Five stories to follow, plus one thing you won't see
Forget that "First Four" play-in game nonsense. Everyone knows the real first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament comes today. At high noon on the Ides of March we tip-off the World's Most Exciting Sporting Event. Keep your Super Bowl, with its 1,000:1 hype-to-football ratio. Take your World Cup, with its round-robins and nil-nil ties. The NBA Finals, World Series, and Stanley Cup? Even at their best, the championships can only offer two clubs playing a lousy seven games. The Big Dance, though, has 68 teams, with nearly 700 players, plus marching bands, cheerleaders, and thousands of face-painted fans packing venues across the country. For sheer volume of entertainment, nothing compares to March Madness. Today is especially fun, too, because that fussed-over bracket is still immaculate. The elusive dream of perfection still remains. If you are like most of us, though, your bracket will be a shambles by tonight. In that case, we've got a few other stories to watch.
Forget Kentucky's Player of the Year candidate, star-kissed forward Anthony Davis. The real story in Wildcat-land is head coach John Calipari's lifelong, multi-school, twice-asterisked quest to win a title. Calipari's offense, "dribble-drive motion," is based on constant cutting and passing, and puts control of the game in players' hands, NBA-style. Unlike, oh, pretty much every other coach in the college ranks, Calapari won't call time-outs late in close games to draw up a play for his club. He'll trust the players to be good enough to win. The problem, as ESPN The Magazine's Elena Bergeron pointed out, is that they haven't been. At UMass, Memphis, and Kentucky, Calipari's clubs have show a late-game tendency to, shall we say, be in need of the Heimlich. For this year's no. 1 overall seed, so deep and talented, who've clearly the country's best team all year, anything less than cutting down the nets in New Orleans has got to be considered a flop.
Ye Olde 12-5 Match-Ups
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, games between the fifth- and twelfth-seeds have become legendary for upsets. Why? Maybe because the lower slots tend to go to smaller schools with unknown but rising programs. Maybe because the players at low-seeded clubs get insulted and fired up. At this point, you have to figure the 12-5 Upset Syndrome has become at least partially self-perpetuating, by making guys on fifth-seeded teams nervous.
Whatever the cause, this year's crop of games is predictably unpredictable. Given last year's fabulous tourney run, there's a sense that VCU got a raw deal with their 12 seed against Wichita State. Even President Obama, who tends towards chalk, took the Rams over the Shockers. Fifth-seed Vanderbilt, "the Harvard of the South," must play the actual Harvard. Irony! With the Ivy Leaguers getting their first tournament berth since 1946, plus the NBA success of Crimson alum Jeremy Lin, Tommy Amaker's team will be pumped. But if you really love a Cinderella, forget the 12's and go Lucky 13. Watch Davidson run-and-gun in a West Regional meeting with Louisville at 1:40 p.m. Today. 13th-seeded Davidson played tough against Duke, almost beat Vanderbilt, and did beat Kansas. That's, like, hard.
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