The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to determine the national champion is a well-designed event. If you win, you stay in, and if you lose, you go home. There are no relegation rounds, or consolation prizes. So in theory, small schools that nobody has ever heard of can knock off a top squad. This year, the first round of games, the essence of “March Madness,” saw underdog squads East Tennessee State, Morehead State, American, and Binghamton present huge challenges to basketball giants Pittsburgh, Louisville, Villanova, and Duke, before bowing out.
Aside from three number-five seeds knocking off twelves, the opening round produced one true shocker, as thirteen-seed Cleveland State toppled powerhouse Wake Forest. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons were ranked as a four, but earlier in the season were the number-one college basketball team in all of America. Wake Forest were one and done, a shocking development.This year, March Madness took on a whole new meaning. Many had chosen Wake Forest to either run the table and win the entire tournament or make a deep run, and were quite upset by this turn of events. They lamented that there were no other teams worth cheering for in the tournament, especially after pre-tournament sleepers like Michigan, Boston College, and Temple all met the same fate as Wake Forest.However, the tournament is not a complete write-off. Each remaining team has the potential to be your favourite. Here are the reasons to make each team heading to the Sweet Sixteen seem not seem so sour.
Connecticut will compete for the championship this year because of Hasheem Thabeet. The mountain-like, 7’3” Thabeet is considered to be the second best player in the 2009 NBA Draft, and will be the first player to come from Tanzania. Thabeet only took up basketball at age 15, and, scarily, has the chance to improve. With a strong supporting cast, especially senior guard A.J. Price, who survived a brain hemorrhage in his first year, the Huskies will be a treat to watch. There is a possibility for a double championship, as the women’s team finished the regular season, 33-0.Famous Alumni
: Meg Ryan, Moby, and Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter
Aside from finding nearby players, Purdue is looking to expand their profile across the country. In the Big Ten, Michigan State was given most of the attention, but it was Purdue that won the conference championship, their first ever. Although the Boilermakers have no trouble making it to the second round of the tourney, this year they upset the Washington Huskies to finally make it back to the Sweet Sixteen, where the local boys hope to upset the powerful Connecticut Huskies.Famous Alumni
: Neil Armstrong, Jim Gaffigan, and popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher
Perhaps the best way to describe the Tigers would be the sports equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield’s “I don’t get no respect” routine. What school did the most recent number-one pick in the NBA Draft, Derrick Rose attend? Memphis. What team went undefeated in conference play the last three years? Memphis Tigers. What school was a couple of missed free throws from winning the conference championship in 2008? You get the picture. Yet Memphis, which completed another fine season, despite losing Rose and other top players to the NBA, were given a number-two seed in the tournament. In this year’s tournament, coach John Calipari and his sharpshooting Memphis Tigers hope to gain some much-needed respect.Famous Alumni
: Fred Thompson, Dan Uggla, and Julia Sugerbaker from Designing Women
This year, Villanova adeptly handled a brutal conference schedule, were undefeated at home, and won 25 games. The third-seeded Wildcats have a history of pulling off upsets, as they famously won the 1985 tournament as an eighth-seed, defeating Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas. Last year, Villanova was considered a bubble team, yet pulled off two victories as a twelve-seed and advanced into the Sweet Sixteen. This year’s edition, which brought back team leader Scottie Reynolds from last year, may continue the upset tradition.Famous Alumni
: Maria Bello, Jill Biden, Jim Croce, and Toby Keith
Duke Blue Devils
When it comes to Duke, there seems to be either two choices: you love them or you hate them. It seems like every year Duke makes the tournament, and much of the credit goes to Duke’s stoic leader, Mike Krzyzewski, affectionately known as Coach K. He has been with Duke since 1980. In the off-season, he coached the U.S. Olympic basketball team, leading them to victory. If Coach K can handle the pros effectively, what chance do other schools have? The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament was won by Duke, and North Carolina received the number one seed, as Duke settled for two. Motivation enough?Famous Alumni
: Andy from The Bachelor, Canadian Idol host Ben Mulroney, and the new judge on American Idol Kara DioGuardi
North Carolina Tar Heels
The yin to Duke’s yang, the North Carolina Tar Heels are Duke hater-favourites, as well as the choice to win it all for the last two years by first fan Barack Obama. UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough has set the all-time record for most points scored in North Carolina and Atlantic Coast Conference history. Yet due to his size and explosiveness, he projects to be drafted 28th-overall in the upcoming NBA draft. Even Ty Lawson, his point guard teammate battling through a toe injury, projects higher. So if watching a point guard with a broken toe, and an undersized, non-explosive yet fundamental player lead a team to an NCAA championship sounds like fun, North Carolina is your team.Famous Alumni
: Michael Jordan, Vince Carter, Rick Fox, Andy Griffith, and current American Idol contestant Anoop Desai
Featuring only 4,500 undergraduates, Gonzaga is a tiny school in Spokane, Washington. The ‘Zags first made the NCAA tournament in 1995. Their second appearance was in 1999, and they’ve made it to every tournament since then. In the early years, Gonzaga was often a “Cinderella,” low ranked and pulling off upsets. Recently, they have taken on the role of favourite, upset by lower-ranked teams. Gonzaga needed a last-second finish against upstart Western Kentucky to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga is an underdog. Guard Jeremy Pargo, forward Josh Heytvelt, coach Mark Few, and the rest of the ‘Zags may be leaving their future opponents in tears.Famous Alumni
: Bing Crosby and Jason Bay
Oklahoma’s power forward Blake Griffin is an absolute monster, and will probably be the number one pick in the draft. Known as the terminator, Griffin plays the game hard. This season alone, he has suffered through injuries to both knees, a concussion stemming from a collision, and in the first round, survived being flipped onto his back. Griffin played a typical game against Michigan in the second round with 33 points and 17 rebounds. If this is typical of Griffin, opponents are going to double team Griffin sooner, leaving Oklahoma’s guards open for three pointers. If coach Jeff Capel can keep Blake Griffin from suffering any more major injuries, Oklahoma will be soaring into the final.Famous Alumni
: Ed Harris, Vince Gill, and Ottawa Rough Rider quarterback turned politician J.C. WattsThis is part one of a two-part series continued in Thursday’s Varsity.