UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Spirit spectacle big part of NCAA games in Denver  

“How do you become a bracketologist?” I was asked the other day. 

“I don’t know,” I had to admit. Then, I offered: 

“Maybe you lock yourself in a room with a dozen TVs, from sometime in November through the following early March; watch as many college basketball games as possible (which means at least a half-dozen most nights); and, based on what you see, continually guess at which teams will make it into March Madness and where they’ll start play.” 

The question is particularly timely for two reasons. 

First, the 68-team field for the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament—The Road to The Final Four, as CBS calls it—will be revealed on Sunday (Selection Sunday, as it’s come to be known, thanks to CBS).

Second (and closely related), Denver will host some first- and second-round games this year, which means eight teams will be coming to the Mile High City—Ball Arena will be the site—on March 17 and 19. 

My bracketologist of choice is Jerry Palm of (naturally) CBS, once again the lead network in the tournament’s buzzer-to-buzzer television coverage. 

With most of the 32 conference tournaments to be decided this week—the outcomes of which will result in further revisions to the final pairings since upsets are inevitable and tourney winners get automatic bids, Palm predicts these matchups for us: 

Mysterious Kentucky, alternatingly great then disappointing, vs. Boise State, slotted a 10h seed but “on the bubble,” in Palm’s view (meaning they might not make it); and Kansas State, which split with Kansas and Texas but swept Baylor, in Big 12 play, vs. North Carolina-Ashville, regular-season and conference tournament champ of the Big South, in part of the South Regional—the winners meeting for the right to join survivors from Albany (NY), Greensboro and Sacramento.

Texas, two games behind winner Kansas in the Big 12 standings, vs. Colgate (the university, not the toothpaste); and Creighton, third in the tough Big East and a Final Four sleeper, vs. Southern Cal, which beat the CU Buffs twice this season en route to a third-place finish behind UCLA and Arizona in the PAC 12, in part of the Midwest Regional, with these winners facing off to join those who advance from Greensboro (NC), Sacramento and Birmingham. 

This, of course, is the time of year when those who specialize in forecasting the near future are front and center in the sports world. 

Besides college basketball bracketologists, we’re inundated with the “mock drafts” postulated by self-proclaimed NFL draft experts who continually guess which teams will choose which college stars in the first round in late April. 

Bracketologists are more accurate, but we won’t know for sure which teams the tournament committee is sending here until Selection Sunday. (It’s easier to pick which teams will make it into The Dance, than it is to say exactly who will play whom and where.)

Regardless, next Friday and Sunday will be exciting days in Denver for anyone who follows college basketball—or anyone who enjoys high-level competition and exhilarating, colorful intercollegiate spirit on full display. 

This will be the sixth time some part of March Madness has been played in Denver since Ball Arena opened (as Pepsi Center), and based on past attendance, I recommend trying to attend if you possibly can get a ticket.

Here’s what you can expect if you go, or what you’ll miss if you don’t: 

Each school’s pep band will intermittently fill the arena with lively (and loud) fight songs, competing in their own musical way with their counterparts from the opposing school. 

The cheerleaders and costumed mascots —Wildcats, Steers, Trojans, Bears, Hawkeyes and the like—will do their best to whip supporters into a frenzy and spur their teams to victory. 

Acrobatic pep squads will perform truly eye-popping gymnastic stunts during timeouts. (One of the best parts, for me.) 

And fans dressed in all manner of school garb, some with signs of support or maybe faces painted, will exhort their heroes to prevail despite whatever adversity they may encounter. 

It will be like attending one of every team’s home games—at the same time! 

The two teams that advance to the next weekend’s Sweet Sixteen will travel to Louisville (South Regional) and Kansas City (Midwest), hoping to go all the way to the Final Four in Houston April 1. 

But if you live in Denver and don’t have a favorite team in the fray, that’s almost secondary to the pageantry coming to Ball Arena.  

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.