The calendar says that today is March 13, but in many ways and for many people, the arrival of daytime power conference tournament basketball marks the beginning of what casual sports fans regard as "The Madness."
It didn't take long for fans to go crazy, and for brackets to get busted.
In the first window of games on Thursday, four sites — New York (Big East), Indianapolis (Big Ten), Greensboro, N.C. (ACC), and Kansas City (Big 12) — featured games that were one-possession affairs almost the whole way. Only the Illinois-Indiana game fizzled in the final two minutes.
In the Big East, though, a close game produced a big upset that possessed more than a few ramifications for the brackets that will be revealed on Selection Sunday. Seton Hall stunned top-seeded Villanova on a buzzer-beating jumper from the top of the key by the onion-rich Sterling Gibbs. In the aftermath of Villanova's loss, let's pick through the stories-within-the-story.
The headline-news development to emerge from Seton Hall's win over Villanova is that the Wildcats are done in the race for the No. 1 seed in the East Region. This point needs no explanation.
The bigger story on Selection Sunday becomes this: Will this loss — so early in a conference tournament, and to a not-that-good team — knock Villanova out of the East Region, whose regionals will be staged at Madison Square Garden? Villanova, Syracuse and Duke would all love to stay in the East. The Orange and Blue Devils probably have the inside track to New York at this point, but Villanova's regular season could still give the Wildcats the nod if either Syracuse or Duke loses in the ACC quarterfinals and the other one fails to win the ACC Tournament. Keep an eye on that race for an East Region slot — not as a No. 1 seed, but as a 2 seed.
The next crucial reality to flow from Seton Hall's win is that the St. John's-Providence winner cannot register a quality win over Villanova in the Big East semifinals on Friday night. Beating Seton Hall becomes a "loss avoidance game," not an "opportunity game" and a chance to enhance a resume. Being realistic here, the Johnnies and Friars need to win the Big East Tournament to make the field of 68, especially if Creighton is not the team from the other half of the bracket in Saturday night's championship game.
The third point to keep in mind here is that while St. John's and Providence do have to win the Big East Tournament to feel safe about being in the field, today's result does make it likely (more likely than not, at least…) that the SJU-Providence winner will indeed play for an automatic bid on Saturday. Bubble teams are going to sweat that game, especially if Creighton isn't the opponent.
The fourth story to emerge from Seton Hall's win over Villanova: What if Creighton fails to make Saturday's final? If Xavier is the opponent for St. John's or Providence, the Big East could sneak four teams into the field.
Here's a very alarming follow-up question for bubble teams to contemplate while they drown in anxiety: What happens if Marquette beats Xavier and Creighton to make the final in the bottom half of the bracket? St. John's or Providence versus Marquette in Saturday's final would essentially secure an unexpected autobid for the Big East.
Villanova has just unleashed a torrent of questions and a tsunami of scenarios, few of which have comforting answers for bubble teams and their fans.
It must be March… the maddening part of it, that is, 13 days in.