Prior to the start of the NCAA Men’s Tournament, Howie asked me on his radio show what I expected to see concerning the 68 teams that were participating. Having observed over 50 tournaments including two in person in Freedom Hall, I told Howie that I quit having expectations years ago.
My wish was that Louisville would reach the Final Four for the 11th time and, with some luck, win the tournament. Unfortunately, I felt the Cards' struggle to score would make it difficult to win it all.
What I said was that I was anxious to have three questions answered that had puzzled me all season.
The first question was “Is the ACC as good as the polls would have us believe”?
When the league secured nine spots in the 68-team bracket it appeared that the selection committee agreed that the ACC was the toughest and deepest conference. When only North Carolina reached the final eight teams it appeared that the ACC wasn’t quite as good as everyone (including me) thought.
My second question was similar to the first and concerned the SEC. “Was the heralded football conference as bad as it seemed with the numerous out-of-conference defeats and the usual with Kentucky on top and everyone else fighting for a distance second”?
Alas, I was wrong about that maligned league, as were many others. Somehow they managed to put three teams in the final eight including 26-10 South Carolina, a team that lost to Seton Hall, Alabama, Clemson and Arkansas.
My third question had to do with the West Coast teams. “Were they as good as the polls would indicate and would Gonzaga finally break through and live up to their billing”?
I was really wrong about that situation. For the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament, two teams from the Pacific Northwest will play in the Final Four. As a matter of fact for the first time two teams from the West Coast will play in the Final Four. Oregon returns to the Final Four for the first time since the original NCAA Final Four in 1939 at Evanston, Illinois, a hiatus of 77 years.
Since Mark Few became head coach at Gonzaga in 1999, the school has been to the NCAA Tournament every year. Despite being highly ranked several times, the school has only reached the final eight teams three times, and 2017 is the first time that Gonzaga has reached the Final Four. Gonzaga averages 6,000 fans per game and Oregon 7,500, indicating less than intense fan support in the Northwest for basketball.
Only two states have had two teams in the Final Four in the same year, Kentucky (2) and North Carolina.