Let the Madness Begin, from A to Z

The NCAA Basketball Tournament, the best sporting event in the universe, blasts off this week and, as usual, there will be plenty of spills, chills and thrills before it’s all over. Here’s a look at the tournament, from A to Z – and thank heavens for Xavier or we’d have to find a player or coach who played the xylophone.

A is for – April, which is when March Madness will end. Maybe they should change the unofficial title of this thing to April Angst.

B is for – Buffalo, which is coached by former Duke star Bobby Hurley. Even though the Bison are just a No. 12 seed, a lot of people think they could do some damage.

C is for – Colonial Athletic Association, which once again received just one NCAA bid, to tournament champion Northeastern, a lowly No. 14 seed. No respect…

D is for – Duke, which has the worst record (29-4) of any of the top seeds. But it’s Duke, so nobody will be surprised to see them cutting down the nets in a few weeks.

E is for – Eastern Washington, a team few people know anything about, but one of the most fun teams to watch – the Eagles have the leading scorer in the nation, Tyler Harvey (22.9 ppg) and are third in scoring as a team (80.8 ppg).

F is for – Final Four. The best night to watch sports the entire year, including the Super Bowl, the World Cup and the finals of Dancing with the Stars.

G is for – Gonzaga, which always seems to get a high seed and then always seems to get bounced too early The Zags are a No. 2 seed in the South, which appears to be the weakest bracket, so maybe this time they can at least make it to the Elite Eight.

H is for – Hampton, the winner of the MEAC Tournament which beat Manhattan in a play-in game and now gets to play Kentucky. The Pirates, the only tourney team with a losing record (16-17), beat Delaware State 82-61 in the MEAC final to make the NCAAs.

I is for – Indiana, the state that gave us the best sports movie of all time, “Hoosiers.” So, we don’t mind them being in the tournament even though they lost 13 games – maybe they should play some of their home games in Hickory’s gym.

J is for – Jahlil Okafor, generally considered the best player in the country and a probably No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. But he’s just a freshman and NBA scouts will be watching to see how he handles the spotlight and the intense competition.

K is for – Kentucky, which has already been crowned by a lot of people even though they have a lot of young players who have never been through an NCAA Tournament. It says here the Wildcats don’t win it all.

L is for – Lafayette, which plays top-seeded Villanova in an East Regional opener. Fortunately, the game’s in Pittsburgh, so it’ll be a quick and short trip for the Leopards.

M is for – Mamadou Ndiaye, the tallest player in the NCAA. His UC-Irvine team, playing in its first-ever NCAA tournament, is just a No. 13 seed and probably won’t be around long, so tune in early if you want to see the 7-foot-6 Ndiaye in action.

N is for – Notre Dame, which surprised everyone by winning the ACC tournament. Mike Brey’s teams usually don’t fare well in the NCAAs and this would be a good time to change that.

O is for – Oregon, and even if none of their players get drafted by the NBA, there’s always a chance Chip Kelly will sign them.

P is for – Providence. It also could have been for Purdue, but I’m a Big East guy, so I’ll go with the Friars.

Q is for – Quick exit. Every year, some highly-touted team gets knocked off by some nobody in an early round and that’s what makes this event so special – everybody wants to see David slay Goliath.

R is for – RPI, which stands for Ratings Percentage Index, a complicated formula that is supposed to judge teams through several categories. We tried to figure it out and got a headache, so we’ll just go along with the experts.

S is for – Stephen F. Austin, which won 29 games, yet nobody knows anything about them, even though a lot of people are picking the 12th-seeded team to knock off No. 5 Utah.

T is for – Temple, which didn’t make NCAA field of 64 despite a 23-10 record, an RPI rating of 34 and a best-win victory over Kansas, a No. 2 seed.

U is for – UCLA, which did make the NCAAs despite a record of 23-10, an RPI rating of 47 and a best-win victory over Utah, a No. 5 seed. Hopefully, Larry Brown’s SMU team will send them home early.

V is for – Villanova, which won its only NCAA title 30 years ago. The Wildcats are a No. 1 seed, but they’ve under-performed in past tourneys, so Jay Wright’s team needs to go to the Final Four or this 32-win season will still be a disappointment.

W is for – Wichita State, which would probably play in-state rival Kansas in the second round if Wichita State beats Indiana in the round of 64. Kansas refuses to play its mid-major cousin in the regular season, so an entire basketball-mad state would be in ecstasy if that match-up happens.

X is for – Xavier – what else?

Y is for – Yale, which also was snubbed by the selection committee despite winning 22 games, tying for the conference title and beating Patriot League champ Lafayette by 22 points. I guess the committee couldn’t handle the thought of two Ivy League teams in its precious tournament.

Z is for – ZZZZZ, which a lot of people will miss when they stay up late to watch the finish of one of the West Coast games. Hey, you can always sleep in May.

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