March Madness & The Road to the Final Four

Road to the Final Four
Road to the Final Four

Few times of the year inspire sports fans the way that the NCAA men's basketball tournament in mid-March does. Every year, near the beginning of March, all 300+ division one colleges and universities begin to jockey for position for what is annually this country's greatest sporting event.

Only 65 teams will ultimately lace 'em up for a shot at the title, and every year produces some incredible upsets, buzzer beaters and lifelong memorable moments.

NCAA March Madness and the Road to the Final Four

I have to admit, every year around the same time I become a kid again. It has nothing to do with Christmas, my Birthday, or any other annual holiday. The one thing I look forward to year in and year out, without fail, is the NCAA men's basketball tournament, also known as March Madness, or The Road to the Final Four.

Regardless of what name you know it by, I guarantee that you know it by some name, and you either dread it when it rolls around, or you long for it to roll around again the moment that it ends, closing another successful season of college hoops. In other words, you either love it or hate it, and I think you could venture an educated guess as to where I stand on the issue.

This is the only time of the year when terms like 'bubble teams' 'RPI' 'sweet sixteen' 'elite eight' and 'strength of schedule' have any real meaning, so far as I'm concerned anyway. There was a time, in fact, when I used to really sweat which 'bubble teams' would eventually make it into the big dance, but those days are long gone. The bubble is for teams that couldn't keep it together for an entire season, so what would make somebody think that those same teams could string together an impressive 6-game winning streak against the best competition that division one men's hoops has to offer, on their way to the title?

Let 'em all play, Dammit!

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At the time of this writing, teams are gearing up for another exciting tournament ride, with all the glory, hopes and aspirations of future champions dancing in their heads. Although this could be viewed as a seasonal Hub, many like myself are thinking about the tournament and the March Madness hoopla all year 'round, always looking ahead at the trends and the teams that will ultimately shape the upcoming tourney.

The truly beautiful thing about this year's tournament is that there really is no clear-cut favorite to run away with the title. In a normal season, one or two teams tend to dominate the college basketball landscape, while all the others vie for second place and the occasional upset. One only has to look at The Connecticut Huskies women's team to understand this point. They have just wrapped up the Big East regular season by winning their 72nd game in a row. They haven't lost in two years, and are the prohibitive favorite to win the basketball tournament on the women's side. In fact, if they lose, it will be considered by those in the know to be one of the biggest sporting upsets in the history of sports itself!

That being said, with all the parity in the sport this season, there still only seem to be a handful of teams with legitimate shots to go all the way and win the NCAA basketball title. And they are:

  • Duke Blue Devils - They are a factor every year and really the only team with a shot coming out of the ACC (Actually, I'd probably faint if this team won the whole thing. If they do, I'll be asking fellow 'Hubbers' which wine pairs nicely with braised crow
  • Kansas Jayhawks - Probably the prohibitive favorite because of the experience of their backcourt and specifically Sherron Collins
  • Kentucky Wildcats - This year's version of the New York Yankees. In John Calipari's first season as head coach, he and his staff managed to shanghai The Memphis recruiting class that was in place before Coach Cal took the Kentucky job. As much as I've rooted for this team in the past, i'd hate to see them win the whole thing. It would just seem tainted(IMHO)
  • Villanova Wildcats - Jay Wright gets his team ready to play for every game, and last year's run to the Final Four was no fluke, just as it was no fluke that Tom Izzo led the Michigan State Spartans to the same round in last season's tourney
  • Syracuse Orangemen - This team has a legitimate shot to bring home Coach Jim Boeheim's second NCAA National Championship. This truly is a great team, led by sharpshooter Andy Rautins
  • Dark-horse - I like Maryland, Notre Dame and Temple to possibly turn a few heads, though The Irish have some work ahead of them maybe to even get into the field of 65. Temple could make a real run this year, as they are strong from guards to bigs and nobody is really talking about 'em

That would seem to complete the list of teams that could actually win the whole thing. As you'll notice if you follow this sport at all, there aren't any Big Ten or Pac-10 teams listed. While the Big Ten is seemingly stronger than in recent years, the Pac-10 is decidedly having it's worst year in decades.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out, and I'll be re-visiting this Hub as things progress. This truly is the most exciting time of the year for me; It's my Christmas, Birthday and every snow-day school cancellation I enjoyed as a kid all wrapped up into one. My family and friends know that normal life for me as we know it shuts down until the tournament is over and a champion is officially crowned. I've been known to skip classes and schedule vacation days just for the right to stay home and watch my brackets fall apart, as the tournament unfolds in a series of upsets and stunning finishes. It truly will be another spectacular Road to the Final Four!

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Bracketology, up to the minute

Some strategies for choosing your brackets:

  • While everybody loves an upset(except the team and fans of those having been upset), stay away from fashionable picks. Just because Winthrop won a game in the tourney 3 years ago, doesn't mean they'll do it again
  • Don't pick a seed lower than 6 to win the whole thing. It just doesn't happen. While I'll be rooting for Butler to go deep into the field, I'd be reluctant to call a first-round loss an upset
  • Stick to the 'chalk' - Favorites win championships. Don't pick a 14 seed to win the whole shootin' match. Having said that, there will still be that .01% who insist on picking Quinnipiac in their office pools to still be standing on the court when they play 'One Shining Moment' for the whole world to see. Stick to the favorites, because that's who you'll be watching on TV come the 3rd Monday of the tourney
  • Always pick at least one 12 seed to knock off a 5 seed. It happens every year, and sometimes there are 2 such 'upsets.' If you have the chance to fill out multiple brackets, it may be best to pick every 12 seed to advance, spread out throughout your brackets, as there sometimes is no rhyme or reason as to which upset occurs. I know that ESPN allows up to 10 brackets in their free Tournament Challenge game
  • Keep an eye on the injury reports - Every year leading into the 'Big Dance,' there are some teams that will be severely hampered by the injury-bug. This year is no exception. Until Robbie Hummel went down with the dreaded torn ACL, Purdue was looking like a Final Four hopeful. In Syracuse's upset loss to Georgetown in the Big East conference tourney, Arinze Onuaku landed gingerly on his left knee, straining it. Now the Orangemen, who typically only run 7 deep, are now looking at a serious loss if Onuaku is sidelined for any length of time. Tourney junkies will always point to the Kenyon Martin injury that crippled Cincinnati's tournament hopes one year as the defining injury when it comes to post-season play
  • Watch the conference tournaments to see who's hot and to see who's not. Every year there will be teams that use the conference tourneys as a springboard to success in the 'Big Dance,' while others will show signs of struggle. Play these teams as you would play the stock market or the AC forex markets, understanding of course that not every team will perform exactly according to your research. It truly is a guessing game on some occasions
  • Both Philly teams have a decent draw (Villanova & Temple) Look for Temple to make a splash, even though Bilas picked Cornell to make it through to the Elite 8. I usually trust this guy, but none of the analysts I've seen so far have wowed me with their picks. At least Bilas went out on a limb, but that limb should've been Temple IMHO.
  • LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
  • Now we'll get a steady diet of N.I.T. games to whet our whistles until the Dance begins.

2010 NCAA Mens B-Ball Tourney Bracket

2010 Bracket
2010 Bracket

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Comments 3 comments

Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

A nice hub, but how can you say there is no dominant team this year when Kansas has spent all but four weeks at number one in the polls? I'm not saying KU will march to the NCAA Title, but you gotta give the Jayhawks their due!

Very well written piece, and I'm looking forward to the NCAAA Tournament, as well.


Canklefish profile image

Canklefish 6 years ago from East Coast Author

Mike: I would list the Jayhawks as the number one team going into the tourney, but if you remember from years past... There were usually one or two teams that seemed to dominate the landscape. Last year it was the Tar Heels' tourney to lose.

Kansas is tough, but they stumble occasionally. At least I didn't list Texas a possible contender. Oh how some of the former #1 mighty have fallen


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

Thanks, Canklefish. Yes, at least Texas isn't in the mix. I'm still not sure what happened to those guys! They looked like world-beaters against Michigan State, but then just gave up on their season.

Well, thanks again--a good article. Rated and Stumbled.

Mike

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