The National Collegiate Athletic Association has selected 68 Division 1 schools to participate in its annual "March Madness" basketball tournament and this year's field could produce a champion from almost anywhere.
And that's one reason why Nebraska billionaire Warren Buffet felt comfortable offering $1 billion to anyone getting all the bracket predictions correct.
The University of Florida is the tournament's overall – and South region – No. 1 seed, as decided by the NCAA's men's basketball tournament committee, made up of college athletic directors from across the country. The Gators are scheduled to play the winner of the Albany-Mt. St. Mary's play-in game Thursday afternoon in Orlando.
"It's kind of what we expected," said guard Scottie Wilbekin, the SEC's player of the year and tournament MVP. "It feels good. Obviously, it doesn't matter when the games start playing."
Wichita State, which finished the season with a perfect 34-0 record, is the Midwest region's No. 1 seed. Friday night in St. Louis, the Wheatshockers get the winner of the Cal Poly-Texas Southern play-in game.
In the East, Virginia – winner of both the ACC regular season and tournament championships – is the region's No. 1 seed. The Cavaliers will meet Coastal Carolina in a second-round game Friday night in Raleigh, N.C.
In the past, champions from non-power conferences like the Sun Belt or Metro Atlantic might play one another to become cannon fodder for the Dukes or Kentuckys of the NCAA basketball world. This year, the ACC's North Carolina State takes on Xavier of the Big East Tuesday night. Iowa of the Big Ten meets Tennessee of the SEC Wednesday night. Both games are part of the Midwest region bracket.
In the South region, sixth seed Ohio State of the Big Ten meets in-state neighbor and 11th seed Dayton of the Atlantic 10 Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. These two Ohio universities have met on the basketball court only once in the past 26 years and that was a 2008 National Invitation Tournament game in Columbus.
Also in the South, UCLA, the fourth seed, will play 13th seed Tulsa. These are two teams featuring coaches who won NCAA titles as players. The Bruins are led by former Indiana great Steve Alford, who helped the Hoosiers win the 1987 NCAA title. Tulsa is coached by Danny Manning, the former Kansas standout who led the Jayhawks to the 1988 national championship. Those two schools will play Friday night in San Diego.
Upsets in the second round are expected every year. Some possibilities include 12th-seed Harvard, in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year, getting past fifth-seeded Cincinnati in the East region Thursday in Spokane, Wash. Also, look for 10th seed St. Joseph's to give seventh-seeded Connecticut all it can handle Thursday night in Buffalo.
Skipping ahead, the NCAA Final Four begins in Arlington, Texas, on April 5. One man's thought as to which teams might be there? Florida, Michigan State, Arizona, and Louisville all have the pedigree. But that's why they play the games and we reserve the right to be wrong. The NCAA national championship game is scheduled for April 7.