March 21, 2023
Buckle up, America.  This might be one of the craziest NCAA Men's Tournaments we've ever seen.

Buckle up, America. This might be one of the craziest NCAA Men’s Tournaments we’ve ever seen.

The fairy tale version of this March Madness likely ends with Houston, the No. 1-ranked team for much of this season, cutting nets in their hometown with alumnus Jim Nantz calling their final Final Four on the 40th anniversary of Phi Slama Jama. losing the NCAA Tournament final to North Carolina State.

Or maybe it ends with interim Texas coach Rodney Terry handing the Longhorns their first national title, improbably proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s the man for the job by saving the season after former coach Chris Beard left. fired due to an embarrassing domestic dispute in December.

Or maybe to make the story even better, it’s Marquette beating Texas, pitting coach Shaka Smart against the program he had to escape after arriving with so much hype in 2015 and delivering a series of disappointing seasons.

Then again, it could end with Purdue joining the champions club for the first time and making its first Final Four since 1980 with the 7-foot-4 Zach Edey bringing big men’s basketball to the masses. Or, in a year where the spotlight has been elsewhere, why doesn’t Gonzaga finally win it all in a year in which the Bulldogs were ruled out early as title contenders?

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Of course, the reality of the NCAA Tournament is that unpredictability and randomness usually trump a perfect script. And this year in particular, we should all spend the next three weeks coming to terms with the idea that our picks are useless and our stands may need to be thrown away.

Zach Edey is aiming to lead Purdue to its first men’s basketball national championship.

The NCAA Tournament could be wide open

Buckle up, America. On paper, this has the potential to be one of the craziest tournaments we’ve ever seen.

Because? Perhaps because this has not been a dominant year for the big traditional brands. Instead, we’ve seen Houston navigate through the American Athletic Conference getting barely a decent test from anyone besides Memphis. We’ve seen Alabama and Texas A&M football schools dominate the SEC, while Kentucky enters the tournament looking like a loser. We’ve seen Miami, a veteran and transfer-based team, rise to the top of the ACC while Duke went under the radar for most of the year and North Carolina missed the tournament entirely. And the Big Ten almost felt like a random outcome generator at times with nine teams finishing within two games of the standings behind Purdue, which clinched the conference title.

The point of the NCAA Tournament is to remind us of how little we know about what will happen, and often how irrelevant regular season results are in a single-elimination event played on neutral courts. That happens even when we go into the tournament with some dominant teams looking clearly better than the rest.

Even the best teams come with concerns.

But this year? Even supposedly dominant teams come up with question marks.

Analysis shows that Houston is the best and most complete team in college basketball, but a lack of elite three-point shooting can land their offense in the mud.

Kansas had a nation-best 17 wins in Quadrant 1 this year, but they enter the tournament with two losses to Texas over the past week, while there were questions whether coach Bill Self would be on the sidelines after spending time in the hospital last week.

Alabama passed the eye test in a big way in the SEC Tournament, but their offense can go awry when 3s aren’t falling and the Crimson Tide is heavily reliant on two freshmen in Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney, who have never been in this position before.

UCLA may have had the best combination of experience and top-level talent, but the Bruins aren’t the same team without their best perimeter defender in Jaylen Clark, who suffered an Achilles tendon injury late in the season.

Purdue started 22-1, but a rather mediocre February combined with some previous flops in March under Matt Painter make the Boilermakers a hard team to trust.

Meanwhile, the top four seed lines in the bracket feature a group of teams that are either good on defense and bad on offense (Tennessee, Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State) or bad on defense and good on offense (Gonzaga, Arizona, Baylor, Marquette).

Of course, that’s the beauty of the tournament to begin with: none of us know which of those data points are going to matter or which teams are going to underperform or overperform all season on sample size. of only 40 minutes. That matters.

Blue blood drop adds to parity

Without a season framed by the usual bluebloods, we’re left with even more perceived parity than normal. Will it be like this when the games start on Thursday? Who knows.

Maybe in the end, we’ll realize that, in fact, No. 1 seeds like Houston, Purdue and Alabama were actually the better teams all along. But the tournament never fails to show us just how hilariously wrong our supports are, which is even more likely to be the case this year.

One way or another, chaos is coming. In the end, it’s usually more fun than the fairy tale.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NCAA Tournament brackets can be thrown away as crazy games on stage.

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