March Madness tourney set to start

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:43 PM ET

TORONTO - Let the madness begin.

The bracket has been unveiled and it’s time to break down what should be a wide-open NCAA tournament.

Parity has reigned this season and, as a result, there is no powerhouse program that is a clear favourite to cut down the net early next month.

It could be top-ranked Ohio State (32-2) and standout big man Jared Sullinger (17.3 points, 10.1 rebounds), but few would be surprised if Duke, Kansas, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, UCONN, San Diego State, Florida, Syracuse, Louisville, Purdue, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, BYU or even Canadian-laden Texas win it all.

It is hard to remember a field with this many legit contenders. Not a whole lot separates the No. 2s from the No. 1s or the 2s from the 3s and 4s.

Defending champ Duke locked up a No. 1 only by beating North Carolina in the ACC final on Sunday. With a loss, one of stellar San Diego State (32-2), or Notre Dame — both strong second seeds would have switched places with Duke and should not be taken lightly.

No. 2 seeds for North Carolina and Florida were mild surprises. The Tar Heels looked shaky at many points of the season and this corner even saw head coach Roy Williams get booed at a Raptors game in Charlotte not too long ago. But a nice run the past couple of weeks behind star freshmen Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall obviously caught the attention of the selection committee.

Though John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats topped Florida for the SEC championship this weekend and very little differentiates the two squads, the Gators are a No. 2 and Kentucky’s a No. 4.

“Keep in mind there are 10 people in the (selection) room and everyone in the room has a different emphasis on different criteria,” said Gene Smith, the chair of the selection committee in trying to explain how the seeding was determined.

The Big East took advantage of the tourney expanding to 68 teams. The conference set a record by sending 11 teams to the dance this year, surpassing its own previous record total of eight, which happened last year and on two other occasions.

There are more Canadians than ever in the tourney this year. Those with the best chance to win it all are Texas’ freshman duo of Tristan Thompson (Brampton) and Cory Joseph (Ajax) and No. 3 Syracuse, which starts Montreal’s Kris Joseph.

Some late-season wobbles knocked Texas to a four seed after a No. 1 or 2 placing seemed very attainable just a couple of weeks ago, but this is a very talented group that plays hard and defends well.

Kansas might be the best team in the entire field, but Texas ended the Jayhawks’ 69-game home winning streak earlier this season.

Syracuse was a lot better last year when it earned a No. 1 seed, but has a shot at surprising.

They likely won’t go too far, but it will be nice to see some new faces in the dance this time around.

Despite a poor 19-14 record, Penn State is in for the first time since 2001. St. John’s, in for the first time since 2000, earned a No. 6 seed and Cincinnati did the same, after missing out since 2005.

Notable absences were St. Mary’s and Virginia Tech., who have some legitimate gripes about missing out.

One interesting potential upset special is No. 4 Louisville against No. 13 Morehead State. Most will expect an easy win for Rick Pitino’s Cardinals, but Morehead State has one of the greatest rebounders in NCAA history – Kenneth Faried (14.5 boards, 17.6 points, 2.4 blocks and 2.0 steals per game – and he is quite the defensive difference-maker.

It all adds up to the possibility of upsets galore and what should be a tremendous ride over the next few weeks.


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