It’s finally here, basketball fans. The single most entertaining month in the world of sports: March.
There’s so many factors that play into making March Madness one of the best, if not the best sporting event in the world. Whether it’s the abundance of games, the bracket pools or the Cinderella story teams, there seems to be at least one thing about the Big Dance that we each love.
I love everything about March. But, what amazes me most is the continuous unpredictability of the tournament. We assume that higher seeded teams will run all over no-name schools, yet history says that’s not always the case. Thinking long and hard about these upsets leads me to a unique aspect of the NCAA tournament that most people forget about: its unknown aspect.
The reason almost all of us wrongly scribbled down Michigan State to beat Middle Tennessee in 2016 is because we didn’t know the first thing about Middle Tennessee’s basketball team. We knew – or assumed – that two-seeded Michigan State was a good team, but no one had either seen or heard of a team like Middle Tennessee and its star players Reggie Upshaw Jr. and Giddy Potts. In other words, there’s unchartered territory when it comes to predicting the NCAA tournament. There may be teams and players each year that have huge capability, but we know nothing about them. Take Stephen Curry at Davidson, for example, or Gordon Hayward at Butler, or even C.J. McCollum at Lehigh. The list goes on and on.
This characteristic of the NCAA tournament distinguishes it from other postseasons in sports. We know about the identity and rosters of eighth-seeded teams in the NBA, or Wild Card teams in the NFL like this year’s Jacksonville Jaguars. This knowledge gives us a clearer picture of what may unfold in these sports and their postseason. This to me, at least partially, explains why March brings along so much madness.
When it comes to this year, I think the national championship is completely up for grabs. There’s not one team that looks to be significantly better than the rest, or one team that everyone seems to be penciling in as their champion for their bracket. In fact, for the first time since the 1948-49 season, not one program entered the month of January unbeaten. That tells me that this year is completely wide open. Sure, there’s a solid chance that this year’s national champion will be one of today’s top-ranked teams, but it could also be a team that no one has even brought up in the conversation. What it may come down to more than anything else is what teams are playing their best brand of basketball at this critical point in the season.
In a season like this, with no true number one team, it becomes tough to distinguish between the contenders and pretenders. When looking at the schools in the rankings, I see lots of teams that have boom or bust potential come tournament time. I know this sounds cliché, but hear it out.
There’s Duke, the fifth ranked team in the country, who has beaten top teams like Michigan State and Clemson, yet has also lost to Boston College and St. John’s. There’s sixth ranked Kansas, who has beaten West Virginia and Texas Tech, yet has dropped home games to Washington and Oklahoma State. Even Virginia and Villanova, two top five teams, have suffered tough home losses (Virginia Tech and St. John’s). In essence, there’s many teams this year that have a mix of quality wins with bad losses, making it tough to predict who’s for real and who’s not. I won’t be surprised to see these teams make Final Four runs, but early round aren’t out of the picture either.
Based on this, I see all signs pointing towards a large number of upsets coming this year. Predicting which ones will be the tough part, but I think there should be some serious fireworks in this year’s edition of the NCAA tournament. Buckle up: it’s March.