinois State).

One thing for sure, it is time for March Madness. And if this past week’s action in conference tournaments is any indication, it should be a special time to tune in and watch the bouncing ball. Arizona (30-4) got revenge on UCLA and Oregon in capturing the PAC-12 tourney. Duke won its first Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) tournament since 2011 by winning four games in four days, coming back from substantial second half deficits to defeat Louisville, North Carolina, and Notre Dame in the last three games. It marked the Blue Devils’ 20th ACC championship.

This blogger has noticed that winning conference championships is important, but sometimes the bigger trophy is missed by players overextending themselves in conference tourney action. Villanova did not win the Big East tourney last year, and

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Duke did not capture the 2015 ACC tournament, but they each won the NCAA championship. Ask Wildcat coach Jay Wright or Blue Devil mentor Mike Krzyzewski what is more important.

Momentum plays a big part in the sport. Who can forget the magical run by Coach Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack to capture the 1983 NCAA championship over heavily favored Houston, or the almost perfect game played by Villanova to defeat favored Georgetown in 1985.

The athletes continue to get better. And while crowds continue to applaud unbelievable athleticism, ballhandling, and shot-making abilities, I find myself watching the game within the game. The coaching strategy and tactical moves by noted coaches Wright, Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Bill Self and not yet fully recognized up-and comers like Steve Alford, Mike White and Dana Altman.

Who will be this year’s Middle Tennessee State? Last season the Murfreesboro Boys became the eighth No. 15 seed to upset a No. 2 seed when it defeated Michigan State, 90-81.

After Duke overcame Notre Dame to win the ACC tournament, Kyzyzewski graciously said “players make coaches”. True, to a certain extent, but a coach such as Coach K knows what strings to pull—and when.

Let the games begin!

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