March Madness is here. Bracket reveal the 1st step in what should be an NCAA Tournament free-for-all

The story of March Madness figures to look a lot like the story of the regular season that led up to it: a healthy cross-section of very good teams, few dominant ones and no strong consensus on who’s the best bet to be cutting down nets at the Final Four in Arizona.

Defending champion Connecticut is a slight favorite to repeat, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, followed by Houston and Purdue. Barring something unexpected, all three teams will earn No. 1 seeds when the brackets come out Sunday evening. Tennessee and North Carolina are in the mix for the fourth top spot, along with Arizona.


APTOPIX BEast Xavier UConn Basketball

The tournament begins Tuesday with the First Four, followed by 32 first-round games on Thursday and Friday. The Final Four is set for Glendale, Arizona, on April 6-8.

As always, the more interesting discussions will be about the bubble and who will be among the last to squeak into the field of 68 teams — 32 of which qualify automatically by winning their postseason conference tournaments.

Among those vying for the last of the remaining 34 spots were Indiana State and its goggles-wearing forward, Robbie Avila. The Sycamores cracked into the AP Top 25 this season for the first time since a talented forward named Larry Bird led them to the national final against Magic Johnson and Michigan State in 1979. But they lost to Drake in their conference tourney final and, so, must wait to see if their name is called.

APTOPIX Big East Championship Basketball


Other teams lingering around the bubble included Virginia, Seton Hall and Pittsburgh.

Several weeks ago, Gonzaga was considered a bubble team, but a stretch of nine wins in 10 games elevated the Zags, and though they lost their conference tournament final to Saint Mary’s, they will make the field for the 25th consecutive year. That would be one fewer than Michigan State, which is trying to reach its nation-leading 26th straight tournament — if it makes it in off the bubble.

As for the business of actually filling out those brackets — good luck.

Last year, Purdue came into the tournament as a favorite only to become just the second No. 1 seed in history to be knocked out in the first round. The Final Four consisted of UConn, Miami, Florida Atlantic and San Diego State — a grouping selected by only six of about 3.6 million in the NCAA’s bracket challenge. None of those teams were seeded better than fourth.

Some believe this is the endgame in a sport that has been upended by roster upheaval across the board. The birth of athlete compensation deals and more liberal transfer rules has sparked an era in which coaches must concern themselves as much with assembling teams in the span of months as building programs over years.

So be it.

“We have another opportunity to compete for a championship,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “And when every single team in the country starts their season — and usually the season starts almost as soon as the other one ends — your goal is to make the NCAA Tournament.

There’s, whatever, 360-some teams now and 68 get in. We’re confident that we’re going to be one of those teams that have a chance to compete for the biggest championship in our game, in our sport, college basketball.”





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