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March Madness, indeed!
No clear favorite in NCAA tourneys
The NCAA Tournament starts Thursday - photo by Photo provided.

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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.

For all the love Tyler Hansbrough gets, North Carolina's hopes could hinge on Ty Lawson's big toe. Lawson missed the ACC tournament, and the Tar Heels barely got by Virginia Tech before falling to Florida State.With DeJuan Blair parked on the bench in foul trouble, Pittsburgh looked downright ordinary in losing to West Virginia in the Big East tourney. 

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? 

Forget the Motor City. It might be a feat for all the No. 1s to make it to the regional finals.

"I think UConn, if they play right, they should have smooth sailing, but other than that, I'm kind of a believer that anything can happen," said Blake Griffin, whose Oklahoma Sooners are the No. 2 seed in the South. "It just depends on what kind of team comes out to play." 

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.

"This year, I don't see much difference between a one and a four (seed) or a two and a seven, or a three and a six," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who has both last year's national championship and that 2005 first-round loss to Bucknell on his resume. "I don't see much difference at all." 

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 top team didn't win the league tournament in any of the power conferences unless you count Memphis — and there are plenty who would argue the Tigers are the only power Conference USA has (Calm down, Louisville fans. Yes, the Cardinals were the top seed in the Big East, but they went into the tournament ranked behind Connecticut and Pittsburgh).

"The committee finally got used to the unexpected becoming the expected," said Mike Slive, chair of the selection committee. "We'd come in and I might say on a given morning, 'Well, this is interesting.' And we'd start back in and go at it."

Indeed, the madness started well before March. Michigan beat UCLA and Duke, yet needed overtime to get by Savannah State. Oklahoma lost to Arkansas. Defending national champion Kansas lost to Massachusetts — at home. Those mighty Louisville Cardinals? Well, there's a loss to Western Kentucky on their resume, to say nothing of that 33-point blowout at the hands of Notre Dame. 

Those weren't the only wacky moments in the beastly Big East. Syracuse may be capturing imaginations these days after its thrilling six-overtime win against Connecticut in the Big East tournament, but remember, the Orange lost to Cleveland State earlier in the year. At home. On a 60-foot shot at the buzzer — more proof that, yes, anything really is possible this season.

They say teams mature and get better as the season goes on. But how does that explain Wake Forest's steady slide from No. 1 in the poll to No. 12? Or Texas going from a much-hyped title contender to a No. 7 seed? 

"Nationwide, I think parity is here to stay, guys," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the Spartans were upset by Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. "I think anybody can beat anybody on a given night."

And while that might give coaches fits, it sure is fun for the rest of us. 

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.

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