Too Much Wacky to Not Be Normal

This was an interesting NCAA tournament. There was a lot of normal and more than just a little bit of bizarre. The yin and yang that occurred depending on the side of the bracket you landed was quite diverse. It offered a lot for everyone. Some favorites made it far enough to ensure a sense of "Blueblood security." Some favorites were knocked out early enough to cause hope for the ultimate situation of parity-driven upheaval. And it all started within the first 48 hours of full-fledged action.

After 32 years of waiting, a 16-seed finally conquered a 1-seed. Virginia had a justified resume to be the top overall team in the field. They won the ACC regular season crown by four games and worked their way through the league tournament. But the one vulnerability of the Cavs reared it ugly head on March 16th. Maryland-Baltimore County drove the ball into gaps, spread it around for fantastic looks at three, and, in the end, sliced apart the vaunted UVA defense.

That Virginia loss wasn't even the beginning of the carnage that took place in the South Region. Arizona, draped in all of its scandal and stocked with enough talent to make a deep run, were blasted out of the gym by Buffalo. Nevada came back from the "faint of pulse" twice. First, from 13 down to beat Texas in overtime, then from 22 down (with under 12 minutes to play) to squeak by AAC champ Cincinnati. Kentucky appeared to have a clear path to San Antonio. But Kansas State took care of that, and Loyola-Chicago took care of them. Now, it appears that one bracket each year will rip itself to shreds. This one, though, where no top-four seed made it past the initial Sunday for the first time in tournament history, takes the cake, frosting, sprinkles, and plastic ornaments.

The West region had a more subdued amount of upheaval, but it was there. The top two seeds couldn't make it to the regional semifinals. The third-seeded team was a buzzer-beating heave away from falling in that same second-round matchup. The last four of that section featured three football schools (Michigan, Texas A&M, Florida State) and one former darling-turned-stalwart (Gonzaga). Yes, these schools have some hoops tradition, but not ahead of Xavier (sort of), and certainly not ahead of North Carolina.

On the opposite side of the bracket, everything went about as smooth as it could. Of the top 10 seeds in the East and Midwest regions, seven made the Sweet 16. That included both 1s, both 2s, and both 5s. The lone outlier was the often bubble-worthy Syracuse Orange, who are not really a cinderella, regardless of their seed. The top seeds proved their mettle in two very difficult, very different regional finals. In the end, royalty ruled the day as Villanova and Kansas earned bids to San Antonio.

Once the country converged on the Alamodome, there was a sense of destiny for all four teams. They all could lay claim to a national championship in their program's past. But, in a semifinal round which each team appeared to show signs of being complete, Villanova emerged above the small field as the favorite. The team that just rolled along handling business through the regular season was appreciated, but not overly lauded. They left that to Duke's talent, Trae Young's hot start, the Queen City's dynamic duo, Purdue's resurgence, Arizona's defiance, Michigan's postseason streak, and, of course, Sister Jean.

These Wildcats just kept putting up win after win in March, each one more impressive than the one previous. They faced different challenges. They dug in for rumbles with Providence (Big East title game) and Texas Tech. They controlled the action in the first two rounds of the NCAA. They shot the lights out against Kansas. And they've come back from slow starts, including the Sweet 16 against West Virginia and Monday's championship game versus Michigan. They won their last 10 contests by double digits. Now they're the fourth program since 1975 to sport two trophies in a three-year span.

Overall, I think this tournament had more "something for everyone" flavor than most in recent memory. But forging through the path of utter chaos and the history, the journey ultimately led to inevitability ... and more history. Just a short seven months before we all go through this again.

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