March Madness: 68 teams, endless possibilities
by Mike Lopresti, USA TODAY Sports
The operative word as the NCAA Tournament begins: Maybe.
Anything is possible, from sea to shining sea – or in bracketology, Miami to Gonzaga. The fates in all their fickleness promised us it that way during the regular season in college basketball. We’re about to find out if they meant it. If it is a tournament ripe for the rare, or even unprecedented.
Maybe this is the time the so-called mid-majors – a phrase becoming as obsolete as “pay telephone” – cross the final frontier. A national championship. Maybe Gonzaga or Saint Louis or Creighton.
“They are a legitimate contender for the whole thing,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said of Saint Louis, as a three-time loser to the Billikens. “I believe that whole-heartedly.”
Maybe glory moves west. There has been one national champion from outside the Eastern time zone in 15 years. There have been only two from the Pacific time zone in 37 years.
Maybe a No. 16 seed wins a game. The unrelenting futility against No. 1 seeds is now 0-112, but last March suggested hope. The average losing margin of the 16-seeds was 15.8 points. The year before, 28.3.
Maybe a team from a non-BCS conference cuts down the nets. The last time that happened was UNLV, in 1990.
Maybe the national championship game is a one-pointer. It’s been 24 years.
Maybe the No. 1-ranked team ends up champion. You’d think that would have happened more than just twice in the past 17 tournaments. But the top ranking appears to be a scant upset protection factor in March. Mike Krzyzewski has lost five times in the tournament as coach of a No. 1 team. Michael Jordan lost as a player. So did Larry Bird.
Then again, maybe an unranked team wins the championship. That’d be on the 25th anniversary of the last time it happened; Danny Manning and Kansas in 1988.
Maybe a player from a losing team is so magnificent … [For more on March Madness: Sixty-eight teams, endless possibilities, click here.]