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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NCAA Basketball Contenders with the Most to Prove

The NCAA Tournament will have several of the usual suspects there, trying to get March glory. Some of them have already had their success in past years, with little else to prove. But several other NCAA Tournament teams, and national championship contenders, have a lot to prove. They have some painful March history that they have to overcome, or are just struggling to take that next step to greater heights. Here are the NCAA Tournament teams that have the most to prove in March Madness this year, to make up for mistakes of the past.
The Bruins have gotten to the final weekend three straight years, falling short each time. The UCLA senior class is going back to the tournament once again, with one last chance to finally get into immortality. However, the chances of doing that are a long shot.

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UCLA and most of the Pac-10 are down this season, with the Bruins not on many people's national championship list, unlike the last three years. But perhaps now that few people expect the Bruins to go far, they might have better luck. Could the end be any more painful than the last three years was?
Once upon a time, Gonzaga was the Cinderella to end all Cinderellas. Year after year, they got far into the NCAA Tournament against all odds. At least that's how it was when Gonzaga first began their rise to power. But in the last several years, Gonzaga has consistently fell apart when they were a high seed in the tournament. The closest Gonzaga came to matching their old standards was their Sweet 16 collapse against UCLA a few years back. With Gonzaga a top 15 teams again this year, the Bulldogs will again have high hopes to finally get to Elite 8/Final 4 territory. But maybe Gonzaga can only get that far as a double digit seed.
Since when did Duke have a problem in the NCAA Tournament? Since the last several years, apparently. Ever since winning it all in 2001, Duke has flamed out with upset losses in the tournament, except for their Final Four year in 2004. Other than that, Duke has been met with upset defeats in the first round, second round and Sweet 16. The Blue Devils start fast every year and then fall apart, until it doesn't become so shocking for them to lose early in the NCAA's. Will this year be any different at Duke?
The Tar Heels have hardly gone without success in the NCAA Tournament, having reached the Final Four last year.

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But the North Carolina senior class, led by Tyler Hansborough, was so hyped up and acclaimed, that they should have won two national championships already. Instead, North Carolina collapsed in the 2007 Elite Eight, and were blitzed by Kansas in last year's Final Four. This is the last chance for many Tar Heels to claim a national championship that they should have had by now. Once again, North Carolina will be favored to get it. But that favored status has not worked well for the Tar Heels before.

The Pitt Panthers may very well be labeled the number 1 seed of the entire NCAA Tournament when it begins. But this is a lot of pressure to put on Pittsburgh, when the Panthers haven't even gotten over the Sweet 16 hump. Since becoming a traditional Big East power to start the decade, Pittsburgh has only gotten as far as the Sweet 16 on four occasions. For all of the winning done by the Panthers, they have never gotten close to getting over the hump to elite status. This year is probably their best chance by far to do it. Is this finally the year that the Panthers become a national power? Or will Pitt again fail to take that step?