For the second consecutive year the NCAA Tournament kicks off without the Utes participating in the festivities. The first time this has happened in 17 years. That fact makes it very difficult for me to get as excited like in years past. But it is an event and one I'll keep an eye on because who knows, maybe Utah's next head coach is dancin' and makes a national splash prior to accepting Utah's job offer. But even if that's true, nothing can compare to the heart-stopping, edge of your seat action that has consumed the month of March and made zombies out of many of us.
This NCAA Tournament is pretty wide open. There really isn't a favorite to win it all, with no team really having a dominate regular season. Florida was the early favorite to repeat as champions, but stumbled badly down the stretch, only to rebound in the SEC Tournament to get the #1 overall seed. Ohio State looks like they could contend, but even with Greg Oden -- who looks easily to be in his 40s -- they're not a lock. In fact, there really isn't a lock for the Final Four this year and while I don't expect a George Mason to crash the party again this time around, I wouldn't be surprised if a 4 seed found their way into the Final Four.
If I had to pick a team to win it all, I have to go with UCLA. While I believe they were jobbed in their ranking, they may have the easiest path to Atlanta, since every game they play will be in California. The first and second rounds are in Sacramento, while the regionals are in San Jose. If they get beyond the Elite Eight, then they will be looking at their first games outside of California borders -- as they travel to Georgia for the Final Four.
UCLA made the national championship game last year, getting pummeled by a far better Florida team. They're young this season, but I could see UCLA finding their way back to the national championship and once you're at the Big Game, anything can happen.
It's tough not having Utah playing right now and I hope next year that changes. But I understand there are cycles in sports and the Utes have too good of a history to allow this bad cycle to carry on for too long. I believe our next coach will get Utah back to the NCAA Tournament and right back to a level where they're making deep NCAA Tournament runs.
But first thing is first, we need a coach.
So let THAT madness begin...