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Embrace the parity

<p>Marcus Paige and No. 2 North Carolina were the only top-8 team to survive last week unscathed in what has become a season of nightly upsets in college basketball.</p>

Marcus Paige and No. 2 North Carolina were the only top-8 team to survive last week unscathed in what has become a season of nightly upsets in college basketball.

Chaotic. Unpredictable. Carnage.

These words are not being used to recount the end result of gladiators strapping on armor and ripping one another to shreds for the amusement of the Roman populus—they are descriptions of the 2015-16 college basketball season.

But let me add another word to the mix: beautiful.

Sure, I don’t know if a perennial powerhouse is going to cut down the nets in April, or if Monmouth’s bench is going to rally the Hawks to a Cinderella run through the madness that is March. But I do know one thing—I have never been more invested in every game around the country than I have been this season.

And I love it.

As a Duke fan and student, it may seem like sacrilege to enjoy basketball while the Blue Devils continue to tumble down the rankings. Trust me, I feel the pain of each loss, especially being a senior who was hoping for another magical tourney run before I get booted off campus into the “real world.” At the same time, though, I cannot help but be drawn to every upset like an insect to flame.

Just look at the 2014-15 season. Call it what it was—one of the most boring, predictable seasons in recent memory.

The preseason top four consisted of Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin and Duke—four teams that remained in the top 10 throughout the entire run of the AP Poll. Three of the teams received No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament—the Kentucky Wildcats, the Badgers and the Blue Devils. Those same three teams made the Final Four.

I will concede that when Wisconsin toppled the undefeated, 38-0 Kentucky squad in the national semifinals in Indianapolis, I was a little surprised. The Wildcats were at the top of my bracket, but let’s be honest here, you picked them too. Nationwide, 77.1 percent had Kentucky in the Final Four, 58.7 percent had the Wildcats in the title game and 48.0 percent had them winning the whole thing, according to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.

It was chalk, right? Wrong. Instead the headline “Kentucky is unbeaten no more” was plastered across the Internet and crumpled brackets littered floors everywhere.

So yes, there was one surprise, but I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions about how much anyone enjoyed watching the sport last season. This year, though, I cannot take my eyes off the train wreck that is parity for 2015-16.

Of the preseason AP top 10, only four teams remained in that position when the latest iteration of the poll was released Monday—North Carolina, Maryland, Kansas and Oklahoma. Perennial powerhouses Kentucky and Duke have dropped from No. 2 and No. 5 to No. 20 and No. 24, respectively. After dropping their Jan. 18 contest against Syracuse, the Blue Devils nearly missed out on a top-25 spot for the first time since 2007.

Few other teams have escaped a similar downward spiral. Virginia dropped from No. 6 to No. 11, Iowa State from No. 7 to No. 14, Wichita State from No. 10 to No. 22 and Gonzaga now sits unranked. In the week leading up to the release of last week’s poll, 13 ranked teams suffered losses in a six-day span, and three formerly top-10 teams were defeated multiple times.

And what about prior to Monday? Well, as fate would have it, 15 teams in the top 25 combined for 17 losses, including seven of the top eight—hats off to the Tar Heels for acting like the No. 2 team in the nation. Good luck this week, and if you feel something behind you, that’s the new bulls-eye on your back.

So why is this constant upheaval of the AP top 25 beautiful? With the rest of the sports world bordering on the edge of predictability day in and day out, I am drawn to the madness that is seeping out before March this season. The NFL has two No. 1 seeds in the Super Bowl, the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are near shoe-ins to the NBA’s Western Conference Finals and even in tennis, Novak Djokovic is cruising to what appears to be another Australian Open title—the Serbian even won a match in which he committed 100 unforced errors.

But not in college basketball. Not this year. No one can sleep on any team with five starting players and an understanding of how the game works. If ever there were a time to utter the phrase “Expect the unexpected,” now would be that time.

Whether your team is playing a top-10 foe or Western Illinois—yes Wisconsin, we all still remember that—tune in. You never know what might happen.


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