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This Is March Madness All Right

It’s called March Madness, and fans of college basketball understand why when they fill out (then mark up or tear up and redo) their brackets. Inevitably there will be upsets. Which No. 12 seed will “shock” a No. 5 this time around? It seems to happen almost every year. Which top-seed will fall? And when?

And what’s the deal with the four play-in winners not all facing top seeds in what is now called the second round? Two of them do earn 16 seeds and face No. 1 counterparts, and the other two earn 11 and 13 seeds. Huh? This is March Madness all right. My guess (after a fruitless, mad(ness) Internet search to try to confirm my speculation and answer a common question around offices everywhere) is that this has to do with a combination of factors, including strength of schedule, and the fact theoretically weaker teams earn automatic tourney bids by winning their conferences. (Iona of New Rochelle, N.Y., for example, won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and earned a 15 seed.)

After all, Georgetown, which competes in one of the toughest conferences — the Big East — earned the South Region’s No. 2 seed with a 25-6 record, and Akron earned only a 12 seed in the same region, with a similar record (26-6). Akron competes in the Mid-American Conference, which isn’t regarded as highly as the Big East.

At least not for now. The Big East as we know it — thanks to member athletic programs with strong football teams bolting for stronger football conferences — is never going to be the same. It’s a shame, since the University of Connecticut will no longer have those fun-filled rivalry games with the likes of Syracuse year after year. Oh, UConn of course missed this year’s NCAA tourney despite a very strong campaign because of recruiting violations. It’s truly March MADness for Husky fans who can’t watch their team try to fight through the bracket.

UConn’s women’s team, however, is competing in their tournament and fans can catch the Huskies live at Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena in the first round on Saturday, March 23. UConn is a No. 1 seed and will defeat No. 16 Idaho. My guess is 101-47. Things stand to get more intriguing when the Husky women march deeper through this madness and face one of the few schools actually capable of beating them (Notre Dame or Baylor to name a couple).

Back to the men’s bracket, you may have noticed that Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown and Ohio-based Akron are in the South Region. Why not? Iona of New Rochelle is in the West Region. UNLV (University of Nevada-Las Vegas) faces California in the East Region’s second round, and Albany, N.Y., is in the Midwest.

Don’t start calling those bracket-makers a bunch of geographically-challenged jocks. There’s a reason for all of this madness. Teams are spread out so that the top four in the country, regardless of geographic location, are dispersed among the four regions. That pattern is carried on for the four representatives among each of the following 15 seeds comprising the 64-team bracket, with other factors, such as conference representation, influencing the makeup of the bracket. Top teams from the same conference are scattered among the regions so they have a greater chance at going deeper into the tourney. And within each region are many early-round games in logical locations. The UNLV-California game is in San Jose, Calif., but it’s not a perfect science since upstate New York’s Syracuse tangles with Montana in San Jose. The East Region teams that make it to the Regional Finals will play in Washington, D.C. The West path goes through Los Angeles, etc. See, there’s a reason for this madness.

March Madness got off to a wild start on March 19, with last year’s NCAA champion, Kentucky — which didn’t even qualify for the NCAA tourney — bowing out in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament at the hands of No. 16 Robert Morris. Madness indeed.

There’s no guarantee of picking the winner, and half the fun this is those unlikely upsets. There seems to be more parity in college basketball than in the past, so who knows what’s in store.

Having trouble picking teams? The tourney is underway, but for those who want to join in on the fun, fill out a bracket just for kicks. Why not be a part of the madness and pick some unlikely schools. Anybody can pick Indiana or Louisville, two of the No. 1 seeds, to go far.

How about going by cool nicknames. Akron is the Zips. The team was originally called the Zippers and was shortened in 1950, 25 years after a student contest to name the mascot was held, according to the Akron Zips webpage. “Zippy” the kangaroo was officially declared the school’s mascot on May 1, 1953.

Unfortunately, the University of California-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs are not in the mix this go-around. But the Saint Louis Billikens are. A Billiken? According to the Saint Louis Billikens website: “The Billiken was born Oct. 8, 1908, when Kansas City art teacher and illustrator Florence Pretz patented a design for an elflike creature with pixie ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. Reportedly, the image came to her in a dream.”

The mascot looks kind of like the Grinch after swallowing some battery acid.

Since Easter’s coming, you could always go with the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Or maybe the Wichita State Shockers, seeded ninth in the West, can shock us.

Whichever team you root for — and for whatever reason — enjoy the madness.

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