March Madness 2012 : “The Big Dance”

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament is in full swing and the NCAA is making sure that all the fans have an opportunity to watch the madness. The NCAA has partnered up with TNT, TruTV, TBS, and CBS in order to ensure that all games are shown in their entirety. President Obama took part in the festivities by releasing his coveted “Presidential Bracket” and attending the first night of the tournament with British Prime minister David Cameron where Western Kentucky took on Mississippi Valley State.  For those who are unfamiliar with the tournament’s format there are 68 teams (as of 2011, previously there were only 64) who are ranked and put into a single elimination bracket. These brackets are divided up into 4 regions of the country where the players will congregate and compete: South (Atlanta, GA), East (Boston, MA), Midwest (St. Louis, MO), and West (Phoenix, AZ). The winners of the brackets are considered the “Final Four” who will then travel to New Orleans, LA to contend for the national title.

This year’s tournament has some familiar names at the top of the rankings with a few new names to rattle the cage a little bit.  Virginia Commonwealth University is back in the tournament again and everyone is wondering if they will go on the winning rampage they did last year or if another unlikely team will take the reigns as the college basketball Cinderella. The #1s are all worthy of their rankings: Kentucky (South), Syracuse (East), North Carolina (Midwest), and Michigan State (West). Kentucky has a lot of competition in their bracket, most notable, #2 Duke. Coach K has struggled all season to keep his team on track while making some instant classics with rival UNC. Duke will be looking to utilize their freshman PG Austin Rivers who has come into the ACC and made his presence known averaging over 15 PPG. Shooting 36% from 3 point land, he has a good eye for the court and isn’t scared to throw some shots up from beyond the arc.  He showed this when he hit the “buzzer beater” that beat UNC a couple of weeks before the tournament. Another team to look for in the South is the Indiana University Hoosiers. The Hoosiers had some surprising wins this year including a victory over Western region #1 Michigan State. They are one of 5 ranked teams from the Big Ten Conference who made the tournament.
Syracuse, the southern region’s #1, had an awesome run this year, but they have lost their star player Fab Melo who averages 25 minutes and 3 blocks per game - he was ruled ineligible for academic issues. The name Melo is somewhat ironic because of a certain Power Forward for the Knicks who goes by that same name and once donned a jersey for the Orange in a past tournament.  The Florida State Seminoles, #3 in the southern region, have a legitimate shot at the title, knocking off both UNC and Duke to get their first conference championship in 21 years. Texas is a team that is usually a lock to get into the tournament, but after posting a 9-9 conference record, the longhorns were on the bubble. It didn’t take long for the #6 Cincinnati Bearcats to knock them out by a score of 65-59; the Bearcats finished 4th in the heavily competitive Big East Conference.
One of the toughest regions to be in by far is the Midwest because of the UNC Tar Heels. The Tar Heels finished the season with the best record in the ACC but could not close the deal on the Seminoles in the championship game. UNC’s biggest competition might just come from someone even closer to home; NC State has already upset #6 San Diego State 79-65. The Mid west region game could end up being another ACC conference championship with 3 teams from the conference in the same region. Kansas is another obvious team to watch, they are feeling a bit bitter that they narrowly missed the bid for a top spot. A sleeper pick for this region could be Belmont University who went 27-7 on their way to winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship.
The Western region is headed off by the Michigan State Spartans who are making their 15th consecutive trip to the tournament under head coach Tom Izzo. The Spartans won 27 games this season along with a Big Ten championship. Another conference champion in the western region is the Louisville Cardinals who claimed the Big East Championship this season. Murray State is a team to watch in this region because they only lost one game this year and gained attention as being one of the few teams to stay undefeated for such a long time. In addition to posting a 30-1 record they also took home hardware at the Ohio Valley Conference Championships. Another sleeper team may be the Long Beach State 49ers who won the Big West Conference and haven’t lost a game in over 2 months. The last team to watch in the western region is a hometown pick for me, being from Hampton Roads (Virginia Beach, VA). The Norfolk State Spartans finished the season on a 7 game winning streak posting a 25-4 record along with winning the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference Championship.

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