Basketball fans (and gamblers) rejoice -- March Madness is here.
The tournament got a few tweaks this year when the NCAA decided to expand the field from 65 to 68. That means the madness starts tonight with the "First Four." Another change that could be good for basketball junkies - every game will be broadcast in its entirety on four networks (CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV).
The Sunshine State has two entries in this year's bracket. The 2nd seeded Florida Gators in the Southeast region got a great draw. The Gators will play their first two games in Tampa, which will be virtual home games. Billy Donovan and the Boys from Old Florida ended up with a number two seed, despite Kentucky stomping them twice in the past two weeks of the season. UF faces the 15th seeded UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos in the first round on Thursday at 6:50 p.m.
UF could have little trouble getting rid of the Gauchos. Gator fans remember the last time Billy the Kid was a number two seed playing in Tampa, and Michigan State spanked them by 22 points in the second round. And look who is looming for a possible second round match-up - Michigan State.
Florida State is also in the field of 68 for the second year in a row. The Seminoles are the 10th seed in the Southwest region and are taking on Texas A&M in Chicago on Friday at 4:10 p.m. The Noles and the Aggies might sound like a better game on the gridiron. FSU plays great defense, but FSU's best player, Chris Singleton, has missed the end of the season with a fractured foot. Singleton might try to play, but there is little chance he will make a major impact.
The Noles still have a good shot to knock A&M. The Aggies play a slower style, and this game has all the making of a down-to-the-wire matchup. FSU should get past the first round, but we see a loss to Notre Dame in the second round (a virtual home game for the Irish).
Here's a check at my bracket with a short explanation of my logic (picks are in bold). Good luck and may all the buzzer beaters be yours:
12 UAB vs 12 Clemson (Tuesday in Dayton, OH) -- The Blazers are one of the most controversial picks to be in the field of 68. UAB won the Conference USA regular season title and barely snuck into the tourney. Clemson has a bunch of athletic players and finished fourth in the ACC. I'll take the Tigers, and the experts can continue to complain that Colorado should have been in this spot.
16 UT-San Antonio vs. 16 Alabama State (Wednesday in Dayton, OH) -- The Roadrunners taking on the Hornets -- wow. Alabama State is 17-17 on the year after a brutal 6-16 start to the year. Here's guessing the Hornets keep the hot streak going (until they play top seeded Ohio State on Friday).
1 Ohio State vs. 16 Alabama State (Friday in Cleveland) -- This is an epic mismatch and the Buckeyes led by freshman phenom Jared Sullinger should have no issues with the Hornets.
2 North Carolina vs. 15 Long Island (Friday in Charlotte) -- The Tar Heels and ACC Freshman of the Year Harrison Barnes should be able to shoo away the Blackbirds from the Northeast Conference with a partisan Carolina crowd.
3 Syracuse vs 14 Indiana State (Friday in Cleveland) -- The Sycamores' last win in the NCAA Tourney was in 1979 when Larry Bird was a senior. The battle tested Orange should roll with Rick Jackson inside and their swarming 2-3 zone defense.
4 Kentucky vs 13 Princeton (Thursday in Tampa) -- Win at all costs SEC power (Kentucky) faces the Ivy League champions, who don't offer athletic scholarships (Princeton). The Wildcats are led by Fort Lauderdale native Brandon Knight and should be way more than the Tigers can handle.
5 West Virginia vs 12 Clemson (Thursday in Tampa) -- The Mountaineers are a rugged team out of the Big East. Bob Huggins is an excellent coach and will have WVU ready to play. The Tigers' first year coach Brad Brownell has done a great job as well. Clemson is a very good defensive team and the Tigers will outlast the 'Neers.
6 Xavier vs 11 Marquette (Friday in Cleveland) -- The X Men are always a tough out in the tournament, making the Sweet 16 the last three years. The Musketeers are led by guard Tru Holloway. Marquette is a scrappy team that can shoot the ball pretty well. This could be a good game, but I'll take Xavier playing in their home state.
7 Washington vs 10 Georgia (Friday in Charlotte) -- The Huskies are fresh off a thrilling win in the Pac-10 tournament final. Washington is led by junior point guard Isaiah Thomas and could make its second straight Sweet 16. The Bulldogs are lucky to make the field, but I doubt they will stick around for too long. I'll take the Huskies and look forward to a terrific second round game with UNC.
8 George Mason vs 9 Villanova (Friday in Cleveland) -- George Mason had a great season and many analysts thought GMU could make a repeat run to the Final Four after their magical ride in 2006. Villanova stumbled to the finish line but I have a hunch the Wildcats will outlast the Patriots.
1 Ohio State vs 9 Villanova (Sunday in Cleveland) -- The Buckeyes are the number one overall seed and should roll to the round of 16.
2 North Carolina vs 7 Washington (Sunday in Charlotte) -- I am too scared to pull the trigger on an upset pick on this one. Washington has a great shot, but I'll stick with UNC in Charlotte.
3 Syracuse vs 6 Xavier (Sunday in Cleveland) -- The 'Cuse is marching on to the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange will be too much for Xavier.
4 Kentucky vs 12 Clemson (Saturday in Tampa) -- Three games in five days will prove too much for the Tigers, and Kentucky should roll on to the regional in Newark.
1 Duke vs 16 Hampton (Friday in Charlotte) -- Hampton pulled off a major upset ten years ago by knocking off 2nd seeded Iowa State. No 16 seed has ever beaten a number 1 and I doubt the trend will end here.
2 San Diego State vs 15 Northern Colorado (Thursday in Tucson) -- The Aztecs are led by coach Steve Fisher and SDSU has a legit shot at getting to the Final Four. Northern Colorado from the Big Sky can shoot the 3's but should bow out here.
3 Connecticut vs 14 Bucknell (Thursday in Washington, D.C.) -- The Huskies are the hottest (and possibly most tired) team entering the NCAA's. UConn won five straight at Madison Square Garden for the Big East crown. The Bison from the Patriot League can shoot the 3's and rebound but look for UConn to march on after a slow start.
4 Texas vs 13 Oakland (Friday in Tulsa) -- The Longhorns are my pick to go to the Final Four, although Oakland is a tough team in the first round. The Grizzlies beat Tennessee and have a shot but I'll stick with Texas.
5 Arizona vs 12 Memphis (Friday in Tulsa) -- I have not been taking too many upsets, but here is one. I love Memphis in this spot and the Tigers are 15-1 in games decided by five points or less.
6 Cincinnati vs 11 Missouri (Thursday in Washington, D.C.) -- Mizzou is a pressure defense, high tempo team that is fun to watch. I'll go with the Tigers in a mild upset over the Bearcats.
7 Temple vs 10 Penn State (Thursday in Tucson) -- This battle of the Keystone State is happening on the other side of the U.S. in Arizona. I'll pick Temple just to spare the country of having to watch another low scoring bore from the Nittany Lions.
8 Michigan vs 9 Tennessee (Friday in Charlotte) -- How in the world is Michigan an eight seed? The wolverines are a decent team, but I will take the Volunteers and Scotty Hopson to roll on to the next round.
1 Duke vs 9 Tennessee (Sunday in Charlotte) -- Duke is the far superior team here and the Blue Devils will romp.
2 San Diego State vs 7 Temple (Saturday in Tucson) -- The Aztecs will have trouble with the Owls match-up zone, but SDSU should pull off a close one in the desert.
3 Connecticut vs 11 Missouri (Saturday in Washington, D.C.) -- UConn's Kemba Walker is a difference maker and the Huskies should beat the Mizzou press in the long run.
4 Texas vs12 Memphis (Sunday in Tulsa) -- Texas is finding its stride and should beat the Tigers in an exciting second round game.
11 USC vs 11 VCU (Wednesday in Dayton) -- The Rams of Virginia Commonwealth were a controversial pick to be in the field of 68 with Virginia Tech getting one of the final snubs. My guess is VCU will be fighting off experts more than the Trojans.
1 Kansas vs 16 Boston U (Friday in Tulsa) -- Kansas is led by the Morris twins and BU has no shot against the Jayhawks.
2 Notre Dame vs 15 Akron (Friday in Chicago) -- The Irish are led by a group of seniors and get a great site for the first two rounds playing in Chi-town. The Irish should rough up the Zips from behind the 3-point arch.
3 Purdue vs 14 St. Peter's (Friday in Chicago) -- The Boilermakers are taking on the Peacocks. I'll take the Boilers over the bird (even though we LOVE peacocks here at NBC Miami).
4 Louisville vs 13 Morehead State (Thursday in Denver) -- Rick Pitino says he will not bust out the all-white suit again until the Kentucky Derby in May. Either way, Slick Rick and the Cards should cruise against an in-state foe.
5 Vanderbilt vs 12 Richmond (Thursday in Denver) -- The Spiders are a sneaky pick here against the Commodores. Vandy is a solid team, but I have a feeling the Spiders will bite Vandy in a classic 5-12 upset.
6 Georgetown vs 11 USC (Friday in Chicago) -- The Hoyas are stumbling without guard Chris Wright and USC will ride the momentum gained from the play-in game to knock out Georgetown.
7 Texas A&M vs 10 Florida State (Friday in Chicago) -- The Noles will tough out a close win against this Big XII club. (more above)
8 UNLV vs 9 Illinois (Friday in Tulsa) -- The Runnin' Rebels are a solid club with an underrated coach in Lon Kruger. The guy just wins everywhere he goes without getting enough credit, so here's some much deserved props for Lon.
1 Kansas vs 8 UNLV (Sunday in Tulsa) -- Bill Self and Kansas won 30 games for a reason. Marcus and Markieff Morris are great together and I think the Rebs will run out of luck in Tulsa.
2 Notre Dame vs 10 Florida State (Sunday in Chicago) -- Irish guard Ben Hansbrough leads a senior laden team against the Noles' tough defense. Notre Dame's guards will score enough to get by FSU in a hard fought game.
3 Purdue vs 11 USC (Sunday in Chicago) -- The dynamic duo of JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore should be too much for the Trojans. I'll pick Purdue to be dancing to the second weekend.
4 Louisville vs 12 Richmond (Saturday in Denver) -- The Cards are another tough Big East team. The 'Ville seems to play tight games against everyone, and this one should be no different. I'll take Pitino and senior Preston Knowles to advance.
16 UNC-Asheville vs 16 Arkansas-Little Rock (Tuesday in Dayton) -- I saw UALR play in the Sun Belt title game and guard Solomon Bozeman looked like a good player, so I will take them over Asheville in a mild upset.
1 Pittsburgh vs 16 Arkansas-Little Rock (Thursday in Washington, D.C.) -- Little Rock has no chance against Pitt. Of course, the USA hockey team had no chance against the USSR in 1980 but still, Little Rock has no chance against Pitt.
2 Florida vs 15 UCSB (Thursday in Tampa) -- I am taking the Gators. (see above)
3 BYU vs Wofford (Thursday in Denver) -- Superstar guard Jimmer Fredette and BYU looked like a national title contender until losing Brandon Davies to an Honor Code violation. Even without Davies, I think the Cougars will get past Wofford, but it might not be as easy as you think.
4 Wisconsin vs 13 Belmont (Thursday in Tucson) -- The Badgers are led by guard Jordan Taylor and he is a legit star. Bo Ryan is a tremendous coach and the Badgers from the Big 10 should be too much for the Bruins.
5 Kansas State vs 12 Utah State (Thursday in Tucson) -- Watch out K-State! Utah State is a perfect candidate for another 5-12 upset. The Aggies are experienced and have a computer ranking of 16. Could this be another selection committee mistake? I'll take my chances with coach Stew Morrill's crew.
6 St. John's vs 11 Gonzaga (Thursday in Denver) -- St. John's had a great run in coach Steve Lavin's first season and has a senior-led club. A crushing injury to D.J. Kennedy in the Big East tourney could end up being the Red Storm's downfall. Gonzaga will start to live up to preseason hype when it matters most.
7 UCLA vs 10 Michigan State (Thursday in Tampa) -- Tom Izzo and Michigan State are tough to beat in the NCAA's. Izzo has led the Spartans to two straight Final Fours. UCLA had a nice bounce back season after missing out on last year's tourney. I'll take Izzo and MSU.
8 Butler vs 9 Old Dominion (Thursday in Washington, D.C.) -- The Monarchs are another experienced, mid-major team that could be a force in the tourney. ODU knocked off Notre Dame last year and ODU will take out Butler this year. Butler is not the same team that made last year's final and ODU will expose that fact.
1 Pittsburgh vs 9 Old Dominion (Saturday in Washington, D.C.) -- Pitt is a gritty team and if they rebound the ball well, the Panthers will be tough to beat. ODU will be playing close to home in D.C. but Pitt is too good.
2 Florida vs 10 Michigan State (Saturday in Tampa) -- The Gators will ride the home court to beat the Spartans. The Gators are led by forward Chandler Parsons and UF will barely get past MSU (more above).
3 BYU vs 11 Gonzaga (Saturday in Denver) -- Elias Harris is a star in waiting for the Zags and could have a breakout performance against the Cougars. BYU without Davies will be heading home to Provo (with its head held high for sticking to its Honor Code).
4 Wisconsin vs 12 Utah State (Saturday in Tucson) -- Another upset to round out the bracket. The Badgers are an old-fashioned team with a great point guard. The Aggies are the pick thanks to an experienced team and a tremendous 30 win season.
You can follow David on twitter @DavidNBCMiami.