If your head has been stuck in an everlasting St. Patty’s Day hangover and you don’t know what I am talking about, yesterday at about 10:20 a.m. the NCAA College Basketball Tournament got underway with 64 teams vying for a national championship. ’Tis the season to call in sick to work and to enjoy never-ending action as there is no doubt television networks will be switching to and from the most exciting action.
Now I have never claimed to be any sort of basketball savant in correctly predicting game outcomes, much less tournament outcomes – until now. This year’s tournament will truly fit the description of March Madness as it will be a tournament of torturous upsets.
To start off in the East, the biggest disappointment will come when North Carolina falls to the dark-horse Indiana Hoosiers in the second round. Now, I know Indiana enters the tournament coming off three tough losses, but they have proven they can win big games and none will be bigger than to drop the Heels early on. Possibly the worst showing in this division will come from the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. This year could be their best chance at getting to the Final Four in 30 years. But, alas, it will not be. I see them going down no later than the second round.
The Tennessee Vols, not to be confused with their ever-competitive counterparts, the Lady Vols, will finally be in the running for a national championship. Yes, “Rocky Top” will be repeatedly heard all the way to the Final Four after the boys in that glorious orange beat Indiana in the regional finals round. Tennessee, which held the number one spot for a couple days after beating Memphis this year, is as impressive as they have ever been. They are the team to beat and will go far.
On to the Midwest. Vanderbilt will be tough early on in the tournament but will be taken out by the Kansas Jayhawks in the regional semi round of the tournament, while Georgetown loses a heartbreaker against a no-name Kansas State team. (OK, they have one name – Beasley, the best freshman player, if not overall player, in the nation.) What will follow in the regional final round between the Jayhawks and Wildcats could be the best game of the tournament.
OK, OK, I know on paper Kansas State can’t hold a candle to Kansas, but those who have been around the sporting world long enough know that when it comes to an in-state rivalry as big as this, anything goes. It will be Marshal Law for that matchup – that is if K-State can make it. But if they do, as fast as you can say Mark Mangino, the Jayhawks will go down in one of the biggest upsets in memory while the Wildcats move on to the Final Four. Who knew?
In the South, Memphis will make an impressive run but will be taken out by Pittsburgh to get into the regional final round. On the other end of the South, those stalwart trees of Stanford will beat out Kentucky in the second round and will move on to the Final Four. Yes, it will be time for Kentucky fans to wash away their NCAA Tournament sorrows with a couple mint juleps trackside because the tournament is not happening for them this year.
Finally, on to the West, where the competition will be the tournament’s best. Now the talking heads of NCAA basketball have called on Georgia to be this year’s Cinderella team. No way. As with Kentucky, I will be wholeheartedly surprised if they make it past the second round. Personally, I think Xavier will work them over something fierce in the first round (as I write this pre-game time Thursday morning, this statement could expose me as the basketball hack I truly am). The Bulldogs weren’t good in the regular season, so why would we think any different in the tournament? Because they made an impressive run to get in? I think not.
One of the best games in the West will come when the seemingly struggling West Virginia Mountaineers take on Duke. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t shed one tear if Duke never made it into the tournament ever again. I am no West Virginia fan, but that second round win over Duke will be as sweet as they come. The biggest disappointment in the West will come at the hands of UCLA when they lose to Drake in the regional semi round. Drake will then go on to beat the Mountaineers to make it into the Final Four.
There we have it. Tennessee, Kansas State, Drake, and Stanford in the Final Four. From there, Tennessee, Tennessee, Tennessee. The hoods in Knoxville will be drinking their corn from a jar as coach Bruce Pearl takes the Vols to a national title – making Tennessee the second program to win championships in football, women’s basketball and women’s basketball.
Happy March Madness.