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SMITH COLUMN: This is time that excites hoops fans

March 16, 2011

Let the Madness begin.
Even though the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament technically started on Tuesday and Wednesday with a couple of play-in games each night, the event gets going in earnest today with a full slate of hoops action on four television networks (CBS, TBS, TNT and Tru-TV).
It's easy to figure out why basketball has been on my mind more than usual this week.
While some of it has to do with the Starkville Daily News announcing its high school girls and boys All-Area basketball teams, most of it has to do with the anticipation of the NCAA Tournament, one of my favorite times of the year.
Football and baseball are probably at the top of my list as favorite sports, but there's just something special about the NCAA Tournament in basketball that captures even the casual fan's interest.
It's fun trying to figure out which team is going to be this year's Butler. Those Bulldogs were able to make a run all of the way to the national championship game in 2010, only to be knocked off by Duke in the final.
There are many office pools throughout the country and maybe even in this city that attempt to determine a Final Four and national champion.
For anyone who still needs a bracket before today's fun gets started, there's one located within the pages of this section.
Most people seem to have the four top seeds in the Final Four and Ohio State as the eventual national champion.
Although I agree that the Buckeyes will probably be the final squad left standing on the night of April 4, my Final Four looks a little bit different.
I have Florida in my Final Four. Yes, the same Gators that Mississippi State somehow defeated at Humphrey Coliseum on Jan. 29.
It's definitely going out on a limb to predict Florida as one of the top four teams left at the end of the bracket. It may be just the Southeastern Conference fan in me coming out.
The Gators did win the SEC regular season title, but were beaten by Kentucky in the finals of the SEC Tournament on Sunday.
It just seems Florida has the type of talent to make a run and a coach in Billy Donovan that has two national championship rings on his finger.
Now that I have pinned a rose on the Gators, they will probably get upset by UC Santa Barbara in tonight's session of the Southeast Regional in Tampa, Fla.
It would be nice to see Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt - the five SEC teams in the Big Dance - make a deep run into the tournament.
The other Final Four teams that appeared on my bracket are Ohio State, Kansas and Duke.
If point guard Kyrie Irving is able to return from a toe injury for the defending champion Blue Devils, they can be a very difficult matchup for anyone.
Can Duke defend its championship? Will the four top seeds reach the Final Four? Who will be this year's Cinderella?
The answers to those questions will begin to be revealed over the next few days.
So get the cookers heated up because the action on the basketball court will be and enjoy everything that NCAA Tournament has to offer.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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