There has been great anticipation as we head into another NCAA Tournament.
Who is legit? Who are the pretenders? Which mid-major program is ready to shock the nation?
There are so many questions as we head into the first round of the world’s most exciting basketball tournament and so much excitement surrounding these next few weeks. Along the way there will be a multitude of storylines that will add even more intrigue to every game and every round.
Here are the Top 5 storylines that will certainly play out on this road to the Final Four in Houston:
Talk about a wide-open NCAA Tournament field
For the first time in years, we enter the NCAA Tournament season without a clear-cut favorite to win it all. Sure, Alabama comes in as the No.1 overall seed, but the Crimson Tide has never been a top seed and star freshman Brandon Miller will be under the most scrutiny he has faced in the two months since a young mother was shot dead with a gun that was in his possession prior to the shooting.
In addition to Alabama, the Houston Cougars, Purdue Boilermakers and Kansas Jayhawks all seem capable of winning it all. Houston has been dominant but that has mainly been in the American Athletic Conference and there is a strong argument that the Boilermakers got the No.1 seed that belonged to UCLA. The Jayhawks have the talent and resume to repeat as national champions, but in reality none of the teams is unbeatable.
It’s without question that one of the aspects that make the NCAA Tournament so great is the rise of the unexpected underdog, the team that makes that improbable run. Who is going to be the next George Mason, Gonzaga or Cleveland State to become the nation’s favorite Cinderella team? Maybe it will be Oral Roberts, which could knock off Duke and Tennessee in the first two rounds to make the East Region interesting. Then there are No. 12 Drake and No. 13 Kent State, who could both realistically record upsets over the Miami Hurricanes and Indiana Hoosiers, respectively, to end up in a showdown between the two underdogs during the second round in the Midwest Region.
Jon Scheyer’s NCAA Tournament era begins at Duke
If you think it’s odd not having college basketball blue-blood North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament this year, just wait until you see someone besides Mike Krzyzewski walking the sidelines for the Duke Blue Devils.
Jon Scheyer has certainly done a respectable leading the storied program in his first season, guiding the Blue Devils to a 26-8 record and a No. 5 seed. But Duke basketball is synonymous with its five-time national championship former coach. Scheyer, however, seems ready to create his own legacy and taking the Blue Devils far will certainly put him on the right path. But 12th seed Oral Roberts is looking to get the Scheyer era off to a rocky start.
Can Rodney Terry be the next Steve Fisher?
University of Texas interim head coach Rodney Terry landed in a tough spot early in the season when he was thrust into the placeholder role when Chris Beard was fired after domestic violence accusations surfaced. But Terry and the Longhorns have gone on to have a terrific season, winning the Big 12 Tournament championship and earning a No. 2 seed and Top 5 ranking. The Longhorns could realistically win a championship, which would put Terry in the same company as Steve Fisher, who led the Michigan Wolverines to the 1989 national championship as the interim coach.
Is the SEC really that good?
Certainly, the NCAA Selection Committee was either enamored with the SEC or taken in by Kentucky coach John Calipari’s non-stop campaigning that the traditional football league is now a powerful basketball conference. Either way, the Committee saw fit to let eight SEC teams into the 68-team field.
Alabama, of course, is the NCAA Tournament’s No.1 overall seed. But the Committee also let in Tennessee (No. 4 seed, East), Kentucky (No. 6 seed, East), Missouri (No. 7 seed, South), Texas A&M (No. 7 seed, Midwest), Arkansas (No.8 seed, West), Auburn (No.9 seed, Midwest) and Mississippi State (No.11 seed; lost play-in game vs. Pittsburgh). But we will quickly find out in the first round if the SEC is overrated with Arkansas matching up against a dangerous Illinois squad in an 8-9 game. We also saw Mississippi State get knocked off, 60-59, in its First Four matchup against Pitt. Tennessee, playing without one of its top players, could be upset by the 13th Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
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