Even with just 1 Florida team in, there are plenty of reasons to watch NCAA Tournament

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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March Madness is here, and the Gators and Seminoles aren’t.

Neither are the Knights, Bulls, Owls, Panthers, Rattlers, Dolphins, Eagles, Wildcats, Ospreys or Hatters.

Those are the nicknames of Florida teams, none of which will be appearing in the men's NCAA Tournament. If not for Miami, we would have as many tournament teams as Bolivia. 

This is the first tournament in six years without Florida and FSU. If your basketball enthusiasm ends at the Georgia state line, you might be planning to focus on more important world events, like the Ukraine war or Billy Napier’s first week of spring football practice.

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Brackets! Check out yours for men's basketball, and make your picks

Don’t tune out so quickly. There are plenty of reasons Florida residents should still tune in, and here are the top six.

Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero (5) controls the ball against Miami Hurricanes guard Jordan Miller (11) during the first half of the ACC Tournament semifinal game at Barclays Center.

The bubble has burst

Last year’s tournament was held in a “controlled environment,” which was NCAA speak for COVID lockdown. It was better than the 2020 tournament, which wasn’t held at all.

Instead of a far-flung carnival, every game last year was played in an Indianapolis-wide bubble. Crowds were limited to 25% capacity. Players had to stay at least 6 feet away from each other, even during games.

OK, it wasn’t quite that bad. But the Big Dance didn’t have its usual boogie.

This year, the crowds are back, the masks are off, testing is canceled, the West Region doesn’t mean West Indianapolis and the environment will once again be beautifully uncontrollable.

Escapism

Filling out a bracket and feverishly following the results beats watching gas prices go up 12 cents an hour.

It’s your last chance to cheer for or against Coach K

Mike Krzyzewski is retiring after 42 years, 12 Final Fours, five national championships and turning Duke into the most polarizing name in college basketball.

Millions of fans admire the Blue Devils for their  buttoned-down brilliance. Millions consider them snot-nosed preppies who have the refs and ESPN under their elitist spell.

Duke lovers (including TV executives) would love for the Blue Devils to make a deep run and have Krzyzewski get a tear-soaked title. Love the Dukies or hate the Dookies, there’s no denying Krzyzewski’s teams have provided a lot of madness over the past 40-odd Marches.

Thanks for the memories, Coach K. Let’s see what you can come up with as the final curtain falls.

Fans hold an image of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski prior to an NCAA college basketball game between Duke and North Carolina in Durham, N.C., Saturday, March 5, 2022. The matchup is Krzyzewski's final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Chet Holmgren from Gonzaga

He’s Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1, 195-pound freak of basketball nature. Holmgren can dribble like Steph Curry, shoot like Larry Bird and block shots like Dikembe Mutombo.

He’s also a freshman who’s still feeling his way, so there’s no telling whether he’ll be the main man or a bit player in Gonzaga’s quest for its first championship.

Either way, Holmgren is a sight to behold.

The Longwood Lancers

There are plenty of potential Cinderellas but none quite like Longwood and coach Griff Aldrich. He was a big-time financial investor in Houston who started an AAU team to help inner-city kids.

Aldrich loved coaching so much, he gave up his $800,000-a-year job to take a $32,000-a-year assistant’s job at University of Maryland Baltimore County in 2016.

After UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed (Virginia’s still in shock), Aldrich took the job at Longwood, which had barely won 30% of its games for most of the 21st century.

The Lancers upset perennial power Winthrop in the Big South Tournament to get their first NCAA bid. With all due respect to that Duke guy, here’s a coach and team everybody can cheer for.

Anybody can win

This isn’t football, where only five or six regulars win the title. Heck, Georgia’s football team won eight more games than its basketball team this year.

This season has been especially precarious for basketball’s Big Guys. Seven top 10 teams lost in a single Saturday last month.

There is no Death Star everybody fears. Serious cases could be made for Kansas, Arizona, Auburn, Kentucky, Duke, Purdue, Tennessee, Baylor, Villanova, Texas Tech, UCLA, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and a few others.

None is located in the area north of Miami-Dade and south of the Georgia line, of course. But the show will definitely go on. And after a two-year pandemic funk, March Madness promises to be madder than ever.

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