I’m not sure exactly when the entire NCAA tournament bracket initially leaked online, but it happened sometime either before or during CBS’ embarrassingly bloated selection show, and it felt like a hot blast of karma for those of us forced to endure Charles Barkley fumbling with a touchscreen for what seemed like an eternity.
The good news is, I think that show finally concluded sometime Monday morning, and even the network’s attempt to drag out the melodrama of the moment could not temper our excitement over the fact that the NCAA tournament is finally imminent.
With that, here are five very early observations about what’s to come:
1. The Selection Committee Largely Did What It Always Does
In other words, it went with big over small, most notably snubbing a very good and very entertaining Monmouth team, apparently because the committee sympathized with the suspension of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who had been suspended, by the way, for breaking the rules of the organization that sponsors this event. St. Mary’s and Valparaiso and St. Bonaventure were also left out based on a similar reasoning – that somehow the teams that have trouble scheduling games against the major conferences should be penalized for not playing enough games against the major conferences. It’s the sort of bullshit catch-22 that has plagued college athletics for years, and I suppose it will continue to do so, which is too bad, given that the mid-majors are what have long differentiated the NCAA tournament in the first place.
2. Those Play-In Games Are Actually Worth Watching
It’s been relatively easy to ignore the Tuesday-Wednesday play-in games over the years, but one of the few good things this selection committee did was freight those contests with actual meaning. Wichita State, if it can get past Vanderbilt, is a veteran-laden team and a legitimate threat to make a run; Michigan arguably shouldn’t be in the field in the first place, but they’re well coached and talented enough that they could make a push if they can beat Tulsa in a play-in game.
3. You Might as Well Root For Holy Cross
The Crusaders are the No. 68 seed in this 68-team field, with good reason: They are 14-19 and won the Patriot League tournament as a No. 9 seed. If the Crusaders beat Southern in a play-in game on Wednesday they would face No. 1 seed Oregon; if they become the first 16 seed to upset a 1 seed, it is possible Bill Simmons might require hospitalization.
4. America’s Hottest Cinderellas Are…
The 12 seeds. Always the 12 seeds. It’s kind of the conventional wisdom these days to choose at least one 12 seed to win a game, and there are several juicy choices this time around: South Dakota State faces an inconsistent Maryland team; Yale, in its first-ever NCAA tournament, could pull a Princeton on Baylor; Little Rock and Chattanooga are excellent small-conferences team that could challenge Purdue and Indiana. You should probably pick one of them, though don’t ask me which one.
5. This Would Be a Good Year to Pick Someone Other Than the Favorites
Here is the thing: You are not going to win your NCAA tournament pool. It never happens, it never will – and if it does, it will be based almost entirely on luck. There are three clear favorites heading into this tournament, and those favorites are Michigan State, North Carolina and Kansas, since all three schools won their conference tournaments. My guess is the majority of the people in your pool will choose one of those teams to win, but the problem with that is that this should be a tournament rife with upsets, many of which will happen in the early rounds, which means by the time we get to the Final Four, you may find yourself far behind, anyway. So why not take a flier on a hot team – Connecticut, say, which won the AAC tournament, or Seton Hall, which won the Big East tournament, or even Kentucky, which won the SEC after an up-and-down season? (Your slightly deeper Final Four pick: Cal, which has several future pros on its roster and has played brilliantly down the stretch. Their toughest game might be a first-round matchup with Hawaii, which is far better than what you think Hawaii is.)
Michael Weinreb is the author of Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games, now out in paperback. You can find him on Twitter @michaelweinreb