Can you feel the tingle in the air? The little sparks of electricity that snap and sizzle around you as you sit comfortably on your couch or in your favorite chair with your eyes glued to your television set? Is it that time already?
Yes, it is.
March Madness is almost here (the final tournament card should be ready Selection Sunday, which is March 11) and this year is going to be one of the toughest ever, with teams like Duke and North Carolina coming back into their own and teams like Virginia and Michigan State just waiting to upset them.
In all of the years that I have watched college basketball, I would have to say this is going to be one of the most difficult to call from the start. Will it be perennial contenders Duke or Kentucky taking home the national title or will the Spartans repeat under the steady guidance to Tom Izzo? I can't wait, my TV is going to be on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just so I can see it all (or so my wife can keep me updated).
You know you're excited too. It is the nature of the beast, to feed off of the raging energy produced by 3,000 screaming fans packed into the close confines around a hardwood court.
This year, in the scope of competition, may be one of the greatest tournaments of all time. Let's just look at the teams who have locked bids into the NCAA tournament already:
n In the ACC you have perennial powerhouses and frequent Final Four visitors Duke and North Carolina with upset king Virginia being joined by Wake Forest and Maryland (who gave their respective fans a scare) and barring a total collapse, the questionable Georgia Tech will join them.
n The Atlantic 10 will send St. Joseph's and Xavier to the NCAA tourney with Temple, who may need to win the conference tournament, played in their home city, to guarantee an invitation.
n The Big East will probably be sending a slew of teams to the tournament with this year's preseason conference No. 1 Georgetown guaranteed along with Boston College, Syracuse, Providence and Notre Dame. UConn, which is still questionable for the tournament, made a convincing bid by slapping around Notre Dame recently. Other Big East possibilities include Miami, St. John's, Villanova and West Virginia.
n The Big Ten will return the Spartans of Michigan State to the tournament along with the Fighting Illini of Illinois, the edible Buckeyes of Ohio State and the ever-cuddly Badgers of Wisconsin. Possible berths include Iowa, Minnesota, Indiana (sans Bobby Knight) and the struggling Nittany Lions, who lost to Northwestern and seem to be trying to play themselves out of a tournament bid.
n Iowa State will lead the Big 12 into the postseason rumble with Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas getting invites as well. Many experts believe Oklahoma State will join the fray despite an average run of late (4-4). Rumors have it that the committee will consider the heavy burden of this season's plane-crash tragedy.
n There is really no point discussing Conference USA too terribly deeply. When all is said and done, the Bearcats of Cincinnati are in the tourney right now. If someone else captures the C-USA tournament, they are in, too. Got that?
n On to the Mountain West Conference, with no teams currently clinching an invitation to this year's tournament. Utah is currently the only team in the entire conference that merits an at-large consideration from the committee.
n The PAC-10 is probably the most consistent conference out of the bunch. Stanford, UCLA, Arizona, Cal and USC are going to the dance and that is pretty much the picture every year.
n The SEC will head into the tourney with Mississippi leading the way. Florida, who fell to Michigan State in the big dance last year, is in along with Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. Arkansas, who is still in the picture, no doubt gained some attention from the committee with a huge win over Kentucky.
n Then there is Fresno State and the members of WAC -- well, the only team who really deserves to get in is Fresno. TCU fell back big time with losses to both San Jose State and Hawaii (yeah, Hawaii).
n The one-bid conferences, listed by conference with current leader in parentheses, include America East (Hofstra), West Coast (Gonzaga), Trans America (Georgia State), Big Sky (Cal State Northridge), Big South (Radford), Sun Belt (Western Kentucky), SWAC (Alabama St.), Big West (UC Irvine), Colonial (George Mason), Ivy (Princeton), Ohio Valley (Tennessee Tech), Southland (McNeese St.), Southern (East Tennessee State), Patriot (Holy Cross), Metro Atlantic (Siena), Mid American (Central Michigan), Mid Continent (Valparaiso), Northeast (St. Francis), Missouri Valley (Creighton), Mid Eastern Athletic (Hampton) and Midwestern Collegiate (Butler).
You know as well as I do that these are the teams that usually get booted right away. But, hey, maybe one of them is our Cinderella for the year, right?
Well, there you have it, the current projections for the NCAA tournament. With March Madness starting to pick at your brain like mad cow disease, I know you have been wanting these.
And don't forget, come March 11 the invitations will be sent and the teams picked. Are you ready for some basketball?
Sam Eggleston is a writer for the Peninsula Clarion. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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