EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

March 17, 2014

Let the madness begin!

Grab your bracket and pull up a chair. And bring darts, if you have any handy, because that’s the best method for picking winners in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this year.

Oh, we could bore you with a detailed breakdown of RPI rankings or strength-of-schedule comparisons. But that seems like a waste of time, judging by the topsy-turvy nature of this college basketball season.

Wichita State went undefeated, Virginia won both the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, and Nebraska became a basketball school.

This isn’t just any old March Madness.

The Atlantic 10 earned the same numbers of berths (six) as the Big Ten and ACC. Kentucky, ranked No. 1 in the preseason amid unbridled hoopla over its freshman class, finished unranked and earned a No. 8 seed. And Michigan State will be a trendy Final Four pick as a No. 4 seed.

Need a road map to guide your picks? Find a cool mascot. Odds are that team probably has a fighting chance to advance to the Sweet 16.

It’s not hyperbole to suggest that a dozen teams have a realistic shot to advance to the Final Four. Florida and Arizona will enter as favorites to cut down the nets in Arlington, Texas, perhaps only because somebody has to fill those shoes.

This is going to be fun.

“We say this every year, so maybe there’s more and more parity in college basketball every year,” said Ron Wellman, chairman of the tournament selection committee. “This year is unlike any of the five years that I have seen (as a committee member). I think that’s good for college basketball that we have the parity that we do and should produce a great NCAA basketball tournament.”

That parity has redefined what constitutes an upset, which has long been the hallmark of the tournament. Two factors have conspired to gradually erode the divide between traditional power schools and everyone else. The one-and-done exodus of players to the NBA has forced elite programs to reconfigure themselves annually while other programs can thrive on continuity and experience.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Merrimack Valley

Eagle-Tribune News Videos
Photos of the Week