March Madness Starts in January

As we near the end of another NFL football season, we start to feel the blues of what is life after football season. But then March comes and the event called March Madness gets us back on our couches cheering and fist-bumping over our favorite team while keeping our brackets and a pen within arms reach.

So what do we do between now and then? Why not get a head start on what should be a very wide-open race to crown a national champion? January gets going with conference play and some great matchups are on tap nightly. These games in January and February are just as important as the matchups in March and April. It's these games that determine which teams will earn those at large bids and which teams will ride the bubble. Conference tournaments will seed their teams based on the games played in January and February.

The Big Ten conference has some great individual talent. Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin lead the way, but don't count out Minnesota, Ohio State, or Michigan State. The Big Ten should place seven to eight teams in the big dance. The ACC is always strong but North Carolina has disappointed so far while their rival Duke is looking like a contender. Miami and NC State should challenge. Expect at least eight bids from the ACC.

The SEC has Ole Miss, Florida, and Texas A&M on top right now. Kentucky has started slow, but should be playing in March. Only expect to see six teams punching their tickets. The Big 12 has Kansas as a title contender once again. However, their in-state rival Kansas State will challenge for the automatic bid. Both Oklahoma schools, are solid but don't expect more than four or five slots to the Big 12.

UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon head the Pac-12, but don't expect more than five or six teams dancing in March. Washington should get in, but after that it is going to be tough to find another. The Atlantic 10 is very strong this year and will likely send more teams to the tournament than the Pac-12. Butler is there once again along with Virginia Commonwealth. UNC Charlotte is definitely a conference contender, but St. Louis, Temple, St. Joseph, LaSalle, UMass, and Richmond will make a strong push.

Once again the Big East will rule college basketball this year. There are no nights off. DePaul, Providence, and South Florida can pull upsets on any given night. Louisville currently No. 1 and Syracuse lead a loaded conference with some other very good teams in Georgetown, Notre Dame, UConn, Marquette, and Cincinnati. Even Rutgers is having a solid season so far. The selection committee will have a difficult time not putting in 11 teams from the Big East.

Then, of course, you have some other schools from smaller conferences that will get in the tournament and go further than most would have thought. These are the so-called bracket busters. Gonzaga used to wear the cinderella tag, but that was long ago. This year's 'Zags team looks poised to make a deep run. Creighton, out of the Missouri Valley Conference, will not be sneaking up on anyone, either. Along with Gonzaga, expect both schools to notch at least a four seed. The MAC, OVC, and Mountain West always seem to spring upsets during the first four days of the tournament.

So get your honey do's finished so you can spend some quality time watching some fantastic college basketball. The season is gearing up and there are at least a dozen teams that have a legitimate shot at being crowned this year's kings of the hardwood.

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