College basketball fans — the choice is yours. Fill out your bracket now if you haven't already. Or experience angst until Thursday, when the first round of the men's NCAA tournament starts. On Sunday, the selection committee set the field for the annual descent into March Madness.
While the tournament officially starts Tuesday with the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, the first round — and where ballots start counting — is Thursday.
The four No. 1 seeds are defending champion Villanova, North Carolina, Kansas and Gonzaga.
It appears there's a minimum of the controversy and grumbling that traditionally follows Selection Sunday. Most of the unhappiness is coming from the state of North Carolina, where the heated rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is playing out in the bracket.
Duke was given a two seed — many Blue Devil fans and basketball pundits think Duke got a bit jobbed by the committee — after all, Duke beat North Carolina two out of three times this season, including in last week's ACC championship tournament. Duke won four games in four straight days to claim the tournament title, beating ranked teams Louisville and Notre Dame, as well as the Tar Heels.
But the squabbles should fade as Thursday approaches — this first week often captures most of the drama with early round upsets providing the madness in March Madness. And whether or not there's more madness this time, there's a good chance there'll be a bevy of good, close games.
Selection Committee chairman Mark Hollis said after the bracket was revealed, "By far, I can say with 100 percent certainty that this is the most competitive bracket I've seen [in his five years on the committee]."
Today is Selection Monday for the women's tournament. The 64-team bracket will feature 63 teams chasing overall No. 1 seed Connecticut, whose win streak stands at a gaudy 107 games.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Well, they do not call it March Madness for nothing. It is time. The selection committee has made their selections. We have the brackets. We have the 64 teams - or maybe more than 64, as we'll hear in a minute. It's NCAA tournament time. And NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is on the line. Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So we should point out that the tournament unofficially starts later this week. But it sort of officially starts tomorrow, right?
GOLDMAN: Oh, very officially, yeah, as it has every year since 2011. It started on the Tuesday of the first week. It's the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. And I'm going to be there. How cool is that?
GREENE: That is very cool.
GOLDMAN: It's really the bookend to the Final Four. Of course, in three weeks' time, you've got the four best teams left. The teams playing in Dayton, they're the last teams picked to get into the tournament - kind of the kids on the playground looking at the ground, kicking the dirt, you know. The winners of the first four games in Dayton, they'll go on to the first round, which starts on Thursday.
GREENE: Then, we'll have the 64 teams set for later this week. And we have the top seeds, one from each region. We've got Villanova, North Carolina, Gonzaga and Kansas. Any controversy over those picks?
GOLDMAN: You know, not too much squawking, as there often is - if there's any, it's North Carolina getting that one seed and Duke getting a two seed. Duke beat North Carolina 2 out of 3 times this season, including in last week's ACC tournament, when Duke was just red hot, and they beat two other highly ranked teams, Louisville and Notre Dame.
But the selection committee says North Carolina had the better regular season. The Tar Heels finished first in the ACC. That's the best conference in the country. Those two could meet for the championship. And if they do, it would be epic.
GREENE: It would be epic. So can you tell me...
GREENE: ...Which upsets to pick, so I can win my bracket competition with all my friends here?
GOLDMAN: Yeah, I can tell you exactly which ones to pick.
GOLDMAN: I'll probably go with a couple of 12 seeds over fives, that's the pretty well-known and reliable upset pick. But, you know, in general, we're supposed to have a really good tournament with a lot of close games. Mark Hollis, the chairman of the selection committee, says this is the most competitive bracket he's seen in his five years on the committee.
Obviously, you know, a couple of games to talk about - Northwestern is the automatic darling of this tournament, since it's in for the first time ever. Northwestern plays Vanderbilt in the first round - and then, another one that should be fun, Florida State versus Florida Gulf Coast in Orlando, Fla. That's a lot of Florida, David.
GREENE: That's a lot Florida.
GOLDMAN: Florida Gulf Coast was a tournament darling in 2013, when they came out of nowhere and they beat too high seeds. And people loved their high-flying style. They nicknamed them Dunk City, which they're still nicknamed.
GOLDMAN: They're a 14 seed this time. Florida State is a three. But there is talk that Florida Gulf Coast could win this game and maybe the one after.
GREENE: I appreciate the help with the bracket.
GREENE: You mentioned Northwestern being at the tournament for the first time. A lot of their fans are acting like they've already won the tournament. It's crazy.
GREENE: So any players we should be watching?
GOLDMAN: Oh, my God. We don't have time to talk about all of them. But, you know, what I really love are the guys we don't know who are going to emerge, who are going to explode. And, you know, if they were musical acts, they'd be one-hit wonders. They dazzle, and then you never hear from them again...
GREENE: I like that.
GOLDMAN: ...(Laughter) The Baha Men of March Madness, players like Ali Farokhmanesh, in the 2010 tournament when he played for Northern Iowa shooting down a number one seed, Kansas - guys like that. That'll be fun to watch.
GREENE: OK, and we should say it is selection Monday for the women. We're going to find out that bracket today. And, I mean, the only question to ask is how many points will UConn, the University of Connecticut, win by in the title game?
GOLDMAN: It's a valid question since they've won 107 straight games. But, you know, you've got South Carolina, Baylor, Notre Dame, Maryland those - that's the principal competition. And it would be nice to see if UConn gets pushed, see how they respond.
GREENE: OK, NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman talking to us about March Madness. Thanks, Tom.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.