For sports fans, this month is one of the best of the calendar year. March brings us the return of March Madness.

With a field of 68 teams, the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament presents numerous storylines. Some of the stories will fade away while others are born as the tourney proceeds until a national champion is crowned on April 8th.

Here are a few of the storylines that have caught my attention so far. Again, there will be more as we move closer to April.

Can Tennessee or Purdue make a March breakthrough? There always seems to be discussion around coaches or programs who have reputations for coming up short in March. These two programs fit that narrative. And they both are top 10 programs this season. And they happen to be in the same region. Purdue was on the wrong side of history a year ago when they became just the second No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament history to get bounced in the first round by crashing hard against Fairleigh Dickinson. That marked the third consecutive year that Purdue was knocked out by a double-digit seed, following a Sweet 16 loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in 2022 and a first-round exit against No. 13 seed North Texas in 2021. The Boilermakers look better this year and are once again a No. 1 seed. Fair or not, Purdue’s recent tourney flameouts combined with the fact that the program hasn’t been to the Final Four means that anything less than playing on the final weekend will be viewed as a failure.

March Madness

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes will make the Hall of Fame one day. He recently became the 15th coach in NCAA men’s basketball history to amass 800 wins at the Division I level. In his nine seasons in Knoxville, he’s turned the Volunteers into one of the premier programs in the SEC. Yet when most fans think of Barnes, their first thought is his shortcomings in March. Barnes owns a mediocre 27-27 career record in the NCAA Tournament, and his reputation as a March underachiever dates back to his time at Texas and Clemson. A Barnes team hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 2008 and his lone Final Four appearance came all the way back in 2003.

With both Purdue and Tennessee in the Midwest Region, could each advance far enough to give us a perception-altering Elite Eight matchup?

My next storyline centers on UConn. Can the Huskies pull off the rare repeat title? No team in men’s college basketball has managed to repeat as Division I national champions since the Florida Gators went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007. In fact, no defending champion since Florida repeated in 2007 has managed to advance further than the Sweet 16 the following year. But the Huskies enter the 2024 tournament as the top overall seed in the field and the favorites to cut down the nets on the final night of the season once again. UConn lost a number of players from last year’s championship team, including leading scorer Adama Sanogo and a pair of NBA draft picks: Jordan Hawkins (No. 14 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans) and Andre Jackson Jr. (No. 36 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks). On paper, there doesn’t seem like a better, more balanced team in the country than the Huskies. But there’s a reason why it’s been so long since we’ve had a repeat national champion: winning six games in a row in this single-elimination format that breeds so much chaos is extremely difficult, no matter how good you are.

This last one interests me as I watched alot of Mountain West Conference basketball. Trust me, it is a very underrated conference. San Diego State put the conference on the map last year by making it to the Final Game.

The dream of a six-bid Mountain West in this year’s NCAA Tournament became a reality as San Diego State, Utah State, Nevada, Boise State, New Mexico and Colorado State all had their names called. Six bids tied the same amount as the Big Ten and behind only the Big 12 and the SEC, who are each sending eight teams to the Big Dance.

Just a few things to watch for this year. Trust me, there will be more. More stories.