The NCAA men’s basketball tournament tipped off Tuesday with its version of French bread rolls presented before you’ve had a chance to glance at the restaurant menu.
We’ve come to call it the “play-in” round, where the likes of an North Carolina A&T team that has lost 16 games plays Liberty University, which has lost 20. Except the NCAA prefers a more formal term than a “play-in” round. The NCAA prefers “first round.”
It’s a bit confusing because we know the real first round doesn’t begin until Thursday morning. We know this, too: It’s unlikely any of the eight teams slotted for the play-in round will make it beyond the third round, or the second round, or wherever it is that the LIU-Brooklyn vs. James Madison winner has to take on Indiana.
So who wins when all is said and done, and there’s nothing left to say or do? Let’s start with who won’t.
Arizona and New Mexico won’t win, but if the border-state rivals take care of business Thursday in the second round (which is really the first round), they could collide this weekend in the third round (which is really the second round).
Colorado, which has referred to itself in sports information media guides as “the Harvard of the West,” won’t win.
Harvard won’t win, either, because the student-athletes put books before basketball at the, uh “Colorado of the East.”
Mississippi won’t win, but I wouldn’t tell that to streak-shooting, crowd-baiting guard Marshall Henderson. If you haven’t seen Henderson — Ole Miss’ Rebel With A Cause — think of Jimmer Fredette, rewired with the edge of Eminem.
Indiana won’t win because Hoosiers coach Tom Crean is the brother-in-law of opposing Super Bowl coaches John and Jim Harbaugh, and life is too short to have to tolerate another chapter of the Harbaugh Family Chronicles.
Kansas State won’t win because the Wildcats wear purple, and the only purple-peopled NCAA champion – Holy Cross, in 1948 – prevailed over a mere eight-team field.
Wisconsin won’t win, and former Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson will hold himself accountable for not advising basketball coach Bo Ryan to emphasize the fact that separation is in preparation.
North Carolina State also won’t win, and former Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson will hold himself accountable for that, too.
Belmont and Iona won’t win, but it sounds like a kind of cute 75th anniversary couple, no?
Iowa State, Wichita State, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico State, Northwestern State, San Diego State and South Dakota State won’t win. Just a gut feeling, a State of mind.
Temple and Akron won’t win, but before the Owls and Zips are shown the exit, they’re due a consolation prize: Most Original Nicknames of the 2013 field.
Southern won’t win because the Jaguars will be hard-pressed to keep the score respectable before the first timeout against Gonzaga. Who will have the most fun watching the Zags blow out the Jags? The wags.
Notre Dame won’t win, but those lime-green jerseys – introduced a few years ago by the Seahawks, who went one-and-done with them – are here to stay, along with the lime-green shorts and lime-green socks and lime-green shoes. What’s the matter with kids today?
Duke won’t win, and it doesn’t matter. The national TV exposure this obscure school gains from a tournament appearance can’t be overestimated. Keep an eye on Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski — you could see more of him down the road. Just remember who told you first.
North Carolina won’t win, but the fact the Tar Heels finally have qualified for the tournament, along with their neighbors from Duke, has the makings of a potential rivalry. Again, just remember who told you first.
Oregon won’t win, and just typing those words gives me so much pleasure. I’ll type them again: Oregon won’t win.
Pittsburgh won’t win. Typing those words also gives me pleasure, though not quite the pleasure of typing “Oregon won’t win.”
Cincinnati won’t win, but when I type that, the thrill is gone.
Missouri won’t win, sustaining a trend all too familiar to this Mizzou alum. The Tigers, whose relocation from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference silenced a century-long rivalry with Kansas, never have appeared in a Final Four.
Kansas won’t win. The thrill is back.
Valparaiso won’t win because it got stuck with Michigan State in its opener, and Michigan State won’t win because it got stuck in a killer East bracket with Louisville.
Florida and Miami won’t win, but don’t be surprised if the Gators and Hurricanes collide in a semifinal showdown for Sunshine State bragging rights.
Georgetown, Saint Louis, Marquette and Creighton won’t win, because the Jesuits — on something of a roll after the papal election — are saying all their prayers for Gonzaga.
Michigan won’t win, but with a starting lineup that includes Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III, the Wolverines might want to change their fight song from “The Victors” to “Here Come the Sons.”
Oklahoma won’t win because the Sooners don’t have Mookie Blaylock, Jr. in the backcourt. (Blaylock’s twin sons, Daron and Zack, play football at the erstwhile basketball powerhouse known as Kentucky.)
Western Kentucky won’t win. Then again, it already has: The Hilltoppers are in the NCAA tournament, while the UK Wildcats are one-and-done in the NIT.
Albany won’t win, but I was intrigued when I thought I heard Dick Vitale talking about a Friday matchup between Duke and Al Bundy.
Illinois won’t win, but what other school in the tournament can boast itself as the alma mater of Hugh Hefner?
UCLA won’t win, though I hope it survives long enough for an investigative reporter to produce evidence that freshman sensation Shabazz Muhammad — listed as 19, looks 60 — first was recruited by the late Bruins coach John Wooden.
Minnesota won’t win, but there’s some history packed in its opening game against UCLA: Wooden was prepared to accept the job of coaching the Gophers, only to learn a snowstorm canceled the flight to Minneapolis. He ended up taking his wizardry to Westwood.
Villanova won’t win because the ninth-seeded Wildcats would be required to play six perfect games, and nobody’s seen a perfect tournament game since, well, Villanova upset Georgetown for the 1985 national championship.
Butler and Virginia Commonwealth won’t win, but if the teams advance to the Sweet 16, the tired Cinderella label won’t apply. These guys more resemble Bigfoot.
California won’t win because the 12th-seeded Golden Bears will be worn out by that long and winding trip to face UNLV in San Jose, Calif.
UNLV won’t win, and my, how college basketball has changed since Jerry Tarkanian used a white towel to smother the fire on his face. The Runnin’ Rebels are steeped in defense.
Montana won’t win, though it will be fun when the Grizzlies stun Syracuse and make Orange coach Jim Boeheim more miserable at the end of his day than he was at the beginning of it.
Bucknell won’t win — the Bison will be challenged to survive a tough test Thursday against Butler — but that’s OK because the school still has a cool distinction: The grave of pitching great Christy Mathewson, a Bucknell alum, is on campus.
Pacific and Florida Gulf Coast won’t win, and heaven help us all if they ever meet.
Davidson won’t win, but its record of eight victories in the NCAA tournament is impressive for a school with an enrollment of 1,756 students.
Ohio State won’t win because Buckeyes coach Thad Motta brought better teams into the 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 tournaments and didn’t win those, either.
Memphis won’t win, but don’t discount the Tigers’ potential to distrupt things. Only two teams in the field won 30 times this season. Gonzaga is one, Memphis the other.
Gonzaga won’t win because its fast-lane road to Atlanta appears suspiciously uncomplicated. Not only were the Bulldogs assigned the top seed in the weakest region, but they also were extended the opportunity to stay on the West Coast. When something seems too good to be true, it always is.
Which leaves me with the Louisville Cardinals as kings of the hill, A-No. 1, top of the heap, champions of a 68-team tournament destined to find 67 teams bemoaning the defeat that ended a season.
Let the games begin!