Richie Whitt, CBSDFW.COM

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Two of my favorite words each year: Spring forward.

In exchange for an hour of sleep every March we’re rewarded with the annual rites of the changing of the season. From dark, dank, dreary Winter into Spring. A time when the days grow longer and lawn mowers begin humming and golf courses turn green and college basketball takes sports’ center stage.

Baseball begins spring training. Football embarks on free agency, with the draft not far behind. And from here you can get a teasing whiff of the NBA Playoffs.

But make no mistake, March is for Madness. And the NCAA Basketball Tournament always delivers – Dick Vitale notwithstanding – as three of the greatest weeks on the sports calendar each year.

It’s everything we love about sports. Kids competing for pride. Do-or-die, Game 7 drama. David vanquishing Goliath. It’s George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth advancing to the Final Four. It’s Butler playing in consecutive National Championship Games. It’s Morehead State beating Louisville. It’s a college championship decided by an actual tournament rather than human opinions and computer data.

When college football finally matures, its postseason will grow up to be college basketball. While football is mired in a system in which there is one title game and 30-something consolation exhibitions, basketball determines a real winner via on-court play oozing more twists, turns and real drama than Khloe & Lamar can dream about.

If you don’t embrace the madness, you must be crazy. And lonely.

In the first hour after this year’s brackets were unveiled Sunday night, almost 1 million people signed up for ESPN’s online contest. And as this year’s tournament gets rolling tonight with first-round play-in games, royalty and power will be front and center. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron will attend tonight’s game between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky in Dayton, Ohio. NATO and the upcoming G-8 summit be damned, March is a time for college hoops.

And after last week’s wild conference tournaments, this year’s Madness appears as wide as ever.

Kentucky, led by potential NBA Draft picks 1-2 Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, is the favorite to cut down the nets in the New Orleans Superdome April 2. But the Wildcats, like potential No. 1 seeds North Carolina, Syracuse and Kansas, lost in their conference tournament to greatly diminish their apparent invincibility.

Still, seems unthinkable – if not impossible – to not go with the chalk when filling out your bracket. But, remember, the only time four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was in 2008 and last year the seed numbers combined of the teams to make the Final Four was 26, highest ever.

My bracket looks thusly: Kentucky will win the South, beating Baylor in an entertaining regional final between long, lean, athletic teams. It might just be the best game of the tournament.

In the West I have Missouri surviving, beating a Louisville team that upends No. 1 seed Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen.

In the East it’s Florida State beating No. 1 seed Syracuse in a game in the 50s to reach the Final Four, and in the Midwest I have North Carolina blowing out Kansas in the regional final.

My Final Four: Kentucky, Missouri, Florida State and North Carolina. That’s two No. 1s, and No. 2 and a No. 3. And I think the No. 3 – Florida State – will win this whole thing. They’ve got veteran guards with 3-point range in Deividas Dulkys and Luke Loucks, players who can create shots off the dribble against the shot clock like Michael Snaer and athletic big men who can rebound in traffic and finish around the rim like Bernard James and Okaro White. The Seminoles this year beat Duke and North Carolina twice each, including wins last weekend on consecutive days in the ACC Tournament. Leonard Hamilton’s team plays rugged man-to-man defense and has the luxury of an experienced roster loaded with six seniors. Florida State advanced to the Sweet Sixteen last year, and this year can use that wisdom to win the first basketball National Championship in school history.

Chances are, of course, that I’ll be dead wrong.

After all, how can you predict a tournament that in the past has produced Valpo’s Bryce Drew at the buzzer in ’98, Bill Walton going 21-of-22 for UCLA in ’73, Loyola-Marymount’s inspirational run after the death of Hank Gathers in ’90, Chris Webber’s oops timeout for Michigan in ’93, game-winners in New Orleans by Indiana’s Keith Smart in ’87 and North Carolina’s Michael Jordan in ’82, Magic-Bird in ’79 and, of course, Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beater from the top of the key that vaulted Duke into the ‘92 Final Four over Kentucky, 104-103?

Trying to predict one of the most unpredictable events in sports is insane. Which is precisely why we love it.

Get ready for Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg and Jim Nantz and live look-ins and truTV and, just think, after New Orleans this year and the Georgia Dome next April, all this fun descends upon Cowboys Stadium in Arlington in 2014. I say bring it on. All of it.

Because just how insane is Spring?

Dorks named Mark Elfenbein and Richie Whitt will serve as Grand Marshals for Saturday’s Greenville Avenue/St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dallas.

Let March’s Madness commence.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS Local. All Rights Reserved.)

Editors Note: Find exclusive NCAA Tournament News here. Enter the ASUS Bracket Challenge on here.

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