College basketball fans, March Madness has officially arrived.
This year's 2011 NCAA Tournament bracket revealed Sunday was full of emotion for all those involved — hopefuls, automatic bid winners, and those denied a spot among the 68 teams competing.
Ohio State snatched the overall top seed after clinching a Big Ten Championship with a decisive victory against Penn State early Sunday. But the Buckeyes, who earned the No. 1 seed in the East Region, will face what many consider this year’s most competitive pool. Joined by Kentucky, which was named the SEC Champion on Sunday after a blowout win against Florida, Big East powerhouse Syracuse, and ACC regular-season champion North Carolina, the East will prove a tough, stacked road to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
While the East is certainly daunting, the Big East conference’s sheer presence in the Tournament is equally overwhelming. With 11 total spots in the NCAA Tournament and a No. 1 berth in the Southeast Region for Pittsburgh, all eyes on the Big East. Only five teams in the entire conference didn't get an invite to the Big Dance, causing both expectations and doubts to soar. While Pitt took the Big East’s regular season title, Connecticut and its star guard Kemba Walker sailed through the tournament for the conference title. And the Huskies weren’t alone in impressing the nation with competitive tournament play as Notre Dame, Louisville, and Syracuse all came through in hard-fought games.
Returning national champions Duke are the front runners in the West Division, as Sunday’s ACC Championship rout of North Carolina earned the Blue Devils a No. 1 seed. But there's plenty of power beyond Duke in the play of Texas, UConn, and San Diego State. And the final No. 1 position for the 2011 bracket was awarded to Kansas.
The Jayhawks will top the Southwest Division, where Notre Dame, Purdue, and Louisville all have the ability to go to the Final Four. And let's not forget about BYU’s dominance of recent headlines thanks to Jimmer Fredette and an honor code scandal, along with Florida’s potential, and even the return of last year’s underdog favorite, Butler.
Snubs and Surprises
Although the addition of three more spots helped shrink the infamous NCAA Tournament bubble, this year’s selection was not without its share of upsets, snubs and surprises.
After a trip to the Big Ten Championship for the very first time, Penn State played its way off the maybe list and into the Tournament for the first time since 2001 with a No. 10 seed in the West. Also playing its way in, Georgia was likewise awarded a No. 10 spot, though in the East Region, much to the surprise of the Alabama faithful.
The Crimson Tide joined Colorado on the list of bubble teams denied a chance at playing for a national title. Although Alabama defeated Georgia twice in regular season play, huge conference losses to Florida and a fall to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament ultimately kept the Tide off th8s year's bracket sheets. Similarly, the Buffs were shocked with a snub after a season filled with three wins against No. 5 seed Kansas State and a victory against Texas to boot.
With just four ACC teams in the tournament, Virginia Tech and Boston College were also sent packing to the NIT by this year’s committee. The Hokies were denied a spot after nabbing a major regular season upset against the Blue Devils and beating Florida State, after a controversial Seminole basket was called back in the ACC Tournament.
While this year's NCAA Tournament features obvious favorites, and jilted teams, if the past is any indicator of the future, the biggest upsets and shocking turns are yet to come. With automatic bids awarded to teams with enormous potential like Belmont, who many consider a Cinderella story in the making, and Bucknell, a team that hasn’t lost a game since January, we really don't know who will be in the Final Four come April.