The top overall seed, Alabama, has been on a roll despite being embroiled in a murder case. Another No 1 seed, defending national champions Kansas, are coming off a blowout loss and have a coach coming out of the hospital. Another, Houston, just watched their best player go down in a heap with a terrifying injury.
But most of the drama in this year’s group pick was resolved long before Selection Sunday.
Arizona State and Nevada made it out of the bubble and into the 68-team field. Rutgers and Oklahoma State did not. Purdue, led by the 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, edged out UCLA for the fourth and final No. 1 seed.
And in a decision most observers saw coming, the selection committee left North Carolina, last year’s runner-up, out of the tournament. He made the Tar Heels the first team since the group expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to start the season No. 1 in the Associated Press poll and finish it without participating in the Big Dance.
The team they lost to in 2022, Kansas, is trying to become the first back-to-back NCAA champion since Florida in 2007. The Jayhawks earned the top seed in the West Region, where they await the return of coach Bill Self, who was to the hospital last week complaining of chest tightness and balance problems. He has been released and is expected to return this week.
Over the past two months, Alabama has received a near-constant stream of headlines about a former player, Darius Miles, charged with capital murder for the January slaying of 23-year-old Jamea Harris.
The tournament begins Tuesday with two First Four games. The complete madness starts on Thursday with the first round, with 16 games and 16 more the next day.
The Jayhawks are 9-1 to win the title, behind Southern Region Alabama (15-2 odds) and overall favorite Houston (11-2 odds), which would play in the Final Four in their hometown. if the Midwest region wins. The semifinals and final are scheduled for NRG Stadium on April 1 and 3.
But this tournament is always about more than great schools with great pedigrees.
Some teams to watch include 13th seed Iona, led by college basketball legend Rick Pitino, who has the Gaels in the program for the second time in three years, with some people wondering if he will head to a job opening in San Juan soon. Iona earned a brutal draw: a first-round matchup against fourth-seeded UConn.
There’s Southern Conference champion Furman, back in the tournament for the first time since 1980 and MEAC champion Howard, back in the tournament for the first time since 1992.
There’s Kennesaw State, the program that went 1-28 in 2019-20 and is now in the bracket. And for the rest of the dreamers, there’s Texas Southern, which won its conference tournament as the No. 8 seed and entered March Madness with a 14-20 record for an inning game against Fairleigh Dickenson.