We are almost there.
The 2012 Final Four will tip off next Saturday in New Orleans.
I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to this year's national semifinals and final game more than any time in the recent past.
Great teams. Storied programs. Legendary coaches. Elite-level players.
It's all here!
Even with the two remaining Elite Eight games today, we have some absolutely captivating stories that will unfold before our eyes.
Here are the 10 most intriguing stories remaining in 2012 March Madness.
In the most recent years, we have grown accustomed to Cinderella showing up at the Final Four.
We are used to teams that, based on their season record and seeding, "didn't belong."
Brad Stevens (pictured) led Butler to the last two Final Fours.
The school from Indianapolis was the textbook definition of Cinderella stories.
Butler was the first team in tournament history to make it to back-to-back Final Fours with not being seeded No. 1 or No. 2 in either season.
They were the first non-power conference program to reach the championship game in back-to-back seasons since the 1960-61 and 1961-62 Cincinnati Bearcats.
They were the first team to reach the championship game without being ranked in the final college basketball polls since the 1987-1988 University of Kansas team.
This year, we don't have a true Cinderella story.
Louisville (No. 4 seed) and Ohio State (No. 2 seed) have already advanced to the 2012 Final Four.
Today, we will find out who fills the other two places for the national semifinal games to be played next Saturday.
Kentucky (No. 1 seed) or Baylor (No. 3 seed)?
Kansas (No. 2 seed) or North Carolina (No. 1 seed)?
Even though Baylor (30-7) doesn't have the college hoops pedigree of the other schools, it does not fit the role of Cinderella story.
Maybe Cinderella will make an appearance again next year at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
What a great year to be a Baylor Bear athletics fan.
The football program finished the season 10-3, 6-3 in Big 12 play to finish in a tie for third place with Oklahoma (who they defeated during the season).
The 10 wins tied a school record for wins in a season while the 6-3 conference record is its best since joining the Big 12.
On top of that, Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III won this year's Heisman Trophy.
The women's basketball program is currently posting a 37-0 record, ranked No. 1 and will be playing this coming week in the Elite Eight.
The Lady Bears have a better-than-decent chance of winning the school's second NCAA women's championship. Current head coach Kim Mulkey led Baylor to win the 2005 title.
Finally, the men's basketball program (30-7) is also playing in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years (also in 2010).
Can you imagine if the Bears beat Kentucky today and advance to this year's men's Final Four?
They will be going whacko in Waco, for sure.
No other college basketball program besides Kentucky has had four different coaches win NCAA championships.
The Big Blue nation has seen their team cut down the nets under the leadership of Adolph Rupp (pictured; 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1958), Joe B. Hall (1978), Rick Pitino (1996) and Tubby Smith (1998).
Could current Wildcats head coach John Calipari add his name this year to this illustrious list of sideline heroes?
Many college basketball analysts and fans consider Kentucky to be the favorite to win the 2012 NCAA championship in New Orleans.
Before they start cutting down those nets, they have to beat Baylor in the Elite Eight.
If they are able to do that, they will face cross-state rivals Louisville, where Rick Pitino now coaches.
Can you say, "Pressure"?
Rick Pitino has had a fantastic college basketball coaching career.
During this past season, Pitino crossed over the 600-win mark.
He holds the distinction of being the only men's coach in NCAA history to lead three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville) to a Final Four.
With leading the Cardinals to this year's Final Four, Pitino could become the first coach to win a Division I championship at more than one school.
To do so, the Cardinals will have to beat the South Region champion (Kentucky vs. Baylor) before having a chance to win it all.
Few coaches have been as successful as Thad Matta.
Matta is one of just two coaches nationally to post 20 or more wins in each of his first 11 seasons as a head coach.
He has led Ohio State to four Big Ten Conference regular-season championships, three Big Ten tournament titles and a runner-up finish in the 2007 NCAA championship.
Unfortunately, until you win the big one, some people don't view you as a full-fledged success.
The Buckeyes have advanced to this year's Final Four in New Orleans. Next Saturday, they will face the winner of the Midwest Region finals (North Carolina vs. Kansas).
OSU has plenty of talent to advance to this year's championship game. Now, they have to take care of business on the court at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
I don't know if the selection committee purposely tries to create storylines.
If they do, I'm going to need to send Jeffrey Hathaway (chair) and the other nine members a "thank you" card.
I think it is awesome that Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels are facing the Kansas Jayhawks today in the Midwest Region finals.
Williams coached KU for 15 seasons, won over 400 games there, but never brought an NCAA championship back to Lawrence.
Some of the Jayhawk faithful have never forgiven Roy for leaving town to go to North Carolina.
Even for those who have, today's game is a great opportunity to release any lingering frustrations towards the Tar Heel sidelines.
Regardless, this will be an intense battle between two of college basketball's legendary programs.
But it will be even better because it's Roy vs KU.
I saw this picture and almost fell out of my chair laughing.
Not only does Calipari look like he is "busting a move" during a recent game, but his assistant coach looks like he doesn't approve of something.
Maybe it's Coach Cal's awkward sideline steps?
And, yes, for those of you who are so intense that you think that this was a waste of a slide, you need to change to decaf and lighten up.
Enjoy March Madness!
USA Today's Steve Weiberg said it best: "All eyes remain focused on Kendall Marshall's wrist."
Marshall's injury (broken right wrist) has been one of the most followed stories during this year's March Madness.
Even if he is able to play today, will North Carolina be able to beat Kansas and advance to the Final Four?
One of the keys to Final Four success is usually great point guard play.
This year will not be an exception.
The two teams that have already punched their ticket for New Orleans (Ohio State and Louisville) have big-time PGs
Aaron Craft may be the best on-ball defender in the college hoops.
During the 2011-12 season, Craft was No. 12 in the nation with 2.4 steals per game.
However, don't think that the 6'2'' sophomore is a one-dimensional role player.
He also averages 8.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 4.6 APG.
Craft's 2.2 assists-to-turnover ratio shows that he takes care of the ball at a very high level.
Peyton Siva is regarded as one of the top floor leaders in the nation.
Just a few weeks ago, the six-footer from Seattle was named the 2012 Big East Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Siva is a gritty competitor who averages 9.1 PPG, 3.3 RPG and 5.5 APG.
The list of possible PGs that may join these two in New Orleans is impressive:
- Baylor: Pierre Jackson
- Kentucky: Marquis Teague
- UNC: Kendall Marshall
- Kansas: Tyshawn Taylor
It doesn't matter which of these four also make it to the Final Four. We are in for a real treat when it comes to seeing some of the best floor generals in the country go to war in the Big Easy.
Immediately following Ohio State's disappointing loss during last year's NCAA tournament, Jared Sullinger announced that he was returning to Columbus to work on his game and try to win an NCAA championship.
Many people around college basketball condescendingly took a "We'll believe that one when we see it" approach.
Sullinger kept his word and has helped Ohio State get to the Final Four.
The 6'9" sophomore is just one of the players who are likely candidates for this year's Most Outstanding Player (MOP) award.
Connecticut's Kemba Walker was last year's MOP.
Usually, the best player on the team that cuts down the nets is the winner.
Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston, 1983) was the last player to win the award despite not being on the championship team.
This year's Final Four is full of future NBA'ers.
The 2012 MOP may be an improbable individual that simply catches fire in New Orleans.
There's no way of telling yet!
Even before the last two 2012 Final Four teams are determined today, Vegas has spoken:
- Kentucky (7/4)
- Ohio State (2/1)
- Kansas (6/1)
- North Carolina (13/2)
- Louisville (7/1)
- Baylor (12/1)
All of this will be reshuffled depending on who wins today's games (Kentucky vs. Baylor and North Carolina vs. Kansas).