The best two days of the sports calendar are almost here…and even the NCAA and various networks can’t ruin things.  Even if they try to when we aren’t looking.  Even with the First Four (excess clutter), Turner talking heads (who spend the first few days telling you how much they like and watch college basketball) and “most unspontaneous final call in sports” from Jim Nantz, the Big Dance delivers.  In spades.  Get ready for three weekends of fun.

First Four things first–I’m not a huge fan of the pre-credits sequence tacked on to the bracket Tuesday and Wednesday every year in Dayton.  But we’ll have 68 schools in the field for the forseeable future, so how can this be made better?

1– At-large teams only.  The reward for winning your league should be a ticket to the round of 64.  The LIU-Brooklyns shouldn’t be sent to the kiddie table.  If you barely make the field you should have to play your way in.

2– Why Dayton?  Why not send the schools to the tournament site that their weekend games will be played in so the kids can at least feel like they’re a part of the Big Dance instead of the first song?  I’ve flown in and out of Dayton… and there’s no easy way to get there-even from Cincinnati.

3– If one needs to put automatic qualifiers in the First Four, let them play Sunday night on ESPN.  Most of the leagues that send their champs to Dayton wrap up their tournaments almost a week before.  It would give the first four winner a chance to rest up before their round of 64 game… and give viewers their first taste of the tournament as opposed to watching the experts dissect the seedings ad nauseum and picking their entire bracket over the span of four hours.  Then have two games in Dayton Tuesday or Wednesday with at-large teams.

And must we call the round of 64 the “second round”?  Because it so isn’t in the grand scheme of things.  Now on to the teams in and out…around and about…:

Georgetown (25-6) gets a #2 seed in the South bracket after a tough overtime loss to Syracuse in the Big East Semifinals– and draws Florida Gulf Coast.  While the Hoyas wneter the tournament playing as well (13-2) as anyone in the country save perhaps Louisville, the team has recently stubbed its toe during the first weekend (Davidson, Ohio, VCU and NC State the recent double digit seeds that have caused the pain).  But a dominant defense and a patient offense will frustrate opponents on both ends of the floor–and the duo of Otto Porter Jr. and Markel Starks has responded throughout the team’s run.  Add in a close commute to Philadelphia for the rounds of 64 & 32 (I don’t care, I’m refusing to call these games 2nd and 3rd rounds) and the recipe for a trip to Texas appears in the cards.

Alma Mater Update– the one thing I can count on with Syracuse (26-9) is they never allow themselves for easy diagnosis.  From 18-1 to losers of 4 of 5.  From an upset of #1 Louisville in their gym to 39 points against Georgetown.  From a rudderless ship taking water to a determined bunch fighting its way into the final Big East Final.  From up 16 to down 18 against the Cardinals.  I’m ready for the Orange to lose to Carroll O’Connor’s Alma Mater… and I’m ready for redemption weekend at Verizon Center in the East Regionals.  Whatever happens, the least predictable team in the nation will play solid 2-3 zone…fail to rebound on at least one crucial defensive possession and run a few halfcourt sets like they’re trying to cross the street for the first time.  Bring on the 44 Wing Salute™, Sign of the Whale.

Maryland (22-12) and Virginia (21-11) both miss out on the NCAA Tournament– both hampered by less than stellar non-conference strength of schedule.  According to CBSSports.com, the Terps NCSOS was ranked 305th–and the Cavaliers were 304th.  Both were 2-7 on the road in the ACC…following thrilling home wins over Duke with head-scratching losses at Boston College.  Both suffered last-second losses at Florida State thanks to Michael Snaer heroics.  Both get chances to build towards next season with potential multiple home games in the NIT (the Terps are a #2 seed, the Cavs are a #1).  Bright days are ahead in College Park and Charlottesville–just not this March.

Seeding thoughts– Miami a #2?  After dominating the ACC and winning the tournament going away while Indiana finished its regular and postseason in less than fine fashion?    Oregon gets a #12 after winning the Pac-12?  There was a little bit of clamor regarding Middle Tennessee State’s inclusion, but the bottom of the bubble was so soft with multiple schools tripping over themselves en route to the finish line that nobody who barely missed the field should have any major objections.  Want to make the field?  Win your league or have a really good season against quality teams…while performing well down the stretch and faring well away from home.

George Mason (18-14) faces the College of Charleston in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI)… the Patriots looking to build as well towards 2013-14 with just one senior on the roster (and Bryce Lewis hasn’t played a minute since January 10th).

Maryland Womens’ Window– the Terps receive a #4 seed in the Bridgeport Bracket and face Quinnipiac in the First Round (thank you Womens’ basketball for not losing your mind and messing with the 64 team field) and welcome Michigan State and Mercer to the Comcast Center as well.  Maryland (24-7) is 8-2 at Comcast under coach Brenda Frese in the NCAA Tournament…but one of those losses came as a 4th seed two years ago to Georgetown.  Look for the injury-strapped unit to squeeze out at least two more wins and advance to the Nutmeg state.

Coming up this week… Bold, Fold and Gold picks.

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