It's hard to believe that the end is near. It feels like just yesterday we were staying up all night together to watch La Salle take on Quinnipiac, and now we're just a few hours away from the start of the Final Four. I'm not crying, Lonesome Dove is just on in the background and Gus is refusing to give up his other leg.
But now's not the time to let up or lose focus. On the contrary, we must adequately educate ourselves in order to be properly equipped for this season's final stop.
Here's a start:
1. Florida is the Heavy Favorite
But you already knew that. What you might not have known is that the Gators are the first team since the 1999 Duke Blue Devils to carry a win streak of 30 or more games into the national semifinals. UF hasn't tasted defeat since a 65-64 setback at UConn on Dec. 2, making them just the fourth team (Duke 1999, UNLV 1990, Indiana State 1979, Indiana 1976) to carry a win streak of 30 games or more into the Final Four. Of those previous four squads, only the '76 Hoosiers went on to win the national championship.
2. One Seeds Becoming a Rarity
Florida, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, is the only top seed left standing heading into the final weekend of the tournament. That makes this the fifth consecutive season without multiple No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, the longest such stretch in NCAA Tournament history. Just four top seeds have made the Final Four since 2010, by far the lowest five-year total in tournament history.
3. No. 1 Overall Seeds, However, Are Not
For the third straight season, the lone No. 1 seed standing at the season's final weekend is also the No. 1 overall seed. The previous two -- Kentucky in 2012 and Louisville last season -- went on to win it all. If Florida becomes the third straight No. 1 overall seed to win the national title, it will be the first time that has happened since the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee began revealing their complete seed lists.
4. Kentucky Could Make History
If Kentucky were to win two games in Dallas, the Wildcats would match the 1985 Villanova squad as the lowest-seeded team to ever win the national title. UK is just the sixth eight seed to ever make the Final Four, and that '85 'Nova squad is the only member of the club to ever win a game after getting there.
5. Connecticut Could, Too
Less than a month ago, Connecticut ended its regular season by losing 81-48 at Louisville. If UConn were to cut down the nets in Dallas, they would be the first team to do so after losing a regular season game by 30 or more points. The largest regular season margin of defeat for a team that eventually went on to win the national championship is 27 points by the 1964-65 UCLA Bruins. The only squad in the past two decades that lost a regular season game by 20 points or more and went on to win the national title is the 2001-02 Maryland Terrapins, who lost to Duke by 21 in January of that season.
6. No Familiar Faces
This is the first time since 2006 that there are no teams from the previous year's Final Four back in action during the season's final Saturday. Kentucky deserves most of the credit for that, as the Wildcats knocked off three of last season's semifinalists -- Louisville, Michigan and Wichita State -- to win the Midwest Region. In the process, UK became the first team ever to beat both the defending national champion (Louisville) and defending national runner-up (Michigan) in the same season. Syracuse, the other member of the 2013 Final Four, was upset in the round of 32 by 11th-seeded Dayton.
7. Wisconsin Has No Burger Boys
The past 11 national champions all have had at least one McDonald's All-American. Wisconsin has zero. Three of the past five national champs have had at least six burger boys, and only the '06 and '07 Florida squads featured fewer than two (Corey Brewer was the lone All-American from that vaunted '04 class). The Badger/Wildcat matchup also features a team that will start five freshmen against a team that will start none.
8. Young Kentucky Might Actually be the Most Clutch Team Still Standing
Here's the most unbelievable stat of the tournament: in Kentucky's thrilling victories over the highly formidable trio of Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan, the Wildcats have successfully scored on 20 of their 22 possessions in the final five minutes. Perhaps just as remarkably, they've scored on all nine of those possessions that have come when they've been behind. Not bad for a group that three weeks ago wasn't mature enough to make it out of the first weekend and didn't have any go-to-guy in the waning moments of a close game.
9. An Unranked Champion?
Despite beginning the season ranked No. 1 in both polls, Kentucky finished the regular season ranked No. 22 by the coaches and outside of the final Associated Press Top 25. If the Wildcats were to win the national title, they would become the first unranked (by the AP) champion since Larry Brown's 1988 Kansas squad. The 1985 Villanova team is the only other one to achieve the feat. UK would also be the first champion since the '88 Jayhawks to wear the crown despite owning double-digit losses.
10. No "State" Teams, but all State Teams
A season ago, Wichita State became the first Final Four team since 1985 to have "State" in their university's title without having an actual state name in that same title. A year later, we have the first Final Four since 2002 (Maryland, Kansas, Indiana, Oklahoma) that all the national semifinalists are singularly named after states.