Four highly rated men's college basketball teams survived the first two weeks of the single-elimination U.S. men's national tournament known as "March Madness" and are prepared to square off in the so-called Final Four. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is in Atlanta, Georgia to see which will win the coveted title and has a report.
One of the reasons this hugely popular 65-team tournament became known as "March Madness" is because year after year lower seeded schools found a way to upset the favorites. They did not necessarily win the title, but they stopped the dreams of many and often reached the Final Four.
This year, however, is different. Defending champion Florida, last year's runner-up UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles), Ohio State and Georgetown University, located in the nation's capital, are this season's semifinalists. In the four regional playoffs to determine the Final Four, Florida and Ohio State were both top seeds, while UCLA and Georgetown were second seeds. Combined, these are the highest rated teams in the Final Four since 1933.
Because of the format where one loss sends a team home, it is rare for a college to win back-to-back titles. The last to do it was Duke University of North Carolina in 1991 and 1992. It has become even more difficult to repeat in recent years because many star players leave their colleges early to become professionals in the National Basketball Association.
It was very surprising that after Florida won last year, its star underclassmen decided to stay in school instead of opt for huge salaries in the NBA. They said they were enjoying college life, did not want the pressures of becoming pros and wanted to try to defend their title.
Florida coach Billy Donovan has tried to make it worth their while.
"I really have worked very very hard on my end to make sure that they enjoy and have fun with the competition part of it and enjoy it," he said. "I think that these guys have had a great time. I see them having as much fun and enjoyment this year as last year. And, you know what, that may be the hardest thing to do."
In one semifinal Florida will take on UCLA, the team it beat to win last year's championship. UCLA last won the national title in 1995. The other semifinal features Ohio State against Georgetown. Ohio State's only men's college basketball title came 47 years ago.
Georgetown won its only title in 1984 under John Thompson. He is the father of the current current coach, John Thompson III. Located in the nation's capital, basketball fans in Washington have watched the team go from being unranked to being highly rated this season.
Coach Thompson knows some even think his team has the talent to win it all.
"I am just so proud of these guys. You know, it kind of played out this year, in many ways, as I thought it would," he said. "I knew we would get better as the year went on. I knew we would get better and have a chance to be very, very good by the time this time of year rolled around. And those guys, they believe in us, and that is special."
And for Saturday's Final Four winners, it will be very special to play here for the championship Monday night.