By Alex Mulhall – Cento Writer
If you’ve lived in Kentucky for at least one full calendar year, there are three truths you have come to accept: first, you have no idea what the weather will be like tomorrow; second, you will get excited about the Kentucky Derby regardless of your knowledge of the sport or of horses in general; and finally, Christmas comes twice a year here, once on December 25 and a second time in the form of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Basketball Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness.
Kentucky is a basketball state. This is an irrefutable fact. It is home to the best rivalry in college basketball (and arguably all of sports) in the form of the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the University of Louisville Cardinals, and the events of recent years, particularly during March Madness season, have done nothing but fuel the fire between the two schools.
Kentucky basketball has been on a rollercoaster the past three years, going from 2012 NCAA Champions to an extremely disappointing exit in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) and from an Associated Press preseason number one ranking to falling out of the Top 25 last week.
Louisville has been far more stable on the whole over that time period, reaching the Final Four in 2012 (where they suffered defeat at the hands of the Cats) to becoming the NCAA National Champions in 2013 to a Top 5 finish in the regular season this year.
This year promises to add more for fans of both teams to look forward to, with a NCAA Tournament showdown between the two rivals once again a possibility.
For the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Louisville was given a controversial four seed and Kentucky was handed an eight seed. Arguments have been made that both teams should have been seeded higher.
Both teams are members of the Midwest Region, which is perhaps the stoutest region in the tournament. Besides the one seed, Wichita State, and the top programs of Kentucky and Louisville, the region contains other perennial powers such as second seeded Michigan and third seeded Duke.
Arguably, the other three regions came out less top-heavy than the Midwest. The West Region is dominated by Arizona with the one seed, second seeded Wisconsin, and a surprise in third seeded Creighton.
The East Region also has several of the usual NCAA favorites, though none managed to pick up top seeds. Virgina gained the one seed, but they are joined by second seeded Villanova, sixth seeded North Carolina, and seventh seeded University of Connecticut.
Rounding out the tournament in the South Region, Florida gained the overall top seed. They are joined by second seeded Kansas, third seeded Syracuse, and fourth seeded UCLA. At the bottom of the region is fifteenth seeded Eastern Kentucky University, bringing a little more basketball pride back to the Commonwealth, even with an expected out in the first round against Kansas.
Notable omissions from the tournament included a highly documented snub of Southern Methodist University, better known as SMU, and the Floria State Seminoles.
Despite the drama that always rocks the revealing of the bracket on Selection Sunday, basketball fans are now down to business, filling out their bracket predictions
Even though the Wildcats were given a relatively low seed, the confidence of the Wildcat faithful has not been swayed. “The team has been extremely frustrating all year, but I think we’ve got a good chance to make a run in the tournament,” junior Pete Eddings, a lifelong fan and avid watcher of UK Basketball, said.
“This team has tons of potential, and when they’ve put it all together, they’ve looked incredible.”
It seems as if other Kentucky fans around campus — and there are many — agree with Eddings’s sentiment.
In a recent poll of Centre students that asked who they believed would win the NCAA Tournament, over 30% of respondents chose Kentucky, with the Louisville Cardinals and Florida Gators taking the next two spots.
As one would expect of course, not everyone at a place as diverse as Centre is a fan of one of the state teams or any team at all. Many people here come from very different fan bases and backgrounds, which leads to some interesting choices for them come March.
Sophomore Julie Gates lets her family’s preferences influence her bracket decisions. “I’m a Louisville fan and love basketball, but I also have family members who have gone to schools like Notre Dame, and I can’t help but try to pull for those teams as well,” Gates said.
Gates went on to say that she likes to make a couple brackets every year. In one, she tries to make informed decisions based on everything she has seen throughout the season. She then makes another where she sends all her teams as far as she can.
This is a tactic employed by many college basketball fans. The beauty of March is that it allows you to root for whomever you’d like. Teams that you’ve never seen play before can become your new favorite team, if only for a month.
There are, of course, members of the Centre community who don’t consider themselves fans at all.
Junior Emily Teague is a Kentucky native who does not share the common affinity for basketball as the rest of the state. “I’ve never done a bracket before,” Teague said. “I like basketball, but I don’t really care enough about it to do something like that.”
Catch all the tournament games this year on CBS and its affiliated channels. My picks to make a deep run in the tournament this year are: Louisville, Virginia, Florida, and Cincinnati.