It was the perfect ending to a delightfully imperfect regular season. In one last shake of the cup, six of the top eight teams in the Associated Press poll came undone last Saturday. Kentucky ended Arkansas's four-week run as No. 1, and Connecticut blew its chance to succeed the Razor-backs by losing to Providence. The Pac-10's mighty three—Arizona, UCLA and California—all succumbed within hours of one another. Michigan mulled its chance for a Big Ten title by falling to Northwestern. And the NCAA tournament committee found itself announcing pairings Sunday night that could have been mistaken for the NIT's.
Tournament field? This looked more like a potter's field: One team, Missouri, received a No. 1 seed despite a 52-point loss in December. Another qualifier, Wisconsin, lost to Northwestern twice. And a third, Loyola of Maryland, had a 2-25 record a year ago. As a result of the weekend's convulsions, the AP made its ninth change atop its poll on Monday, replacing Arkansas with North Carolina, winner of the ACC tournament. At least there's symmetry to that: As the preseason No. 1, the Tar Heels bring a zigzag season more or less full circle.
To mark this year of the tumultuous Top 20, we've devised our own season-ending poll consisting of our Top 20 questions to ponder as the NCAA tournament gets under way.
1. Which is the strongest bracket?
The East and the Midwest are tough, but the Southeast is the toughest because it should have Purdue-Kansas and Duke-Kentucky in its semifinals.
2. That would make the weakest...?
Correct. Horace Greeley doesn't know baskets. The West has the weakest No. 1 (Missouri), a No. 2 with tournament baggage (Arizona) and a No. 3 with no bench (Louisville). Further, six of the region's top seven seeds are coming off a loss.
3. Is a loss in a conference tournament necessarily bad?
This is a question for the ages, right up there with, How come your nose runs and your feet smell? The answer is no. Oklahoma State beat Kansas in the Big Eight semifinals, which means only that the Jayhawks will probably reach the Final Four, since that's where they wound up the last three times they lost in the conference semis. North Carolina lost to Georgia Tech in last season's ACC tournament and then won a national championship. And the Tar Heels blew out Duke by 22 in the final of the 1991 ACC tournament, only to watch the Blue Devils win an NCAA crown three weeks later. "We learned we weren't as good as we thought we were," Duke's Grant Hill says of that defeat at the hands of North Carolina. Perhaps Arkansas, Connecticut, Missouri, Temple and Duke again—all losers last week—have learned the same thing this time around.
4. As the players reach a state of tournament readiness, how come the referees haven't?