- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2014


A couple of points need to be made before we cross the threshold for the start of the greatest sporting event in the history of the world. Yes, I can see every writer I’ve worked with rolling their eyes and saying to themselves, “Old man needs to get over this nonsense.”

No, he does not.

First, it is not The Big Dance. That’s a contrived, unnecessary made-for-TV phrase. Same with March Madness. Don’t use them. They’re not needed.

It is, very simply, the NCAA men’s Division I basketball championship. It doesn’t need some fancy catchphrase because it is, as noted, the greatest sporting event in the history of the world.

Why? Because something fun happens every single year, something unpredictable, sometimes something mind-blowing. It is three weeks of the best college basketball has to offer. At the end, it is usually one of the big names left standing with the nets around their collective necks. But strange things happen every year leading up to the final. A George Mason can make the Final Four (2006), A VCU (bias alert — the alma mater) can make the Final Four (2011).

At its best, it is a thrill ride that lasts three weeks. Even at its worst, it is an excuse to watch a lot of basketball at work. That alone makes it pretty special.

The field will be revealed on Sunday night and the real games (sorry play-in games, we’re not counting you yet) begin next Thursday. By next Thursday night, everyone you know will be screaming, “MY BRACKET IS ALREADY RUINED.”

We’ll try to do a real, honest analysis of the field next week when we know which teams are seeded where and how the matchups will play out. The right draw means a lot. Until then, we can kill some of the agonizing time before the field is known by doing some guesswork.

A few things about the regular season offer a hint or two that this could be a particularly fun tournament.

Wichita State, hardly considered a traditional power despite some great work not just this year by coach Gregg Marshall, is 34-0. Will that earn the Shockers a No. 1 seed? The crystal ball says yes. Will the Shockers make it to 40-0 and win the championship? The crystal ball says no.

Who had Virginia as the ACC’s best team before the season started? Didn’t think so. But the Cavaliers were the best in the ACC, though their buzz was slightly dimmed by a loss to Maryland in the regular-season finale. Still, the Cavaliers ought to go into the tournament as a No. 3 seed at worst.

Because the D.C. area needs a few more teams to handle the area’s representation in this great event, let’s cast our net wide and include the Cavaliers. That also allows us to include what should be everyone’s favorite team, the aforementioned VCU Rams. Still led by the energetic Shaka Smart, VCU is the No. 2 seed in this week’s Atlantic 10 tournament. My pal Warren Nolan, who runs a fun site called WarrenNolan.com, has the Rams as a No. 7 seed. It’s a wonder we’re friends. That’s too low.

Inside the actual city, it will be an odd look. George Washington’s rebirth under Mike Lonergan continues and Nolan has the Colonials in the field as an eight seed. GW is the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic 10, which is projected to have six of its teams in the field.

Where are Georgetown and Maryland? Maybe the NIT will show a sense of humor and try to pair the two in the opening round. Barring a miracle run in their respective conference tournaments, the Hoyas and Terrapins figure to be watching once NCAA play begins.

American University is in for the first time in five years after the Eagles secured the Patriot League’s lone bid with a 55-36 win over top-seeded Boston University in Wednesday night’s conference title game.

As of his Wednesday update, Nolan has Wichita State, Villanova, Florida and Arizona as his four No. 1 seeds. The No. 2 seeds are Wisconsin, Syracuse, Kansas and Michigan. His current last four in are Saint Joseph’s, California, Xavier and Tennessee. His current last four out are Pittsburgh, Providence, Belmont and Missouri.

Who knows what the real field will look like when it is unveiled on Sunday. There’s always a surprise among the top seeds, always a team or two no one thought would get in that does, always a team or two everyone thought would get in that doesn’t. That’s where some of the best stories lie. Some thought VCU shouldn’t have been included in 2011 and all the Rams did was make it to the Final Four (and no, we never, ever get tired of bringing that up). Actually, the same can be said for Mason in 2006.

Soon enough, we’ll know for sure. Soon enough, the games will begin.

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