At this time of year, sports are generally quiet. NFL free agency begins next week, the NFL draft is almost two months away and the NBA as well as the NHL are just starting the second halves of their respective seasons. However, in just a few weeks, the most exciting time to be a sports fan begins – March Madness.

Beginning March 13, the commencement of the tournament, people’s hearts will be broken and teams will undoubtedly be upset. Every year, a five-seed goes down to a 12-seed. There is no way to explain this, except to say that anything can and will happen during this three week tournament. A one-seed has never lost to a 16-seed, but this may be the year it finally happens.

For fans, filling out the brackets may be even bigger than watching the actual games. Let’s be honest, any legitimate sports fan will fill out at least one bracket for the tournament. Because the tournament is so volatile, it is almost impossible for a person to complete just one bracket and for it to be entirely correct – there is no such thing as a perfect bracket.

It gets harder every year to predict who will be in the Final Four, let alone the national championship. Last year, for instance, how could anyone have actually picked George Mason, an 11 seed, to defeat powerhouses like UConn, UNC and Michigan State to ride it all the way to the Final Four? I know that I had no Final Four picks last year and tore my bracket up after the first week, while the year before, I picked three of the Final Four teams and won the pool I was in.

While everyone fills out a bracket, everyone also has a team that they root for in the tournament. Being from Maryland, I have always loved the University of Maryland Terrapins. In 2001, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl and, subsequently, in the following year, the Terps won the national championship. As a diehard fan of both teams, I reached the pinnacle of happiness. However, while Maryland won the ACC in 2004, they haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since that year. This year, while I don’t need any more incentive to watch the tournament, my Terps have bounced back and appear to be in prime position to make the Big Dance, which makes me that much more interested in following the tournament.

Looking ahead to this year’s tournament, there is a lot of uncertainty about who the top four seeds will be and who will be the last few teams in. If I had to project who will be the four number one seeds, I would say Wisconsin, UNC, Kansas and UCLA. Sorry, but no Duke this year. Also, I think Florida has a legitimate shot of repeating – they probably have the strongest top six players on a team. They would be the first team to win back-to-back championships since Duke did it in 1991 and 1992.

While Florida has a decent shot of repeating, there are many teams that are currently on the outside looking in: Michigan, Clemson, Illinois and Syracuse. March 1-11th, known as championship week (many Division I conferences have tournaments in order to decide who the conference winner is, and, in most cases this yields an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament), will likely determine which teams are in March Madness and which are going home. Thus, these last two weeks of the season become paramount for bubble teams.

I know that around here people have a particular interest in the ‘Cuse, so I will break them down now. Syracuse is 21-8 overall and 10-5 in the Big East, one of the strongest conferences in the country – doing a solid job in the conference bodes well for them come tournament time. Conversely, they have played a rather weak out-of-conference schedule, which drastically hurt their Rating Percentage Index (49). Their key wins were at Marquette, Villanova and Georgetown. Key losses came from Drexel, at St. John’s and at Louisville (a game in which Syracuse was up by 12 points in the second half, but still lost).

The Orange are coming off a nice win at Providence and a very solid win at home against rival Georgetown. Fundamentally, the win against Georgetown puts them in a strong position to make the tournament, assuming they don’t falter in the Big East conference tournament.

In any event, get your brackets ready and prepare for the roller coaster ride that is March Madness.

Nathan is a member of the class of 2010.

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