Break out the brackets and pens! And fire up the nachos and wings (preferably an 8-to-4 drumstick to flat ratio)! Selection Sunday has passed which means we are on the clock to get our picks in for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Back in the field after a year’s absence is Maryland. The Terrapins get the No. 8 seed in the South Region and a first round date with West Virginia.
“This time of year is amazing for college basketball … it’s also heartbreaking for the teams that didn’t get in,” Coach Kevin Willard said. “I think you have to enjoy that aspect of hearing your name called. It was kind of nice being the third team called, it was kind of anti-climactic, actually.”
Major props to Willard for putting together a roster over the spring and summer that would come together and win 11 Big Ten games while posting a record of 21-12.
“These kids bought into our culture, they bought into our style,” Willard said. “I’ve said it all along, they’ve been one of the best teams to coach because they have a great attitude and they work hard.”
As mentioned, the Terrapins face West Virginia (19-14, 7-11 Big 12) and they tip off Thursday’s action at 12:15 p.m. in Birmingham, Alabama. If they beat the Mountaineers, they’d likely face overall No. 1 seed Alabama. The road to the tournament isn’t easy, and neither is the road in the tournament.
Virginia (25-7, 15-5 ACC) is back after a year’s absence as well, earning the No. 4 seed in the South and a first round game with Furman (27-7, 15-3 Southern), which is dealing with a little bit longer of an NCAA drought: try 43 years!
The Paladins last made the field in 1980; that was the tail-end of a ten-year stretch where they made the tournament six times. The Cavaliers are coming off of a 59-49 loss to Duke in the ACC Championship Game that underscored an offense (33% shooting and 4-17 from three) that’s had issues all season putting points on the board.
UVA faces Furman at 12:40 p.m. Thursday in Orlando, with the winner playing San Diego State or the College of Charleston on Saturday.
The South Regional provides plenty of possibilities with streaky Creighton (the 21-12 Bluejays had a six-game losing streak and an eight game winning streak this season), fading Baylor (the 22-10 Bears enter the tournament having dropped four of six) plus Pac-12 Tournament champ Arizona (28-6). Play technically begins Tuesday night in Dayton as Southeast Missouri State (19-16) faces Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-10) with the winner being fed to — I mean playing — No. 1 seed Alabama.
Instead of picking every single game in this space (don’t worry complete picks will be tweeted after I take a nap this week), we’ll present our Bold (which team wins a game or two beyond its seeding), Fold (who disappoints) and Gold (who goes to New Orleans and the Final Four) picks.
It’s easy to get behind the College of Charleston. I’ve seen them play in-person during the CAA Tournament and have even posed for pictures with Clyde the Cougar mascot (last year I got to wave the flag too). But the 31-win team is also a three-point shooting machine (10th in makes and 2nd in attempts in all of Division I). They shoot threes to get hot, and then they shoot threes to stay hot.
They also play six hours down the road in Orlando while their first round foe San Diego State has to fly across three time zones (the 12:10 p.m. PDT start isn’t deadly, but far from ideal for the Aztecs). If they get to the second round, they’ll likely face an offensively challenged Virginia team.
Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament and doesn’t have to travel far to Sacramento for the first weekend. But defense is what needs to travel in March and the Wildcats rank 224th nationally in scoring defense (71.5 points per game). While Princeton won’t necessarily push the Cats to the limit, the second round brings either Missouri (29th in scoring) or Utah State (40th).
Alabama’s mascot is an elephant, which is fitting this March because the elephant in the room is the status of the Crimson Tide’s best player Brandon Miller. Off the court, the All American candidate was linked to a deadly shooting involving a former teammate. On the court, the 6-foot-9 freshman has not missed a game, and he’s helped the Tide rank 10th in the nation in scoring and eighth in rebounding margin.
The tournament’s overall No. 1 seed also begins in Birmingham (from which I understand is in the state of Alabama) and tips off their tournament run against a team that’s just flown in from Dayton. While it’s difficult to see questions surrounding Miller going away, it’s also tough to see the Crimson Tide not reaching Louisville for the Regional or Houston for the Final Four.