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Christopher L. Gasper

NCAA Tournament continues a chaotic season

The madness wasn’t reserved for March. It’s been college basketball chaos this season. Don’t expect the NCAA Tournament to restore order.

Buckle up because if the NCAA Tournament is anything like the college basketball season that preceded it then it’s going to be an unpredictable, unbelievable, inscrutable, and thoroughly enjoyable ride. Anyone who is confident about their bracket this year is either clairvoyant or overconfident.

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Seven times this season the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll lost. Five teams held the top spot in the AP poll — the most since 2003-04 — including current No. 1 Gonzaga, the original bracket buster.

This could be the year that someone who fills out their for-entertainment-purposes-only bracket by the methodology of where mascots rank on the food chain or the more desirable vacation locale ends up winning the office pool.

In a season that has defied convention and conventional wisdom, who cuts down the nets in Atlanta on April 8 is anyone’s guess.

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One absolute for the NCAA Tournament is that we won’t have a repeat national champion, which is what happened the last time the Final Four was played at the Georgia Dome in 2007, when Florida defended its title.

John Calipari’s latest group of Hoops Hessians at the University of Kentucky didn’t qualify for the field of 68. Kentucky’s season was a microcosm of the college basketball season as a whole.

The Wildcats, whose tournament hopes took a huge hit when Everett’s Nerlens Noel was lost for the season to a torn ACL, scored a huge win over Florida March 9. But they sullied their résumé six days later with a last-rites loss in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament to Vanderbilt.

How wild has the college basketball landscape been? The No. 1 overall seed is Louisville, a team that at one point lost three consecutive games; the Mountain West is more of a power conference than the Pac-12; and the Atlantic 10 got more bids than the Atlantic Coast Conference.

There are no dominant teams. Louisville (Midwest), Kansas (South), Gonzaga (West), and Indiana (East) were anointed No. 1 seeds. But there is little that separates them from Georgetown, Miami, Duke, Ohio State, Michigan, and a few others.

A mid-major making a Final Four hardly raises an eyebrow anymore. Virginia Commonwealth and Saint Louis are closer to the giants than the giant-killers in this tournament.

Seeded fifth in the South, VCU wreaks havoc under coach Shaka Smart, playing a relentless, suffocating brand of full-court defense that causes turnover rates and opposing coaches’ blood pressure to skyrocket.

A-10 champion Saint Louis is a sentimental favorite. Billikens coach Rick Majerus died in December after being hospitalized for months. The Billikens, the 4-seed in the Midwest, have 11 upperclassmen and a balanced scoring attack. They also have a player with one of the coolest names in college basketball, guard Jordair Jett.

There can be no outraged teams this year about being left out of the field of 68. There are no hardship cases for Dick Vitale to holler about. The committee did its job. This field was its One Shining Moment.

The Little Guys were given equal time and equal access. Middle Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, Boise State, and La Salle are in the field of 68, albeit pitted against each other in the tedious play-in round. Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland are outsiders.

Picks? Let me break out the dartboard and the rosary beads. The only rock-solid prediction I can make is that you will either love or loathe cocksure CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb by the time the tournament is over.

Let’s start with the Midwest. The committee certainly didn’t do Rick Pitino and the Cardinals any favors. The region is full of land mines in Duke, Saint Louis, Michigan State, and Creighton (remember the name Doug McDermott).

This is a chalk regional final with the top-seeded Cardinals meeting second seed Duke in Indianapolis. Led by guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva and center Gorgui Dieng, Louisville has too much depth for the Dukies, even with a healthy Ryan Kelly. Pitino advances to his seventh Final Four and second straight.

The top seed in the South, Kansas is like a day-old cup of coffee — a little weak and prone to go cold. The Jayhawks have the putative No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in Ben McLemore, but they’re a streaky team. I think old friend Roy Williams and North Carolina send them packing in the second round, despite the home-court advantage of Kansas City.

This region could provide the stylistic matchup of the tournament if VCU’s havoc press meets up with unflappable Michigan point guard Trey Burke.

The winner of that game is my pick in the region. I’m going with Michigan.

The East is headlined by the most talented team in the country, Indiana. The Hoosiers have it all with a pair of possible lottery picks in center Cody Zeller and swingman Victor Oladipo, and a smooth point guard in freshman Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell. They also have the easiest draw. The only other true heavyweight is Miami, led by point guard Shane Larkin, son of Barry.

The biggest obstacle for Tom Crean’s club is itself.

The West is wide open. The Cinderella slipper no longer fits Gonzaga, which has gone from underdog to top dog. But neither does the crown of West regional champion.

My pick is New Mexico. The Lobos don’t have a lot of size outside of center Alex Kirk, but they have guard play with Kendall Williams, who dropped 46 in a game this season, and Tony Snell.

The title game will be Louisville vs. Indiana. Even the Fellowship of the Miserable can’t stop Pitino from winning his second national championship.

Somebody has to reign supreme in a season where chaos has been the order of the day.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist and the host of Boston Sports Live. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.
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