It’s that special time of year again: the weather is improving, the snow is melting and the NCAA has begun another edition of its annual Division I basketball tournament, also known as March Madness.
The annual 68-team, single elimination contest never fails to disappoint — schools that have secured a spot in the field rally their students as teams battle through 40 grueling minutes in hopes of advancing. For those on the outside of the tournament looking in, enjoyment comes from filling out brackets and wagering against friends, family and co-workers. All fans are eager to prove they have the college basketball knowledge and expertise to predict the next national champion.
In your typical tournament, favorites quickly emerge — these are the schools that perennially contend for the National Championship and are a near surefire bet to make a deep run. One thinks of the storied North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky or Indiana teams, all past champions, when penciling in the prospective winners and losers each March.
There are obvious underdogs, too — those teams that appear out of nowhere to rock the college basketball world and gain massive exposure. Nearly always unanticipated, the likes of George Mason and Butler burst onto the scene with a bevy of upsets and stunning finishes to put the tournament regulars on notice.
Yes, there are favorites and there are underdogs, at least in the typical tournament. The 2013 edition of March Madness, however, is shaping up to be anything but an average year of college basketball playoffs.
True, most of the perennial favorites are present: the Blue Devils, Tar Heels, Jayhawks, Hoosiers, among others. But as one watches the 40 minute contests unravel, big time programs seem to lack the dominance they have historically displayed over their opponents.
The Tar Heels of North Carolina are a middle-of-the-road squad this go-around, and Big 12 champion Kansas barely survived a tough first-round battle against plucky Western Kentucky. Some have even suffered massive, stunning defeats — the fierce Georgetown Hoyas were upset by lowly Florida Gulf Coast, and top-seeded Gonzaga was shown the door by the Shockers of Wichita State. Greats like Ohio State were caught in massive jams before finally advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, while the likes of La Salle live on to play another game.
It’s a story that has played out for an entire season: Whenever a tournament favorite appeared to emerge, they were summarily beaten and forced to relinquish their throne. Be it Indiana, Duke or the Atlantic Coast Conference champion University of Miami Hurricanes, each has failed to convince fans and media pundits alike that they deserve their number one ranking or the tournament’s top seed.
This newfound parity will surely make for extra suspense this March. With no clear favorite, multiple teams with a legitimate shot at the title could emerge, creating all kinds of drama as the battle continues through the Big Dance’s later rounds. Whatever happens, the NCAA tournament is sure to excite and enthrall with all of the close games and thrilling finishes we have come to expect. March will be very mad indeed.
A version of this article was published in the Monday, March 25 print edition. Charles Surette is a contributing writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.