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The 2015 NCAA Tournament is going to be fantastic; here are 64 reasons why

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Every March is great, but this March is shaping up to be extra special. Let's take a look at a bunch of reasons (64!) why.

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SB Nation 2015 March Madness Bracket

The First Four is cool and all, and this year's quartet of opening games deserves credit for keeping us adequately occupied on Tuesday and Wednesday night, but let's be real: The NCAA Tournament as most of America recognizes it begins on Thursday. In other words, the madness is here.

For the next three weeks, we get non-stop basketball. There will be upsets, there will be high-profile showdowns, and there will be lots and lots of people lying about how much college hoops they watched during the preceding four months. It's all a whole lot of fun.

While every tournament is special, there are always going to be a few that stand out and will continue to stand out for as long as the sport exists. Here are 64 reasons why the 2015 Big Dance could wind up being one of those types of events.

1. Kentucky

There's history present in each and every NCAA Tournament, but rarely is it this apparent. Kentucky, one of the sport's biggest names in any season, is shooting to be the first team since Indiana in 1975-76 to finish a season undefeated, and is looking to become the first team in college basketball history to go 40-0. That alone should be enough to wholly draw the country into this entire event.

The other fascinating thing about the Wildcats is that they win in a fashion so foreign to the other squads that come to mind when the topic of "most dominating college basketball teams of all time" is brought up. They don't wow you with speed and offense like the '96 Kentucky team or the early '90s UNLV teams. They don't have a player you just know is going to be a perennial contender for the NBA MVP award one day (I'll listen to your Karl Towns argument). What they do have is a combination of size, skill and depth that I'm not sure the sport has ever seen before, and so far it has just swallowed up the rest of the country.

It was special when Wichita State brought an unblemished record into the tournament a year ago, but this is the Kentucky Wildcats. People love them, people hate them, and for as long as their run lasts, everyone is going to be watching them.

2. We might see both defining characteristics of a great tournament in the same year

Everyone loves the early-round upsets, but recent history has also shown that everyone also loves a Final Four loaded with blue-blood powerhouses (Butler-UConn ... never forget). This may be a tournament which gives us both.

The disparity between the top six or seven teams and the rest of the country has been unusually large all season long, and it would almost feel wrong for at least three of those teams not to make it to Indianapolis and give us an all-time great Final Four. On the other hand, there has been so much parity among the teams that are now seeded 3-14 that this feels like the perfect setup for an opening Thursday and Friday loaded with double-digit seeds advancing.

The answers will all start flooding in soon enough.

3. There will be buzzer-beaters

Last season's tournament was loaded with last-second heroics, but there was only one true buzzer-beater -- Cam Ridley and Texas knocking off Arizona State in the second round.

Here's hoping for a few more in 2015.

4. We get to see if Gonzaga finally breaks through

It's hard to imagine how a mid-major program with virtually no history to speak of before 1999 that has become a household name and perennial top-20 team in the 16 years since could be as roundly criticized as Mark Few's program is. The issue is that though the Zags have not missed an NCAA Tournament since 1998, they've been to the second weekend of the dance just twice in the last 10 years, and haven't made the Elite Eight since that breakthrough run in '99.

This might be the most complete team that Few has ever had at Gonzaga, and it may also be the team that can put to bed any and all doubters for good.

5. The chance for another First Four "Cinderella"

Since its inception in 2011, the First Four has produced a Final Four team, three Sweet 16 teams and at least one Round of 32 team in all four years. No. 11 seeds Dayton and Ole Miss are the two teams looking to continue that trend this year.

6. Perhaps another top seed champion

Since the committee began assigning a No. 1 overall seed in 2004, three of those teams have wound up cutting down the nets at the end of the tournament -- Florida in 2007, Kentucky in 2012 and Louisville in 2013. Florida making it to the national semifinals last year made it three straight seasons where the No. 1 overall seed has made it to the Final Four.

7. The images

Regardless of who wins and loses, the tournament always produces some of the best sports images of the year.

Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

8. Wichita State's chance at revenge

A year ago, the Shockers' 34-0 start was rewarded by being placed in a region with the second-strongest No. 2 seed, the best No. 3 and No. 4 seeds, and a Kentucky team that had started the season ranked No. 1. This season, Gregg Marshall and company believed their 28-4 record would earn them a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, which would put them in position to both fly under the radar and make a run back to the tournament's second weekend. Not so much.

Instead, the Shockers are back in Kentucky's Midwest Region as a No. 7 seed, and could face No. 2 Kansas -- the regional powerhouse that has always looked down at them -- in the Round of 32. Despite the lack of confidence from the committee, the Shockers running past the Jayhawks and then attempting to ruin UK's run at perfection almost exactly a year after the Wildcats did the same thing to them would be one hell of an Elite Eight storyline.

9. There's a team with a .500 record in the field

Hampton got out of the red for the first time since Jan. 17 when it pulled the mild upset of Manhattan in the First Four on Tuesday. To stay there, the Pirates will have to pull the not-so-mild upset of Kentucky on Thursday.

Edward Joyner Jr. already checked, and Jesus does not plan on offering up any assistance in the effort.

10. Jahlil Okafor

Enjoy these last few games while you can, fans of the college game.

11. The 13/4 upset trend

At least one 13 seed has won at least one game in the tournament in six of the last seven years. The six-year streak of 13 seeds winning was broken last year, but even then, New Mexico State took San Diego State to overtime, and Manhattan had a lead on Louisville with less than two minutes to play.

12. UCLA trying to prove everyone wrong

Recent years have seen a funny trend develop where the most hotly contested at-large inclusion in the field winds up winning at least one game in the dance. There's no question that team this season is Steve Alford's bunch.

Not only were the Bruins a surprise inclusion to most, but they shockingly didn't even have to win their way into the main draw through the First Four. That's an awfully generous gift for a team that was just 2-8 on the road and 2-8 against teams ranked in the RPI top 50 this season. When asked about Steve Alford's team after the bracket was revealed on Sunday, selection committee chair Scott Barnes pointed to UCLA "gaining steam" at the end of the season as one of the major reasons for its inclusion. The Bruins are just 4-3 over their last seven games, and lost to both California and Arizona State in the month of February.

Still, they've got their shot to make a statement against an SMU team that earned a six seed despite beating zero ranked teams during the regular season.



Photo: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not going to replace "maneater" with "anteater" in multiple song lyrics right now, but just know that I have done it already this week, and that I'm probably going to do it again.

14. The potential Wisconsin/Arizona rematch

Sure, it seems remarkably unfair that a pair of teams which seem to be among the three or four most likely to win this tournament have been placed in the same region, but if they play an Elite Eight game that in any way resembles the one they played a year ago, I think the rest of us are going to be cool with it.

15. Eastern Washington's coach guaranteed victory over Georgetown

Just when we thought we couldn't love the Eagles any more, head coach Jim Hayford went on The Jim Rome Show on Wednesday and ended his interview with: "We're gonna win and talk again, Jim."

Eastern Washington is set to tip off against the Hoyas around 9:57 p.m. ET on Thursday. That's going to be worth staying up for.

16. Harvard looking to continue its run of tourney success

After earning their fourth straight trip to the tournament through a borderline miraculous sequence of events (sorry, Yale), the Crimson are now looking to become the first Ivy League team since Penn (1978-1980) to win at least one NCAA Tournament game in three consecutive seasons. The bad news is that fourth-seeded North Carolina would seem to present a taller task than either of their last two triumphs.

17. D'Angelo Russell

There has been no player in the country more entertaining to watch these last few months, and now he's about to entertain us for the final time.

18. The absence of the billion dollar perfect bracket challenge

No one was able to take advantage of Warren Buffett's offer a year ago, but a bunch of the companies involved wound up suing one another anyway, and now the contest is gone. No one was going to be perfect this year either, of course, but at least you'll get to avoid annoying tweets and/or stream of texts from all the people you know who go 4-for-4 in the opening session of games.

19. Notre Dame's fight to shed a stigma

The Fighting Irish have spent the bulk of the season ranked in the top 15, they have one of the nation's best players in Jerian Grant and they just won the ACC Tournament. Oh, and they also might be the most entertaining team in the entire field. Still, Mike Brey's team needs to win at least a couple of games in order to shed their current reputation for choking on the sport's biggest stage.

Despite fielding several highly ranked teams over the past decade, Notre Dame has won just two total games in the NCAA Tournament since 2003. All but one of the Irish's six tournament losses over that span have come to a double-digit seed. The one outlier was a 20-point beatdown in 2008 at the hands of a Washington State team seeded just one line above fifth-seeded ND. Outside of that, the Irish have been bounced by 11th-seeded Winthrop (2007), 11th-seeded Old Dominion (2010), 10th-seeded Xavier (2012), 10th-seeded Iowa State (2013) and perhaps most painfully of all, an embarrassing 71-57 defeat at the hands of 10th-seeded Florida State when the 2011 Irish were a No. 2 seed some thought had the potential to win it all.

Winning the ACC Tournament and earning a No. 3 seed is a terrific achievement for Notre Dame, but it's also made the fall in perception that much steeper if the Irish again give an out-of-character performance in the Big Dance. On the flip side, a deep run would do wonders to rid the program of a stigma it's been attached to for seemingly the entirety of the Mike Brey era in South Bend.

20. Bill Raftery finally getting to call the Final Four


21. Ron Baker's hair

Someone cue up Ariana Grande's "One Last Time" and then leave the room for a second.

Photo: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

We all thought we made the Star Wars joke first, man ... thank you for that.

22. The chance of a 16 beating a 1

The most sacred record in college basketball might be the 120-0 mark of No. 1 seeds vs. No. 16 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. The addition of an extra First Four game has made the final line in the field a tad stronger, and we've seen a 16 seed flirt with doing the impossible in each of the past three seasons (three teams last year, Southern/Gonzaga in 2013 and Syracuse/UNC Asheville in 2012).

Feel free to get overly excited when you see Coastal Carolina is within one of Wisconsin with six minutes left in the first half. We'll all be doing the same thing.

23. San Diego State's free throw shooting

Because it's laughably atrocious. The Aztecs don't have a single player on their roster who shoots better than 70.6 percent from the stripe.

24. Coach quotes

Here's an appetizer from Butler coach Chris Holtmann talking about how his team has become one of the tournament's most trendy picks to be upset: "Not many people are picking us, including our President -- that's the last time I vote for him"

It's funny because he can't run again.

They'll get better.

25. Crean Face

Someone must stop this man.

The scary thing is, they say once you see tournament Crean Face, you forget all the other Crean Faces.

26. Stephen F. Austin

While the world continues to focus its mid-major attention on Gonzaga and the powers in the Missouri Valley, Stephen F. Austin just continues to whomp on any fool that dares to stand in its way. The Lumberjacks went 18-0 in the Southland a season ago, and entered the Big Dance on a 28-game winning streak. That streak moved to 29 when SFA upset fifth-seeded VCU in the second round.

It's been more of the same from Brad Underwood's team this year, which has lost just once since Nov. 24, and strolls into the tournament having won 28 of its last 29 games. The recipient of the Lumberjack prize this year is Utah, which gets the double whammy of feeling like it was underseeded, and assigned an opponent that has seemed primed to advance in the tournament for months now.

27. Coaches attempting to hide the labels on the bottles they're drinking

Because the tournament rules about non-approved products are ridiculous and the results that come from coaches who can't go without Diet Coke or coconut water during games are hilarious.

28. The 12/5 upset

It's happened 44 times overall, and multiple times in six of the last nine tournaments, including last year, when three 12 seeds advanced to the third round. Chances are good that at least two move on again this year, as all four of the 12/5 matchups in this year's draw appear to be enticing upset picks.

29. Ian Eagle might rage on a broadcast partner

It's happened before.

The fact that Eagle is paired with Doug Gottlieb only makes a repeat scenario all the more likely. Let's just hope that if it happens, it includes a "you're no Jim f'ing Spanarkel" spiel.

30. Kevin Ware's triumphant return to the tournament

Ware left Louisville because he knew he would never be able to escape the status of being just "the guy who had that injury" there, and now he's back in the NCAA Tournament in his first full season at Georgia State. On a team that also includes former Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow as well as one of the nation's top scorers in R.J. Hunter, the Panthers have a chance at putting (at least) a scare into third-seeded Baylor.

There's no question, though, that when Georgia State takes the floor during the early session Thursday, the biggest story is going to be Ware. That's understandable, but it's been nearly two years since the junior guard walked onto a court in an NCAA Tournament game as an active player, and that return to normalcy will likely mean far more to him than the return to the national spotlight which comes with it.

31. Abdul Malik-Abu

In one of the best stories this season has had to offer, NC State freshman forward Abdul Malik-Abu revealed on Instagram last month that last year he had attended the wedding of Chapel Hill shooting victims Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, and promised them wins over North Carolina and Duke as a present.

On the day of the Feb. 11 shooting that resulted in the deaths of the newly married couple as well as Abu-Salha's sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, Malik-Abu posted the following:

When I heard the news I was in disbelief I couldn't quite understand how this was possible. I couldn't wrap my head around the thought of you and your beautiful wife no longer being alive. you supported me before you met me and showed unconditional love when you did. always excited and happy, always willing to joke around about how the season would go. For the short time I've known you, you blessed me with the opportunity to attend your wedding a wedding I see as my first real wedding. We didn't grow up together but when I heard the news I was hurt like I've known you my whole life. I just wanna say thank you to you your wife and family for the support and making North Carolina feel like home. Rest in peace brother and sisters may Allah bless all three of you with the highest heaven. I know you'll always and forever be a NC State supporter. Rest easy my dude.

Making on that promise to take down both Duke and UNC was even more special for a lot of people associated with NC State basketball than any outsider could have imagined.

32. Wyoming

There are no professional sports teams in Wyoming, so this is sort of like the one shot that the state has at winning a major American sports championship. Granted, it's not a great chance, but it's still a chance.

The Cowboys are the lowest-scoring team in the field at 61.7 points per game, but they do have Larry Nance Jr., one of the best players in program history and a guy who is finally getting a much-deserved taste of the dance in his senior season. He also might be the best dunker in the tournament.

33. The potential for a Drew brothers showdown

It would only happen if No. 3 seed Baylor (Scott) and No. 13 seed Valparaiso (Bryce) met in the Final Four, but yeah, it would be neat.

34. The Big East's big test

The days since Selection Sunday have seen a ton of bickering over whether a handful of teams from the Big East -- most notably Georgetown, Xavier and Butler -- were overseeded or not. The arguments from both sides using the data that's been collected over the past four months is all fine, but the fact of the matter is that, fairly or unfairly, none of that is going to speak as loudly as whatever takes place over the next 14 days.

First impressions are every bit as important in sports as they are in every other walk of life, and a year ago, the "new" Big East failed to advance a team to the NCAA Tournament's second weekend. It was especially damning given that the conference had both a No. 2 and a No. 3 seed get manhandled in the Round of 32. People haven't forgotten that, and the 2014 postseason will only resonate more if the league puts forth a similar effort this year.

The best and worst thing about March in college basketball is how much of an impact it has on the sport for the other 11 months of the year. Seasons can be made, careers can be launched, and perceptions can be changed all in the span of two or three days. If the Big East wants to squash all this "Power 5" conference talk before it crosses over from football to basketball even more than it already has, then the league needs Villanova to prove it was worthy of a No. 1 seed, and it needs at least one or two other teams to accompany the Wildcats into the tournament's second weekend.

35. Belmont looking to end its tournament 0-fer

Despite fielding one of the more consistently competitive mid-major programs in the country, Belmont is 0-6 in the NCAA Tournament. In order to avoid the same fate as Boise State -- which fell to 0-7 all-time in the dance thanks to a Wednesday night loss at to Dayton -- the Bruins will need to pull what would almost certainly be the upset of the tournament and stun second-seeded Virginia.

36. UAB making the tournament in this particular year

After everything that's happened over the past few months, there's probably not a fan base in the field that needs, or deserves, this more.

37. Mike Davis and Texas Southern

Yes, the Tigers played the toughest non-conference schedule of any team in the tournament, and yes they beat Michigan State and Kansas State back in December, but we're all just wanting to see that clip of the Davis meltdown against Kentucky from 2002.

38. Steve Alford's attempt to make a regional final

Alford has been at the helm of a number of solid squads, but he's still never been to a regional final, and has made it to the Sweet 16 just twice. Perhaps what he's been missing has been being at the helm of the most controversial at-large selection in recent memory. Who knows.

39. Wisconsin's celebrations

There's a very real chance that this is Bo Ryan's best Badger team and the squad most likely to bring him his first Division I national championship. Even if that happens, they'll never celebrate more memorably than they did after beating Georgetown in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

40. Bobby Hurley back on the main stage

The Hurley family is good at coaching basketball. Like, incredibly good.

Bobby may win the Hurley gold star for this season after leading Buffalo to the NCAA Tournament for the first time. He can lock it up for good if the Bulls are able to pull off a 12/5 upset of West Virginia on Friday.

Hurley's going to be a big name in this sport for a long time, and this weekend could be the grand introduction to that reign.

41. The nation's top scorer is participating

More love for Eastern Washington, which owns college basketball's scoring champion for this season in junior guard Tyler Harvey (22.9 ppg). With all due respect to his lefty stroke, the best thing about Harvey has to be that he came to EWU as a walk-on, and might not have had the opportunity to play college ball anywhere, at any level, had it not been for a chance encounter between his father -- a college basketball official -- and his current head coach:

In 1991, Hayford was launching his own career as a coach at Azusa Pacific as Frank Harvey was trying to break into officiating. They met that summer.

In the meantime, young Tyler grew up watching his dad, and wondering whether he'd ever grow past his dad's 5'8 frame. As a high school freshman at Bishop Mongomery High in Torrance, Calif., he was behind the curve at 5'4.

Then came the growth spurt, more painful than most. En route to growing 10 inches in three years, he had to sit out part of one season "because my bones weren't catching up," Tyler Harvey said.

A late bloomer in every sense of the word, Harvey was overlooked by almost everyone.

But in 2010, Hayford -- then the coach at Whitworth -- was on the same plane flight as Frank Harvey, who had officiated a Gonzaga home game the night before.

Old ties were rekindled, giving Hayford a chance to bring Tyler, then a senior, to Whitworth for a visit.

"We thought he might fall through the cracks," Hayford said of Harvey, who was rail-thin at 6'2, 150 pounds.

"I liked Whitworth, but my dream was to play Division I basketball," said Tyler Harvey, for whom the planets aligned again when Hayford took over the program at Eastern.

Harvey then redshirted his first year at EWU and played sparingly at the beginning of his freshman campaign. In the 13th game of his redshirt junior season, he became the school's all-time leader in made three-pointers. Now he's on pace to a shatter myriad school records, including several set by the program's most notable alumnus, current Indiana Pacers guard Rodney Stuckey.

42. The odd coaching situation at Cincinnati

It's been one of the more bizarre coaching situations in college basketball history, but somehow Mick Cronin and Larry Davis have made it work.

In late December, Cronin, who is in his ninth season at Cincinnati, was diagnosed with a tear in the inner wall of an artery, which was detected after he went to the hospital complaining about persistent headaches. In order for the tear to heal, Cronin was ordered to rest, take medication and control his blood pressure, which meant he had to sit out the rest of UC's season ... sort of.

Cronin still attends practice on most days, he's with the team during talk-throughs before games, and he chats with Davis, now the interim head coach, multiple times a day. But he watches the games from home. Davis is the man calling the shots during the games, and Cronin makes it a point to refer to him as "coach" during any and all conversations between the two. But it's still Cronin who is controlling things, making changes to the starting lineup, and telling his players what they did right and wrong after games.

Somehow, a Bearcat team which wasn't all that well-regarded heading into the season anyway has fought through all this awkwardness to earn a No. 8 seed.

43. Excited fans

So many games, so much excitement, so little idea what to do with our hands.

44. The odd similarities between this Duke team and the 2010 squad

Via Brett Edgerton, Duke is a No. 1 seed with 29 wins whose path to Indianapolis goes through a Houston regional. All of those exact things applied to the 2010 Duke team which went on to win the national championship.

45. Iowa State's Monte Morris

The guy set the all-time NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio last season, and has been even better as a sophomore. Morris has also been the biggest reason why the Cyclones have come back from double-digit deficits in each of their last five victories, including all three of their Big 12 Tournament wins. It still blows my mind that he doesn't get more national love, but that will certainly change if the Cyclones are able to make the type of run many are predicting.

46. Mamadou Ndiaye

The most notable Anteater (ANTEATER) of them all stands 7'6, making him the tallest player in American college or professional basketball.

Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

47. The late-game monitor reviews

They're going to be a thing whether we like them or not, so let's choose to stay positive and view the endless amount of reviews as opportunities to check in on some of the other games going on. Or, like, eat ... or something.

48. Watching Kris Dunn in the middle of his star turn

The Providence sophomore is looking like the surefire first-round pick everyone assumed he'd be when he was rated as the No. 1 point guard in the class of 2012. Dunn currently ranks second in the nation in assists (7.6 apg) and fourth in steals (2.8 spg). He's also scored in double figures in all but one of PC's games since the calendar made the turn to 2015.

49. Northern Iowa's "Interlude Dance"

You're not going to see it like this, but you're going to see it.

50. The uncertainty surrounding Kansas

For the second straight year, the Jayhawks head into the tournament with both a No. 2 seed and a lot of questions. Freshman big man Cliff Alexander has not played since Feb. 23 while the NCAA investigates his mother's connection to a loan firm, and he did not travel with the team to Omaha.

Just as it did last year, Kansas also enters the tournament having lost two of its last four, the most recent being a loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament. That story didn't end well for the Jayhawks in 2014, and they didn't have to face a squad as formidable as the Wichita State one which could potentially be waiting for them in the Round of 32.

51. Virginia's Pack Line Defense

You can knock the Cavaliers' slow-paced style all you want, but it's amazing to watch their five players work together as a single defensive wrecking machine. Buying in fully to everything Tony Bennett preaches is how a team with zero top-50 recruits can win back-to-back outright ACC regular season titles, and hold 14 different teams to fewer than 50 points on the way there.

52. One Shining Moment

Because the ironic love you pretend to show for it is actually genuine.

53. Jim Nantz's championship line

He's reeled it way in the last few years, so I'm thinking (and praying) that we're going to get something ultra-Nantzy in two-and-a-half weeks.

54. The repetitive commercials you hate so much that you wind up loving them

It started with a whispeeerrrr.

55. Rico Gathers terrifying the entire country

There's probably not a more intimidating player in college basketball than Gathers, who averages 11.6 rebounds per game, and has more double-doubles (17) to his name than any other player in the tournament.

56. Albany and Peter Hooley

There was no better story during Championship Week than Albany's Peter Hooley, a native of Australia who missed a chunk of the season to spend time with his dying mother back home, hitting the game-winning three-pointer that sent the Danes to the dance.

Maybe there's some magic left for Hooley and an Albany team which hung right with No. 1 overall seed Florida for the bulk of 40 minutes in last year's tournament.

57. The Providence Friar


Photo: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

This should not have been on here.

58. The potential for Chris Obekpa to be wearing short shorts on the bench

The St. John's big man has been suspended for two weeks after failing a drug test, which will probably rob us all of the opportunity to get another look at the best sartorial statement in the game. Or maybe he just does something incredible with his street clothes attire and wows the entire nation.

59. truTV

There's no season like tru season.

60. The Final Four is in Indianapolis

Which means maybe we'll get Jon Bois to write some more words of praise for the city.

61. Montrezl Harrell will dunk

History tells us as much.

62. Lafayette's outside shooting

Villanova can't be thrilled about the fact that its No. 16 seed is second in the nation in three-point field goal percentage (41.4 percent).

63. Someone you've never heard of is going to be a household name by the end of the month

I don't know who he is or what he's going to do, but someone nobody is talking about right now is going to do something over the course of the next three weeks that everybody talks about. March is wonderful like that.

64. There will be basketball either to watch or talk about all day, every day, until April 6

This could be the worst tournament ever, and that's still pretty fantastic.

It's not going to be the worst tournament ever, though. I promise.