We are only a few days off from March; mere days from the craziness we all know simply as, March Madness. Every year the Big Dance comes around and we all lose our minds trying to predict the eventual victor. Good times.
For those who are not well versed, this is how it is going down:
- March 17th, 2009: March madness officially kicks off with Open Round play (top 64 teams)
- March 19-22nd, 2009: The 1st and 2nd Rounds are played (Top 32, Sweet 16)
- March 26th-29th, 2009: The Regionals games are played (Elite 8)
- April 4th-6th, 2009: The Final Four games are played
- April 6th: The NCAA Men's Div. 1 B-ball Tournament championship game is played
So which teams are going to the Big Dance?
- 65 teams actually qualify for the tournament (the regular season winner in the Ivy League gets an automatic berth) and the bottom 2 teams have a playoff to round the field to 64
- 31 teams automatically qualify by winning their conference (tournaments)
- 34 teams are selected by an NCAA Selection Committee
- All together there are 9.2 quintillion possible combinations
Here are my choices/predictions for the automatic bids:
Ivy League: Cornell seems to have this in the bag already; although you have to keep an eye out for Princeton. Both teams are the only ones with a positive +/- within the conference.
American East: My money is on Vermont pulling through this conference. BU is the dark horse.
ACC: The craziest of all the conferences. Really, "anyone" can make it out of this conference. My money is on UNC pulling this out (too much experience on this squad with Hansborough leading the way). The dark horse has to be Maryland after their thrilling overtime win over UNC. Vasquez made me a believer with his Triple Double performance because that is really hard to do in College. Maryland is also 4-1 versus top 25 teams.
Big East: My favorite of all the conferences. UConn (and Hasheem Thabeet) appear to be a sure lock to make it out of this conference but I can not wait until the conference tournament to start. All these teams are really good; Louisville is the not-so-dark horse.
Atlantic 10: This is another competitive conference but I like Temple to prevail and they are also the dark horse of this conference.
Big South: Crappy conference but I like Liberty to pull through. If someone from this conference wins the Championship, blue pigs will start flying through the sky.
Big Sky: Weber State
Big Ten: You have to love the fight in the Illini, I am going with Illinois baby! Okay, before early dementia starts to set in, Illinois plays tough defense and that wins ball games. There is no dark horse in this conference though, competition is pretty tight; the closest thing to a dark horse is Ohio State.
Big 12 Conference: The home of the media favorite, Blake Griffin (Oklahoma). I am not sold though; not after the weak showing versus Texas. My favorite to pull through this conference is Kansas with OKU being on the outside. Missouri has an exciting team but they will have rebounding problems so it is a short-lived euphoria.
Big West: Not-so-impressive conference. I like Pacific to win this.
Colonial Athletic Association: George Mason. Northeastern is the dark horse.
Conference USA: MEMPHIS!!! This team is on a serious, serious roll - 18 games and counting. Definitely keep an eye out for the seeding once it is set by the NCAA Selection Committee because barring top competition from the likes of Uconn, Duke or UNC, I like Memphis to continue their streak all the way to the NCAA Championship game. Yes, you heard it here first. No dark horses because there are so many good teams in this conference.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference: Although Siena is the favorite here, I like Niagara to pull out the upset in Conference and earn a bid.
Mid-American West: I like Akron to pull through this conference; Kent State is my dark horse.
Mid-Eastern Athletic: Morgan State ought to pull through.
Missouri Valley: This is another really close conference but Creighton should be able to pull through. Illinois State is my dark horse.
Northeast: I like Mount St. Mary's to win out in this conference.
Ohio Valley: Tennessee-Martin.
Pac-10: Another tough conference especially with the re-emergence of USC. Still I think you have go with Arizona State to win out in this conference. There are 2 dark horses in this conference - California and UCLA.
Patriot League: American University.
SEC: LSU! LSU! LSU! We all know that they have tapeworms in their bellies. They are always hungry and we do not need a big baby to tell us that.
Southern: Yes! The home of the national sensation, the "next Reggie Miller-maybe", Stephen Curry. I think you have to go with Davidson.
Southland: This is another less-than-stellar conference. Stephen F. Austin makes the biggest case for being the winner of this conference; but do not count out Texas-San Antonio (they are flying under the radar, know they might be able to earn a berth if they win the conference, so they have the most to gain)
Southwest Athletic: Senior Brandon Brooks leads Alabama State this year and I would not bet against them coming out of this division.
Sun Belt: West. Kentucky (dark horse => Arkansas-Little Rock)
West Coast: Perennial "Cinderella" Gonzaga should be able to get to the Big Dance but they have a reputation for being soft down the stretch so definitely keep an eye on their competition. St. Mary's is the dark horse.
WAC: Utah State
Independents: This conference is a mess. There are 6 competitive teams who really have a chance but out of that 6 South Dakota definitely takes the cake. They should be able to win out in this otherwise "weak" conference.
Mountain West: Expect competition for the conference crown to come right down to the wire. The top 4 teams, BYU, Utah, UNLV and, San Diego State (Yes! I excluded New Mexico - no chance) have a chance to take it. I like San Diego State but only as a dark horse, top billing has to go to Utah.
Horizon League: Butler is the leader of the pack and should remain that way. The dark horse here is Cleveland State.
Atlantic Sun: Go Jacksonville!
Summit League: North Dakota State with Oral Roberts as the dark horse in this weak conference.
Hopefully this gets you an early jump on March Madness. To go further you will have to dig further into the competitive conferences to see who might have success at the next level. Obviously, you can not count out vested teams like UNC, Memphis, UConn, OKU and even Davidson. This year though, keep a look out for the teams chosen by the NCAA Selection Committee, if that includes one of the teams I predicted would win their division (but did not) then that should raise some highbrows; also look for teams I did not mention because for them to be nominated they have to be respected squads.
I can not wait, let's go crazy already.