The brackets are filled - only to soon be busted.

The players are ready - only for half of them to head right home a day later.

The alumni are excited - only to reach for the tissue box if their team falls short.

It can all only mean one thing: Madness is upon us.

March Madness, that is, as Thursday marks the start of one of America's favorite sports traditions: more formally known as the NCAA Men's Division 1 Basketball Championship.

Each year, 68 teams enter the single-elimination tournament to crown college basketball's champion. With match-ups played from coast to coast, spanning three weeks, and with some days featuring as many as 12 straight hours of simultaneous games, it's a hoops lover's dream come true.

At Guinness World Records, it's no different, despite one very important point. Due to the fact that the NCAA operates an entirely amateur competition, any records stemming from competitive achievement within the college game are not eligible for Guinness World Records feats. This is to allow a standardizable measuring stick to be used for performance-related records in all sports, by only measuring those which happen at a professional or pre-eminent amateur (i.e. Olympics) level.

Still, basketball at the collegiate level acts as both crystal ball and incubator. It is during March Madness that many players forge their legends and carve paths to eventual record-breaking greatness as professionals. These next few weeks will offer a glimpse of future stars and the potential they hold, a phenomenon we have witnessed for generations.

Take, for example, Michael Jordan. "His Airness" celebrated his 50th birthday last month, which offered an opportunity to look back at his record-breaking career. We probably should have known good things were coming when Jordan, as a freshman, hit this now-iconic game-winning shot over Georgetown to win North Carolina the 1982 title.

Unlike Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain -- whose list of basketball records runs into double digits -- unfortunately played his college ball from 1956-58, before many of his great performances could be captured on video.

Also unfortunate were some of the tactics used by opponents to stifle the great big man in his NCAA tournament appearances. These included triple-teaming him on every possession and also holding the ball for minutes at a time so that Chamberlain's Kansas Jayhawks wouldn't be able to get the ball back -- a common tactic before the sport adopted the shot clock years later. Chamberlain later said in a biography that his team's loss in the 1957 title game was the most painful of his life, surely motivating him for future success.

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Other players, both all-time legends and modern-day heroes, used March Madness as a springboard to greatness.

Bill Russell, the man with more NBA championships (11) than anyone else, played collegiately at the University of San Francisco. To nobody's surprise in hindsight, Russell led the Dons to national titles in 1955 and 1956, averaging both more than 20 points and rebounds per game in his college career.

Current three-time defending NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant only played one year in college, but made his mark felt, too. In his lone, freshman campaign, Durant won numerous national player of the year honors, and scored 57 combined points in his Texas Longhorns' two Madness games played before elimination in 2007. And Carmelo Anthony, currently second in the NBA in scoring and record holder for the most 3-pointers made in an Olympic game, flashed his prowess in college, winning a national championship for Syracuse as the team's leading scorer in 2003.

It's anybody's guess what future superstar we'll see on display in these next few weeks. Names like Ben McLemore, Otto Porter, or Victor Oladipo may not mean much yet to those who don't follow college basketball.

But if March has taught us anything over the years, it's that they very soon just might.