The ball will be tipped Thursday at 12:15 p.m. when Michigan faces Colorado State and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament will begin in earnest. No offense to the First Four, but the games in Dayton remain college hoops’ version of the “kiddie table.”
Teams from Texas got to fly to Ohio for Tuesday night’s game only to fly back to Fort Worth for a game Thursday evening. Makes perfect sense in the NCAA’s mindset. Next to the 9:40 p.m. Sunday night tips, the sending of schools to another site before the main draw is my biggest beef with my favorite sporting event of the year at this time.
In a perfect world, the last four automatic qualifiers and the last four at-large teams would be sent to their eventual respective first round sites.
It would cut on travel for sure, especially this year with two teams flying from Dayton to San Diego and another to Portland. And especially when one game goes into double overtime (like Notre Dame-Rutgers) and the winner has less than 36 hours of turnaround time with the cross-country flight baked in.
Plus, part of what’s awesome about the NCAA Tournament is that everybody — from Gonzaga to Texas A&M Corpus Christi — shares the same stage, even if just for one moment.
It’s what the Women’s NCAA Tournament is doing this week (Howard facing Incarnate World at South Carolina’s gym Wednesday, before advancing to play the Gamecocks Friday). With a “neutral” site in play, it makes even more sense. The men have taken cues from the women in the past (see the pod system), and they’d be wise to do it again.
The West Region has Gonzaga as its No. 1 seed for the third straight tournament and fifth time in ten years (they probably would have scored a No. 1 in the West in 2020 before COVID-19 benched the NCAA’s).
And while the Bulldogs don’t enter the tournament unbeaten like they did last year, they boast All-American forward Drew Timme plus all-world seven-footer Chet Holmgren (14 points with 10 rebounds per game, while shooting 61% and 41% from 3-point range).
The region also includes under-seeded Boise State (a No. 8 even though they finished in the AP Top 25), a 13-loss No. 6 seed in Alabama and one-time Cinderella Vermont (my brother who used to live in Burlington still calls me every year to remind me about 2005).
Bold: Davidson enters the field fresh off a 64-62 loss in the Atlantic 10 Championship game against Richmond. But coach Bob McKillop’s team can score in bunches, ranking seventh nationally in 3-point shooting.
They also have a floor general by the name of Foster Loyer, who transferred to the A-10 school from … Michigan State. Yeah, the NCAA never “sets up specific matchups for theater.” And while revenge is a dish best served cold, turnovers can burn your mouth: Loyer’s former team loses the ball 13.1 times per game, the most in the Big Ten.
Fold: You may have heard that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will be retiring after this season. You may recall that they climbed to the top of the rankings in Nov. and have been a top 10 team all year. And there’s a ton of talent on this roster.
But they haven’t looked sharp since their regular season finale against North Carolina and their second round showdown will come against either rough-and-tumble Michigan State or the hyper-efficient Davidson. Either way, it doesn’t feel great for the Blue Devils.
Gold: Texas Tech lost head coach Chris Beard to Texas in the offseason and it felt like more of the same old caste system in the Lone Star State, where the Longhorns get the best of all worlds and the Red Raiders get the leftovers and hand-me-downs.
But nobody told Mark Adams, who played at Tech for Gerald Myers in the 70s before embarking on a long and winding career that includes being the owner of the now-defunct Lubbock Cotton Kings hockey team.
After serving as Beard’s assistant for five seasons, White guided the Red Raiders to a season sweep of his former boss’s new school plus a 25-9 mark thanks to a defense that ranks 11th in Division I. In a bracket where all eyes are on Gonzaga and Duke, Texas Tech gets it done.