University of Vermont, America East Conference, No. 13 in Austin Region Vermont has made three straight NCAA tournaments to no end whatsoever. But don't be so quick to assume the Catamounts are just another Central Florida or Fairleigh Dickinson, a mysterious team from parts unknown that shows up each March despite lacking any discernible hoopin' ability. There's something insidious breeding in the Green Mountain State. The Vermont Catamounts have reached the incubation stage of Gonzaga syndrome.
Pissant conference? Yup. Stealthily nestled in remote corner of the United States? Can't get much remoter. Phalanx of interchangeable, floppily coiffed white guys? Oh, yeah. Scarily fawning media attention? Of course—the Vermont basketball program is "what college athletics is truly about at its core."
You probably think that Vermont will die of natural causes before the bug can take hold. After all, local heroes Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine will graduate this year and beloved coach Tom Brennan is set to retire after 19 years in Burlington. Get real. When Gonzaga's first wave of tourney darlings—guards Quentin Hall and Matt Santangelo and coach Dan Monson—left town, the small Jesuit school got stronger, expanding its recruiting territory and corralling higher national rankings. Soon, the all-powerful Catamounts will be shaking down New Hampshire, Maine, and Quebec for every teenager over 6-feet-6. They'll become overrated, then underrated, then overrated again. They'll be called "plucky." I hate pluck.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For Gonzaga syndrome to progress, the school has to make the Sweet 16. If Vermont loses in the first round, they'll never threaten us again: America, meet the next Fairleigh Dickinson.—Mike DeBonis
University of North Carolina, Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 1 in Syracuse Region As a flatlander, I typically root against the entire Atlantic seaboard, or, when I'm in a more expansive mood, everyone east of the Mississippi and west of the Rockies. Picking just one team out of 65 to root against is normally a challenge. But this year I'm focusing my hate.
Watching Roy Williams lead North Carolina to a national championship after he tortured my beloved Kansas Jayhawks for 15 seasons would ruin my favorite time of the year. I watched Roy cry when he lost in the second round as a No. 1 seed to UTEP and to Rhode Island. I watched him cry when he lost, five times, to the eventual NCAA champion. I watched him cry when he went home to coach his alma mater. I don't want to watch him cry as he cuts down the nets for the first time with somebody else. Instead, I'd like to watch him cry as he does something else he's never done in his coaching career: Lose in the first round. Cry, Roy, cry, in shame and humiliation, as your team is felled by the 13-18 Oakland Golden Grizzlies.
If Roy and the Tar Heels do make a title run, I hope they meet Eddie Sutton and Oklahoma State in the championship game. It would be a matchup of the Marty Schottenheimer and Chuck Knox of college hoops—a Thunderdome battle to determine the Best Coach Without a Title. At tip-off, Sutton and Williams would be tied with 40 tournament wins and no championships. And when the buzzer sounds, Roy will be alone, the Winningest Loser of them all.—Chris Suellentrop
Villanova University, Big East Conference, No. 5 in Syracuse Region Twenty years ago this April, Villanova pulled off one of the greatest upsets in tournament history. The Wildcats beat seemingly invincible Georgetown and Patrick Ewing thanks to once-in-a-lifetime shooting and the lack of a shot clock.
Villanova's victory was a crushing blow for aficionados of the thuggish game gradually perfected by Ewing, Michael Graham, et al. For hardcore hoopsters, the brutality of John Thompson's charges came as a much-needed counterpoint to Magic Johnson's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" approach in L.A. The Hoyas transcended race, winning fans with resolutely unattractive play that destroyed opponents' will. Media criticism only boosted Georgetown's punk rock standing. So, when they lost the title to a team straight outta Pleasantville it was enough to make you think the world had lost its way.
Clearly, head coach/mafia don look-alike Rollie Massimino made a deal with the devil—Lucifer surely was familiar with the Catholic school. After the apocalyptic upset, things went downhill fast in Philly. Point guard Gary McLain admitted he was high on cocaine during the Final Four and the team's visit to the White House. Massimino left town in 1992, only to be forced out of jobs at UNLV and Cleveland State after a string of ethically challenged, loss-filled seasons.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats continue to pay off that contract with Beelzebub. In the two decades since their Satan-fueled upset, Villanova has advanced past the second round only once. Their debt still hasn't been repaid. Let's go, New Mexico.—Robert Weintraub