For the next two days, Butler, Dayton, Arizona, even North Dakota State can bask in the same euphoria and hope as Louisville, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and North Carolina.
There are 65 teams in the NCAA tournament, and every single one of them is thinking “Why not me?” After the craziness in college basketball this year, who’s to say any of them are wrong?
“I really do think it’s wide open,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Monday. “I think any of us can get beat. I don’t think there’s a dominant team out there.”
This from the guy whose team was dubbed the best of the best, the overall No. 1 seed.
A year after all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four in a tidy display of power, this tournament is shaping up to be more of a delightful mess with no clear favorite. In fact, with the exception of Louisville, all of the No. 1s could just as easily have slipped to No. 2.
Connecticut limps in on a two-game losing streak, though it shouldn’t be penalized for its six-overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament. But the Huskies are just 4-3 since Jerome Dyson went down with a knee injury, and they’re not likely to get him back for the tournament.
Even Louisville has its flaws. Sure, it won the regular-season Big East title, but who had them as a No. 1 seed — let alone THE No. 1 seed — until the Cardinals added the conference tournament crown, one of the few teams to survive last week’s carnage?
It’s not just the No. 1s that are vulnerable, either. Look anywhere in the bracket and there are trouble spots. Or opportunities, depending on who you ask.
Which is fitting, considering how this season has gone.
The top spot in The Associated Press poll felt more like a hot potato for most of the year. Six different teams held the No. 1 ranking, with four losing in their first game after moving to No. 1. The top three teams lost in the same week not just once, but twice. Last week, all but six of the top 25 teams lost.
No, that’s not a typo. Of the 25 best teams in the country, 19 of them lost. That’s the kind of thing you see in the rec league.
The beauty of the NCAA tournament is that everyone, big and small, has a shot at winning the title. OK, so no 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1, Memphis will probably run right over Cal State Northridge and the only folks with American over Villanova are likely the ones using mascots or uniform colors to make their picks.
But there’s always the possibility. And, until the balls go up, everybody has hope.
“There’s 65 teams,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said, “and every one of them thinks they can win it.”
This year, more than ever.
AP Sports Writers Will Graves, John Kekis, Jon Krawczynski, Joedy McCreary, Alan Robinson, Doug Tucker, and Associated Press Writer Murray Evans contributed to this report.