After a couple of years of upstarts pushing through to college basketball’s final weekend, programs that historically have known the way arrived at New Orleans: Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State and Louisville.
But there were surprises along the way, teams and players.
A freshman, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, has earned nearly every national player of the year award.
A team with a new coach that lost its top post player to a season-ending injury before the first tipoff, Missouri, had perhaps its greatest regular season.
The overwhelming preseason favorite? North Carolina didn’t make the Final Four, grounded when its most valuable player, point guard Kendall Marshall, suffered a fractured wrist in an early NCAA Tournament game.
And who knew in this year’s NCAA Tournament that a No. 15 seed had as much chance of winning a first game as a No. 2 seed?
Here’s the scoreboard for the 2011-12 season, with an emphasis on madness.
Biggest surprises, regular season
Murray State: Racers got to February undefeated with takedowns of Memphis and Dayton.
Missouri: New coach Frank Haith and lost player in Laurence Bowers, but didn’t stop Tigers from winning 30.
Wichita State: The Shockers received no preseason poll votes, and wound up dominating the Missouri Valley.
Biggest disappointments, regular season
The Pac-12: Take a bow. When your regular-season champion (Washington) doesn’t receive an at-large bid, ugh.
Texas A&M: Injuries plunged the co-Big 12 favorite to ninth place.
Connecticut: Huskies were supposed to battle Syracuse for Big East supremacy. Only Orange held up bargain.
Top three NCAA Tournament stories
The No. 15 seeds: Something that had happened four times in 27 years happened twice in a matter of hours in March. No. 15 seed Norfolk State pulled off a shocking upset over Big 12 champion and second-seeded Missouri. A little later another No. 15 seed, Lehigh, took down perennial power and second-seeded Duke.
The comeback kids: Kansas reached the championship game for the first time since 2008 because it refused to lose. In three games, the Jayhawks trailed by double-digits — by 11 against Purdue in the round of 32, by 10 against North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 and by 13 to Ohio State in the national semifinals. Kansas roared back in all three games.
Anthony Davis’ excellence: He’s being called the best NBA prospect since Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan in 1997.
Joakim Noah All-America team
If the All-America team was selected after the NCAA Tournament, it would often look different than the one where votes are counted after the regular season — like in 2006, when Joakim Noah led Florida to the first of its back-to-back NCAA titles without making an All-America team.
But this year, the stars of the regular season carried their excellence into the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a team that includes games played from November through April:
Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Thomas Robinson, Kansas
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky
Draymond Green, Michigan State
(Note: Only Kidd-Gilchrist isn’t a consensus All-American.)
Early top 10 for 2012-13
The most useless projection endeavor in all of sports is the college basketball preseason top 10 before knowing the path of the game’s top underclassmen. Yet, we endeavor. Here’s a shot based on who we think may be back and recruiting classes:
4. Ohio State
5. North Carolina
Milestone NCAA Tournament in 2013
The NCAA will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its tournament next season with a big gala planned for the Final Four in Atlanta. Also, look for regular-season games that were NCAA title-game matchups.
Here’s where the NCAA Tournament will be played next year:
March 19-20: Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio
Second, third rounds
March 21, 23
Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, Mich.
Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
HP Pavilion, San Jose, Calif.
March 22, 24
Erwin Center, Austin
Dayton Arena, Dayton, Ohio
Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
March 28, 30
West Regional at Staples Center, Los Angeles
East Regional TBA
March 29, 31
South Regional at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
April 6, 8
Georgia Dome, Atlanta