One year ago today, on the eve of the greatest sporting event in the world, college basketball was in crisis.
It felt that way at least after years of football-dominated conference realignment, decades of slower and lower-scoring basketball, and hundreds of overofficiated games. In 2012-13, the slowest and lowest-scoring season in the modern record, we couldn't help but feel a little down. When it was our turn to introduce the newly minted NCAA tournament field, we ranked the 68 teams in terms of "watchability" -- a condition that should never come within 1,000 miles of something so glorious and mad as the NCAA tournament. March is inherently watchable. But that was how bad it had gotten.
What a difference a year makes.
New freedom of movement rules. A crop of brilliant freshmen. An undefeated team chasing a perfect season. One of the best offensive players in the history of the game eclipsing 3,000 career points, each performance more memorable than the last. The 2013-14 season gave us all this and much, much more. It was as entertaining as four months of amateur basketball can possibly be.
The result is an NCAA tournament field that looks as deep, as wide-open, as good and as choose-your-own adjective as any we can remember. At least 15 teams are capable of winning the national title. A handful of double-digit seeds will be hard to pick against. Dangerous mid-majors lurk around every corner. The possibilities are endless.
We don't need a gimmick like watchability to get through this year's rankings. This year's rankings are entirely merit-based, top to bottom, from the least likely to win the tournament to the most. Simple. Fitting. Packed with everything you need to know about every team in the field.
Are we sure we got it right? Of course not! Are we sure these next three weeks are going melt our collective faces into moldable putty? Very much so. A season this good couldn't possibly let us down now.
"One Shining Moment" is such an exclusive concept. For the teams in the lowest reaches of the bracket, merely getting to the NCAA tournament is shiny enough. Twelve years ago, Texas Southern (68) coach Mike Davis took one of the nation's most historic programs, Indiana, to the precipice of his own montage. Now he's back, hailing from the SWAC, with former La Salle and West Virginia forward Aaric Murray as his anchor.