PHILADELPHIA – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – The much-anticipated release of the NCAA Tournament bracket always ends up with perennial No. 1 seeds, upset-minded schools and, of course, teams that believe they were snubbed. There are predictions to make down the road like a potential Villanova-Duke East Regional final at Madison Square Garden.
There are teams looking to advance to the Final Four for the first time in program history such as Gonzaga.
There are teams making their first-ever appearance in the field such as Northwestern.
There are teams like Syracuse, which was left out just one year after earning a surprising at-large berth as a No. 10 seed and going to the Final Four.
It’s all part of March Madness.
“There are so many talented teams in college basketball,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, whose team finished 31-3, won the Big East tournament title and earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. “There isn’t much separation between many of these teams. For us, we’re focused on the one game at a time approach. I think you have to be. But I think there are 20 teams that can win it.”
Once again, the power conferences provided a bevy of teams led by the Atlantic Coast Conference with nine. The Big East and Big 10 had seven teams apiece. The Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference each had six, followed by the Pac-12 with four and the Atlantic 10 with three.
Villanova, which won 15 regular-season games in the rugged Big East, is in search of consecutive national championships. Only Duke (1991 and 1992) and Florida (2006, 2007) have accomplished the feat over the past 40 years.
This Wildcats’ team was decimated by injuries with Wright playing mostly a seven-man rotation. Guard Phil Booth, who led them with 20 points in last season’s national championship game against North Carolina, played in only three games all season because of left knee tendinitis.
But Villanova still managed to earn the No. 1 overall seed.
“There are so many good teams out there and we saw that in our conference alone,” said Villanova sophomore guard Jalen Brunson. “Every night, we were playing a very, very good team. It was a battle every night. We respect every opponent we face and that will be no different as we head into the NCAA Tournament. We’re not looking past our first game. That’s always our approach.”
In the history of the 64-team field, a No. 16 team has never beaten a No. 1 seed since 1985. In 1989, Georgetown eked past No. 16 Princeton 50-49 in a controversial finish. There have been other fairly close games in this matchup through the years, but expect the No. 1 seeds to move on again.
On the No. 2 seed line, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville and Arizona are all quite formidable. But No. 2 seeds have been knocked off in the past and it’s conceivable that it could happen again.
Last season, No. 15 Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State. In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast wowed the country with its high-flying dunks and flashy play with a win over Georgetown. In 2012, Lehigh took down Duke behind current NBA star CJ McCollum.
So it can happen.
Let the Madness begin. Storylines will play out. Upsets will likely occur.
“It’s the greatest time of the year,” said Villanova senior guard Josh Hart, a National Player of the Year candidate. “It’s my senior year, so I’m all in. We’ll start with the first one and take it from there. I do believe that as a senior, I appreciate everything even more and I don’t want it to end.