The parity in NCAA men's college basketball this winter has made for an exciting regular season and what should be an even more intriguing 2011 tournament when March Madness gets underway.
Particularly in the Big East and Big Ten Conferences, the parity has made for ultra-competitive games and exciting viewership.
In the Big East, Pitt has shown legitimate promise of reaching the Final Four with a team balance that is even more impressive than what the Panthers showed during their run into the Elite Eight two years ago. Playing without their best player, guard Ashton Gibbs, in early to mid-February, the Panthers posted a couple character-building and character-revealing back-to-back road wins at West Virginia and at Villanova.
The name of Big 12 Conference power Texas has been bandied about for the top ranking in the country, but Pitt beat Texas in a season-opening tournament back at Madison Square Garden back in November.
Then in January, Pitt was beaten in a Big East game at home by a Notre Dame team that should make its presence felt this March.
Throw in the fact that NCAA regulars Villanova, WVU, Georgetown, Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette are all candidates to be in the tournament hunt - along with an extremely dangerous St. John's team that owns upset wins over Pitt and Duke, and the Big East this year is shaping up as the Big Beast.
Syracuse has had a particularly crazy season, winning its first 18, then averting what would have been a school-record fifth straight loss under Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim by beating Connecticut. The Orange also avoided becoming the school's first team to lose four straight home games since 1963 when they beat West Virginia at the Carrier Dome.
The Big Ten has also provided its share of thrills. One of the largest was Wisconsin's erasing a 15-point deficit to upend visiting Ohio State and knock the Buckeyes from the unbeaten ranks. Two nights later, Big 12 representative Kansas had the top spot in the rankings before being battered on the road by state rival Kansas State.
March Madness is arguably the best single sporting event in the world, and, because of all the regular-season parity, this year's tournament should be among the most interesting ever.
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org