March Madness is here, at last. Let’s take a closer look at this year’s Big Dance:
— About 40 million people will make and participate in 70 million NCAA men’s basketball tournament brackets.
— This tournament will mark a return to normalcy after the 2020 tournament was canceled because of COVID-19 and the 2021 tournament was centralized at venues around the state of Indiana, again because of COVID-19.
— One of the 2021 sites was Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, home of the Butler Bulldogs as well as a filming location for the 1986 basketball classic, “Hoosiers,” starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey and Dennis Hopper, the Helix High School (La Mesa) product who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Shooter.
— In a battle of No. 1 seeds, Baylor knocked off Gonzaga, 86-70, in last year’s final, denying the Bulldogs a perfect season. They finished 31-1.
— Second-seeded Houston and 11th seed UCLA rounded out last year’s Final Four, with Mick Cronin’s surprising Bruins seeing their magical run end in overtime against Gonzaga in one national semifinal.
— As good as Gonzaga was last year, this season’s Bulldogs — projected as the tournament’s top seed — could be Mark Few’s best team.
— Other teams in running for No. 1 seeds: Arizona, Auburn, Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky.
— Teams other than top seeds that can win it all: LSU (80-1), Wisconsin (80-1), Loyola Chicago (150-1), Arkansas (35-1), Providence (66-1), Seton Hall (80-1), Duke (9-1), Houston (33-1), Texas Tech (22-1) and UCLA (14-1).
— Duke and Kentucky are going back to the Big Dance after both missed the cut last year, the first time since 1976 that the tournament lacked both teams.
— Can Mike Krzyzewski do what John Wooden (UCLA, 1975) and Al McGuire (Marquette, 1977) did and win it all in his final season of coaching. Coach K has led Duke to five national championships since taking over the Blue Devils program in 1980.
— Sister Jean Schmidt, at 102 years old, is back dancing again. She’s the chaplain for the Loyola Chicago Ramblers, the Missouri Valley Conference champions.
— Don’t sleep on the Murray State Racers, who went 18-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference this season. Just think, NBA standout Ja Morant would be still eligible at Murray State at 22 years old.
— San Diego State may make the tournament this year, but it’s sad we could not see the Aztecs team that won 28 straight games and went 30-2 overall in the 2019-20 season compete for a national championship.
— Barring conference tournament titles, teams we are not seeing this year include Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, Indiana and Florida State.
— Hey, we know you: Former Knicks, Celtics, Providence, Kentucky, Louisville coach Rick Pitino is poised to get Iona College back in the field again this year. The man can flat-out coach and teach.
— Under the radar: Delaware, Wake Forest, Illinois, USC.
— Wagering projection on the tournament: $9 billion-$10 billion
— Get your bracket mojo on and SURVIVE & ADVANCE — these next three weeks will be one terrific roller coaster ride. Buckle up!
NCAA Tournament Info
• Selection Show: Sunday, March 13, 3 p.m., CBS
• First Four: Tue.-Wed., March 15- 16, Dayton, Ohio
• First round: Thurs.-Fri., March 17-18
• Second round: Sat.-Sun., March 19-20
• 1st/2nd round schedule: Thursday’s winners play Saturday, Friday’s winners play Sunday.
• 1st/2nd round venues: SAN DIEGO (Viejas Arena), Buffalo, Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Greenville, S.C., Portland, Ore.
• Sweet 16/Elite Eight: March 24 & 26 (San Antonio, San Francisco); March 25 & 27 (Chicago, Philadelphia)
• Final Four: Sat., April 2 (semifinals) and Mon., April 4 (championship), Superdome, New Orleans