We are almost there. Finally. The NCAA Tournament, the greatest three-week stretch of sporting glory on the annual calendar, tips off in just a few days. Getting ready for this tournament is almost as much fun as the tournament itself. To help in your preparations, here is a collection of NCAA Tournament facts to get your mind limber and ready for action:
--Want to cover all the different combinations of possible brackets? Just think about it, you would be guaranteed to have a perfect bracket - and that can pay big money in the right contests. Well, you had better start filling them out now because you have some work to do - there are approximately 147,573,952,589,676,412,928 different possible brackets with a 68-team field. You need to hurry, though, if you want to get them done in time - if you filled in a million unique brackets every second it would take you just short of 4.7 million years to cover every possibility. No wonder people don't get nervous about offering big prizes for a perfect bracket.
--Duke, last year's champion, had blue prominently on their uniforms. That's no surprise - Louisville, which won three years ago, is the only team in the last 14 years not to have blue in their regular color scheme. The absence of blue is probably what hurt Wisconsin so much the last two years - and could hurt conference rivals Michigan State this year. Let that tidbit guide you as you make your selections.
--Duke cut down the nets last year, but they were only the third overall seed heading into the tournament. Kentucky was the top seed. The Wildcats seemed very strong, and No. 1 seeds have won the tournament 23 times, so it might seem like Duke's win was an upset. Not so much - only two of those 23 wins have come since 2001. That means that 12 of the last 14 tournaments we have seen the top overall seed lose. Most of the wins by the top overall seed came in the early days when the sport wasn't as deep and the tournament wasn't as daunting.
--Last year we saw three No. 1 seeds advance to the Final Four - the fourth, Villanova, didn't even survive the first weekend. While we don't necessarily expect to see a top seed fall so soon, we do expect one to fall before the final weekend - all four top seeds have advanced to the Final Four in the 64-team era just once, in 2008. It's actually much more common to see no top seeds make it to the Final Four - that has happened in 1980, 2006 and 2011. In general, though, it is safer to pick a top seed than any other team to win it all - 19 of the last 31 winners have been on the top line of their region.
--The count is now at 124. That is the number of times that a No. 1 seed has played a No. 16 in the NCAA Tournament without a loss. It almost happened twice in 1989 when not one but two lower seeds lost by a single point, and three other times the games have ended within five points. There have been some crazy upsets this season already, and this is far from the most dominant group of No. 1s that we have seen, so will this finally be the year that Goliath falls? Not likely, but it's fun to dream.
--If a No. 1 were to lose their first-round game it would unquestionably be the biggest upset in tournament history. According to the point spread, at least, the current record holder in that department is Missouri. In 2012 the Tigers were so upset that they weren't given a No. 1 seed that they seemed to take their first game off in protest. They lost to Norfolk State as 21.5-point underdogs.
--The Final Four will be played in Houston this year. It's the second time it has taken place in NRG Stadium. The first was in 2011 when UConn won one of the craziest tournaments in recent history - as a No. 3 seed they were the highest-seeded team in the Final Four. The other finalists were seeded 4, 8 and 11.
--Kentucky made their 17th Final Four appearance last year. That's a stunning amount, but they are still one short of the record - North Carolina has 18. Duke could move into a tie with Kentucky and UCLA this year - last year's title came in their 16th appearance. Kansas has 14 appearances.
--The NCAA Tournament will, as always, make money in bulk. TV rights, souvenirs, ticket sales, licensing - it's a money factory. It's not the NCAA that benefits, though - at least not financially. Half of the proceeds from the tournament go directly to Division 1 schools based on a formula, including the number of sports they play and the number of scholarship athletes they have. The other half goes to conferences, with the amounts based by tournament success from the conference over the last six years. The conferences then distribute the funds to their member schools.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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