This year marks the first time in the history of the 65-team NCAA men's basketball tournament that all four No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. Unfortunately for those of us involved in bracket pools, this ensured victory for the token 10-year-old cousin who picked all the high seeds to advance. Although the elite parity in the Final Four is expected to produce interesting matchups, the absence of underdogs will ultimately leave casual fans disinterested.
Any remaining shred of "madness," (and March, for that matter) vanished this past Sunday when Kansas dispatched 10th-seeded Davidson to finalize the unprecedented one-seed quartet. Until that point, the tournament had lived up to its billing, providing unexpected upsets, thrilling overtime contests and a wildly popular underdog in Davidson. A different juggernaut fell every round, delighting fans everywhere. Now, those same followers are being forced to accept a reality of four Goliaths, with no David(son) to defeat them. The homogeneous group of remaining teams leaves these upset-loving fans with no one to root for, resulting in a Final Four entirely devoid of anticipation.
Having detailed that all-too-real scenario, allow me to offer some reassurance: This year's Final Four could be remembered as one of the best ever, due to a glut of talent and history on all four teams. In addition, the remaining teams are so equally exceptional that each has virtually identical odds of winning the title. For further proof, take a look at the résumés of the four distinguished programs.
Boasting 11 NCAA titles, the UCLA Bruins are a perennial title threat, evidenced by their Final Four berths in each of the past three seasons. The addition of All-American freshman center Kevin Love only served to improve the largely veteran squad even more. On Saturday they face a Memphis team that has lost only once all season (a four-point loss to Tennessee). Prior to the loss, the Tigers had spent five consecutive weeks as the top-ranked team in the nation, an achievement that has eluded UCLA thus far this season.
Saturday's second game pits the North Carolina Tar Heels against the Kansas Jayhawks. In his fifth season as coach of the Tar Heels after leaving the Jayhawks, Roy Williams has assembled a formidable cast of players, headlined by unanimous All-American forward Tyler Hansbrough. On the other side of the court, the Jayhawks have one of the deepest rosters in the country; four players average in double figures, and they possess so much depth that they were able to defend Davidson's Stephen Curry with a four-man rotation.
For the average fan, the Final Four may lack its usual drama this year. However, passionate fans are embracing a Final Four that features supreme athleticism and even matchups between storied programs.