When the post season began last week, we were sure of one thing--that in a year of parity and the lack of dominance by any one team, expect the unexpected would be a major theme in this season's NCAA basketball tournament.
So now we have seen 36 games, cut the field from 68 to 32 and this is what we have.
In the South, a No. 5 seed (Kentucky), a No. 9 seed (Kansas State), a No. 11 seed (Loyola-Chicago) and a No. 7 seed (Nevada) will convene in Atlanta. Nevada made it with a remarkable second half comeback against No. 2 Cincinnati.
We all know about the historic nature of UMBC's No. 16 over No. 1 Virginia's upset and the collapse of No. 4 Arizona, which was routed by No. 13 Buffalo.
Another surprising aspect of this region was the way the path was cleared for Coach John Calipari's team (Don't tell him that), which was looking at No. 1 Virginia, No. 4 Arizona and Cincinnati as major obstacles. All are gone. If the Wildcats do make it to the Final Four in San Antonio, will any team a more comfortable path than wins over a No. 12 seed (Davidson), a No. 13 seed and a No. 9 seed (Kansas State)?
This does not diminish Coach Cal's team's wins. Davidson and Buffalo made the Wildcats work. But destiny appears to be working in Coach Cal's team's favor. The Wildcats are young and sassy and we have watched them grow up and mature all season, with the aid of an entertaining regular season chronicle called Inside the Madness: Kentucky Basketball put together by our old friend Chip Namias. It's a behind-the-scenes look at how Coach Cal has nurtured another potential Final Four national program. Whether they make it to San Antonio will be interesting to watch.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
In the West, No. 1 Xavier is gone, so is No. 2 North Carolina, leaving No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Gonzaga as the blue bloods of the region. Surprises? Who would have thought No. 9 FSU or No. 7 Texas A&M, both of which displayed ability to beat--or lose---to any level of competition they faced this season, would emerge in the Sweet 16 round?
In the East, Big East champion Villanova has emerged as the front-runner in the entire tournament. And No. 2 seed Purdue, No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 5 seed West Virginia, give the region in Boston a regal atmosphere at least in terms of seeds. Anyone other than Villanova would be another bracket buster result, however.
And in the Midwest, the television people (and probably lots of other folks) are hoping that a No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 2 Duke regional final in Omaha comes about on Sunday. But the games could have been played in Greensboro or Charlotte or Brooklyn with Syracuse, Clemson and Duke filling three of the four slots.
Syracuse, which began the NCAA tournament as a play-in team last week as one of the last teams invited, will have gone through Arizona State, TCU, Michigan State and Duke if it makes it to the Regional finals. Casting the Orange as an underdog is a tough sell, considering their tradition and presence of Coach Jim Boeheim, which doesn't make them your average No. 11 seed.
If the form of this season holds up, we could have a Final Four of Texas Tech, Syracuse, Texas A&M and Kansas State, which will no doubt prompt increased promotions for The Masters by CBS.
Then again we could have Kentucky, Michigan, Villanova and Kansas or Duke, which seems more likely, especially considering that Duke and Villanova appear to be playing the best basketball of any of the teams remaining and Kentucky and Michigan are not far behind.
In terms of other possibilities, we could also have a Florida State, Duke and Syracuse ACC dominated Final Four. The Cinderella Final Four would include Loyola, which won its last and only national championship in 1963.
One thing is for sure. After what we saw in the first week, nothing will be a surprise in a season which has yet to follow form.[/membership]