If you take a peek at the calendar, it will read March 2019. That means it is officially March Madness– the best time of the year for basketball fans.
Schools across the world will roll TVs into their rooms or pull games up online and probably make other students do some math with the statistics to justify showing the games.
Brackets will be filled out, probably billions of them, in hopes of guessing the right combination. Granted, that will have to wait just a little bit longer because conference tournaments are only beginning now.
Most eyes will turn to the ACC, SEC and Big 12, being that they are the dominant conferences (the ACC has three in the top four in the AP poll and four in the top 25 overall, while the SEC has three in the top 10 and the Big 12 has five ranked overall).
There has, however, been one of the 32 automatic bids already confirmed. Murray State, led by future lottery pick Ja Morant, is going dancing by virtue of winning the Ohio Valley Conference over Belmont on Saturday.
As for the rest of the nation, there are plenty of talking points. LSU suspended head coach Will Wade and followed that up by clinching the SEC regular season championship outright. Kansas, for the first time since the 2003-2004, season did not win the Big 12 regular season.
Duke, without consensus number one overall pick Zion Williamson, went 3-3 in his absence, including a sweep at the hands of Tobacco Road rival North Carolina. Williamson, who is expected to be ready for the ACC tournament, has been the topic of discussion all around the basketball world. Current and former NBA stars, pundits, analysts and the like have chimed in with their opinions.
Retired superstar Kobe Bryant said in an interview with Sports Illustrated, “In terms of Zion, if he’s healthy, he should go play. He made a decision to go to college, and injuries are a part of that process, and sometimes you get hurt and sometimes you don’t, man.”
According to ESPN, Golden State Warriors center Demarcus Cousins was a bit more passionate (and profane) saying, “Obviously college… it does nothing for Zion at this point. You’ve proven you’re the number one pick coming out; you’ve proven your talent. Get ready for the next level, because it’s happening.”
As for North Carolina, they finished in a tie with Virginia atop the ACC and won 15 of their last 16, including eight in a row. They have made a compelling case to be a number one seed come tournament time.
Duke, led by three potential top five picks, is the heavy favorite to hoist the trophy at the end of the year, according to Bovada betting odds from Friday (before they lost at North Carolina). However, if history has told us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
Sometimes, the tournament—as do most playoff formats—finds unlikely heroes. In 2017, Sindarious Thornwell carried seventh-seeded South Carolina to the Final Four and vaulted himself into the draft conversation, being selected late second-round (it is unlikely he would have been drafted before the tournament). In 2013, ninth-seeded Wichita State made the Final Four, which led to Cleanthony Early, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet all getting drafted.
In 2011, Virginia Commmonwealth, led by brilliant but young and inexperienced coach Shaka Smart, ran all the way to the Final Four as an eleven-seed. Smart’s success at VCU landed him a coaching job at Texas, where he still coaches.
In 2008, current two-time MVP Stephen Curry was a lanky sophomore on the tenth-seeded Davidson Wildcats. Then he led them on such an improbable run to the Elite Eight that the basketball world was forced to pay attention to him, and the rest is history.
In 2006, current All-Star Kemba Walker led Connecticut to an improbable 11-game winning streak that began with the Big East tournament (a win that got them into the NCAA tournament) and finished with number six UConn hoisting the trophy, vaulting Walker into lottery status.
Throw everything you think you know about college basketball out the window. It will not help you. The tournament is so random—there is a good reason no one has ever had a perfect bracket—that it just remains impossible to predict. Upsets are expected and Cinderella teams are common, but still, everything is a surprise when it is March Madness.
Sources from ESPN and Sports Illustrated