The NCAA tournament field is set, and as always happens, the various matchups, snubs and dark horse teams have created a fascinating blend of connections and coincidences. After all, matching up 68 teams from a huge field of candidates is bound to create some strange situations, whether it be from the teams, coaches or players involved.
Take the curious case of Rick Pitino. The Iona Gaels coach led his squad to the MAAC championship and a long-shot 15-seed bid against 2-seed Alabama. Pitino is perhaps most associated with the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, both of which he led to NCAA tournament championships. He left Kentucky for the NBA, and was ousted from Louisville due to a scandal, and while both teams have had some tournament success without him, neither made the field this year, while the lower-profile Gaels will have a chance to play spoiler.
Speaking of potential spoilers, if 16-seed Appalachian State gets by 16-seed Norfolk State in the First Four, the Mountaineers will have a tough time making a Cinderella run with the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs as their first foe. It's still an accomplishment for the Mountaineers -- the last time they made the tournament, in 2000, the majority of the team wasn't even alive. That's not the longest drought that's being snapped in the tournament, however, with 10-seed Rutgers last making a tournament in 1991.
No one wants to play Gonzaga, of course, as the Bulldogs have looked like a class above the rest in their 22-0 season. It's even worse for the higher seeds in the West region -- Gonzaga has already beaten 2-seed Iowa, 3-seed Kansas and 4-seed Virginia. So, you know, the Zags will have their work cut out for them if they end up with a rematch.
The second round could see some interesting potential matchups. Syracuse may be only an 11-seed this year, but the Orange under Jim Boeheim have five Final Four appearances and a title win. If Syracuse gets past 6-seed San Diego State, the Orange could face off against 3-seed West Virginia and Bob Huggins, who play 14-seed Morehead State in the first round. Between them, Boeheim and Huggins have almost 1,900 career wins, giving this potential early-round matchup the feel of a Final Four.
Duke and Kentucky (which we mentioned earlier) are two teams that won't make the Final Four, because both of them missed the tournament this year. The last time that happened for both of them was all the way back in 1976. Good news, though: Two years later they were both in the NCAA tournament's title game, with the Wildcats pulling out a win.
If you're looking at the First Four, you might be surprised to see 11-seeds Michigan State and UCLA there. Both programs have a storied history, with 28 Final Four appearances between them and UCLA winning 11 championships to Michigan State's two. It's a strange state of affairs that one of these famed programs won't even make the first round.
At least nine coaches in the tournament have, in the past, coached another current tournament team to the tournament. They are, in no particular order: Brad Underwood (currently Illinois, formerly Oklahoma State), Bill Self (Kansas, Illinois), Roy Williams (UNC, Kansas), Shaka Smart (Texas, VCU), Rick Barnes (Tennessee, Texas), Lon Kruger (Oklahoma, Florida, Illinois), Kelvin Sampson (Houston, Oklahoma), Dana Altman (Oregon, Creighton) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland, Wichita State).
The aforementioned Sampson has another connection to the tournament -- his 2-seed Houston Cougars will be playing at Assembly Hall in the first round, where he coached Indiana from 2006-08.
The NCAA tournament takes teams from all over the country, but one potential second-round matchup could see two teams located barely two hours away from one another face off. One-seed Illinois and 8-seed Loyola Chicago would have to drive only two hours to see one another's home courts, being separated by a mere 134 miles.
Statistics from ESPN Stats & Information Group was used in this article.