Louisville guard Peyton Siva practices for the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Wednesday in Lexington, Ky. Louisville is scheduled to play North Carolina A&T today.
The NCAA tournament will not have a repeat champion for the sixth straight season. Kentucky made sure of that by failing to make the field of 68.
Beyond that, nothing’s for certain in this year’s version of March Madness after a season a parity that saw the top teams swap positions like it was a hoedown.
The tournament got started Tuesday night with the play-in games: North Carolina A&T won its first NCAA game in 10 tries over sub-.500 Liberty and Saint Mary’s pulled away from Saint Mary’s.
After two more First Four games Wednesday, the full madness starts on Thursday, when what’s expected to be a wilder-than-usual bracket gets rolling.
Here’s a few things to look for as you get the snacks and drinks lined up around the couch:
Louisville: Coach Rick Pitino is one of the best minds in the game, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are capable of taking over any game, Gorgui Dieng swats shots and grabs rebounds, and the Cardinals went to the Final Four a year ago. No wonder they’re the No. 1 overall seed.
Gonzaga: The Zags are big up front, love to play defense and have few weaknesses. After Final Four runs by Butler and VCU in recent years, top-ranked Gonzaga has a chance to become the first mid-major to win a title.
Indiana: Preseason No. 1 earned the East Region’s top seed despite losing the Big Ten title game. With size, talent and depth, the Hoosiers will be hard to bet against.
Kansas: Bill Self led the Jayhawks to the Final Four last season. He has them in position to make another run despite having an almost entirely different team.
Duke: Return of forward Ryan Kelly makes the Blue Devils a tough matchup for anyone.
Florida: The Gators have one of the nation’s best backcourts, some beef up front and love to play defense. Sounds like a winning combination.
Cody Zeller, Indiana. The versatile, 7-foot sophomore center can be unstoppable.
Doug McDermott, Creighton. A leading candidate for POY (player of the year), the rugged forward would be sure bet for MRP (most relentless player).
Kelly Olynyk, Gonzaga. The long-haired, long-armed 7-footer from Canada is long on talent. He will have a highlight dunk or two, count on it.
Mason Plumlee, Duke. Had a superb regular season and was a big reason the Blue Devils survived Ryan Kelly’s injury.
Jeff Withey, Kansas. Shot-swatting 7-footer is a difference-maker at both ends.
Trey Burke, Michigan. Big Ten player of the year in the running for national player of the year.
Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss. The Mouth from the South can shoot to back up his trash talking.
No. 11 Belmont over No, 6 Arizona, West Region. The Wildcats have struggled at times defending the perimeter. The Bruins are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. Get hot, Belmont could pull it off.
No. 11 Minnesota over No. 6 UCLA, South Region. The Gophers are athletic and would likely have given UCLA trouble before Bruins’ second-leading scorer Jordan Adams broke his right foot in the Pac-12 final.
No. 11 Saint Mary’s over No. 6 Memphis. The Tigers have failed to get out of the first round the past two tournaments. Saint Mary’s is scrappy and has a player who can get hot in Matthew Dellavedova.
No. 12 Oregon over No. 5 Oklahoma State, Midwest Region. Oklahoma State isn’t particularly good from the perimeter and Oregon has a scrappy defense. The Ducks also have a chip on their shoulder after winning the Pac-12 tournament and being dropped to a 12 seed.
No. 1 Western Kentucky over No. 1 Kansas, South Region. OK, it’s probably a stretch, but 16 will eventually beat a 1 and after this season of surprises, we decided to throw one in there.
The selection committee did quite a few teams favors this season by allowing them to play close to home.
Kansas has the shortest distance, needing a mere 40 miles to get from Lawrence to Kansas City, where it also has a strong fan base. Rival Kansas State also gets to play at the Sprint Center, but it’s another 80 miles away.
California also has a short journey, heading 45 miles down the bay to play in San Jose and Michigan will make a 50-mile-or-so trek to Auburn Hills, where Michigan State also will play (from roughly 80 miles away).
Louisville will play in a familiar place, at rival Kentucky’s gym in Lexington about 75 miles away, and Ohio State has about a 70-mile trip to play in Dayton.
The distance losers?
Syracuse in San Jose, which is about 2,800 miles and San Diego State in Philadelphia, roughly 2,700 miles. We’re guessing they’ll fly for those trips.
9-2—Opening odds for tournament favorite Louisville to win the title.
35 billion-1. Odds of having a perfect bracket by picking all better-seeded teams, according to the website bookofodds.com.
1.55—Nation’s-best assist-to-turnover ratio for Michigan.
6—Players from Missouri that averaged double figures scoring this season.
16—Straight seasons Tom Izzo has led Michigan State to the NCAA tournament, longest in Big Ten history.
21—Years since La Salle had made the NCAA tournament field.
23.1—Scoring average of Creighton’s Doug McDermott, highest among NCAA tournament players and second nationally to Virginia Tech’s Erick Green (25.0).
80.1—Free-throw percentage of Davidson, best in the nation.
81.0—Scoring average of Northwestern State, tops nationally.
115—Weight difference between New Mexico State’s Sim Bhullar, a 7-foot-5, 360-pound freshman and 6-11 Saint Louis forward Rob Loe.
5,600—Combined career points by Bucknell starters Cameron Ayers, Mike Muscala, Bryson Johnson and Joe Willman.
Just about every school has famous alumni. We’ve found some cool ones from a few of the schools in the bracket.
Duke: Actor Ken Jeong. What you talkin’ about, Willis? The Hangover’s Mr. Chow also went to medical school at North Carolina.
North Carolina State: Comedian and fellow Hangover-er Zach Galifianakis was once a part of a larger Wolfpack.
Davidson: President Woodrow Wilson.
Marquette: Actor Chris Farley might have had a beer or two at the Milwaukee school, but also graduated from there in 1986 with a degree in communications and theater.
Notre Dame: Actor George Wendt didn’t graduate from there, but was a golden domer for a while before sidling up to the bar on Cheers.
VCU: Gwar. Members of the shock metal band met there.
Indiana: Actor Lee Majors. The Six Million Dollar Man earned a football scholarship with the Hoosiers, but later transferred.
Florida: Actor Stephen Root, of “Have you seen my stapler?” fame from Office Space. Majored in acting and broadcasting
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