The announcement of the field provides a mix of instant drama and deferred opportunities, of equal parts hope and dread.
Selection Sunday is when former BYU center Gary Trost responded to the news that he would be facing LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in the first round by having his mouth drop open and slowly utter, "Oh … my … gosh."
This is like the NFL and NBA drafts, providing an immediate outcome and creating anticipation for the future, except the resolution comes much sooner. In a week, 68 teams will be reduced to 16. In 22 days, a champion will be crowned.
Most of these teams will be gone before long, but for now, they're all on the same starting line. Harvard is just like Duke. South Dakota State is no different from San Diego State. Western Kentucky is in the same conversation with Kentucky.
This is why the NCAA Tournament is unlike any other sporting event. A college football playoff would be fun, but no pairings announcement could ever match the imagine-the-possibilities moment of Selection Sunday. Everybody wants to know: Who is this year's Butler? What are the potential upsets? How many mid-major schools got in? Who was wronged?
Sixty-eight contestants, producing exponentially more stories. Everybody knows somebody with some connection to these schools, right?
There's Saint Louis (former Utah coach Rick Majerus), Southern Mississippi (former Utah State coach Larry Eustachy) and UNLV (former BYU associate head coach Dave Rice).
There's LIU-Brooklyn (where former Jazz forward Carey Scurry played), Creighton (Kyle Korver's alma mater) and Iowa State (Jamaal Tinsley's school).
There's Detroit, Montana and South Dakota State (schools in towns where I'd lived by age 6).
Most of the 68 teams know they're in before Selection Sunday, whether by automatic qualification as conference tournament champions or credentials that obviously merit at-large selections. Yet for the likes of BYU this year or Utah State in 2004, when the Aggies lost to Cal State Northridge in the Big West tournament semifinals and were left out of the NCAA Tournament despite a Top 25 final ranking, Selection Sunday is agonizing.
"You win 25 games and you go 17-1 in your league and everybody says, no matter what, you're in," USU coach Stew Morrill said then. "Well, no matter what happened, we're not in."
Even when the selection comes as expected, the seeding and the opponent can be shocking. Once he learned of BYU's No. 10 seed and that matchup with O'Neal 20 years ago, Trost said, "My answer to all this I don't mind playing against one of the most dominating players in the country as long as it's not my position."
All Shaq did against Trost was post 26 points, 13 rebounds and 11 blocked shots in his second-to-last college game.
Then there were all those years when Utah kept running into Kentucky in the tournament, triggering a natural reflex from Ute fans every Selection Sunday. At last, in 1998, the Wildcats were on the other side of the bracket. That draw enabled the Utes to reach the championship game, only to encounter Kentucky again.
The Wildcats may be back in that position next month. Selection Sunday is sure to anoint them as the No. 1 overall seed. But at least until Tuesday, everybody on that board has a shot.