March Madness is finally here.
Despite the obvious miscarriage of cosmic justice that resulted in a Badger-less tournament, it is still the best time of the year.
Play-in games begin Tuesday, March 13. The National Championship falls on Monday, April 2. Between those two magical dates is a time like no other. Couches mold to fit suspiciously well to your rear-end. Your eyeballs become painfully aware that television was not meant to be watched eight hours a day. Kick back, ignore homework, loved ones and responsibilities and break out your lucky highlighter.
And hey, as of now, you have a perfect bracket!
Let’s do it.
No. 1 Xavier University vs. No. 16 North Carolina Central University/Texas Southern University
Xavier [28-5, 15-3 Big East] snagged the one seed of the tournament as a result of their impressive schedule and multiple notable wins. Baylor, Butler, Seton Hall and Providence all failed to upset the Musketeers this season.
They are led by Trevon Bluiett, a senior guard with a knack for stuffing the stat sheet. Bluiett averaged 19.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists this season in the Big East.
Xavier will face the victor of NCCU and TSU, who each managed to win their respective conference tournaments: the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Neither schools enjoyed particularly successful seasons, though will be playing with nothing to lose.
No. 8 University of Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida State University
Mizzou [20-12, 10-8 Southeast Conference] has wins against Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky this season, though were knocked out of the SEC Tournament by Georgia in the first round.
The Tigers will be watched closely, as Michael Porter, Jr., an elite high school prospect that spent much of this season sidelined with an injury, will likely be playing major minutes in the tournament.
FSU [20-11, 9-9 Atlantic Coast Conference] beat the University of Carolina and Syracuse University this year, but will face-off against Porter and the Tigers without a true leader. Their top three scorers, Terance Mann, Phil Cofer and Braian Angola, all average around 13 points per game. The Seminoles have been less-than-stellar when it comes to three-point defense, allowing a combined average opposition three-point rate of over 40 percent.
No. 5 Ohio State University vs. No. 12 South Dakota State University
OSU [24-8, 15-3 Big Ten] should be familiar to Badger fans, as the Buckeyes placed an early season beat-down on a sloppy, December Wisconsin team.
They have wins against Michigan State University and Purdue University. They will march out their mid-range jumper wielding, glass-cleaning, 6-foot-7 junior Keita Bates-Diop. Diop leads the team in points per game (19.4) and rebounding (8.8).
SDSU [28-6, 13-1 Summit League Conference] dominated the anemic Summit League Conference this season in large part thanks to their ace-in-the-hole Mike Daum. The junior forward averaged 23.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, all the while shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc.
Daum will be a handful for OSU, and presents the kind of challenge that can make the 5-12 matchup a must watch.
No. 4 Gonzaga University vs. No. 13 University of North Carolina-Greensboro
Gonzaga [30-4, 17-1 West Coast Conference] has victories against OSU and Texas in the regular season and took home the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship with ease.
The Zags have five players averaging over 11 points per game and have accumulated a massive 17.4 scoring margin, holding opponents to an average point total of 67.1.
UNC-Greensboro [27-7, 15-3 Southern Conference] will attempt to counter-act the balanced, experienced Gonzaga team at the three-point line. The Spartans have held opponents to .319 from three while nailing 9.6 a game themselves.
Spanish junior Frances Alonso leads the charge with 15.6 points per game on .407 shooting from three-point distance.
No. 6 University of Houston vs. No. 11 San Diego State University
Houston [26-7, 14-4 American Athletic Conference] was undefeated at home this season and recorded a win against two seed Cincinnati and ten seed Providence.
Senior guard Rob Gray has dished out 4.5 assists per game and recorded 18.5 points per game this season on 45 percent shooting from the floor. Along with 44 percent three-point sniper teammate Corey Davis, Jr., the Cougars have managed to maintain a comfortable scoring margin of 12.5 points per game compared with opponents.
SDSU [22-10, 11-7 Mountain West Conference] boasts wins against Nevada and Gonzaga this year and comes into the game against Houston fresh off of a Mountain West Tournament Championship.
With five, double-digit scoring averages on the roster but no stand-out player, the Aztecs are an interesting matchup in the opening round of the tournament. They do not shoot many threes, and are unremarkable when they do, but shoot a team field-goal percentage of .461 from the floor.
No. 3 University of Michigan vs. No. 14 University of Montana
Another Big Ten familiarity, Michigan [28-7, 13-5 Big Ten] added Big Ten Tournament Championship to their resume for the second straight year. They also defeated the MSU Spartans twice this year along with wins against Purdue and OSU.
The Wolverines have been playing stellar defense all year long, holding opponents to 63.5 points per game. Moritz Wagner is the best player on the team, with 14.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
Making it a battle of the ‘U of ‘M’s’, Montana [26-7, 16-2 Big Sky Conference] will look to upstart a Michigan team with the fourth best Vegas odds to win the whole thing. They secured their entry to the Big Dance with a Big Sky Conference Tournament win.
Montana will need to find some magic to break through the vicious Wolverine defense, but coming from a .468 field goal percentage is a good start.
No. 7 Texas A & M University vs. No. 10 Providence College
Texas A & M [20-12, 9-9 SEC] has wins against West Virginia University, the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama, though fell in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
They are led by junior center Tyler Davis. Davis is averaging over a block per game, 14.5 points and almost 9 rebounds as the Aggies Anchor.
Providence [21-13, 10-8 Big East] is led by senior point guard Kyron Cartwright. His Friar teammates are routinely benigiting from the fortuity of his playmaking prowess, leading him to finish the year averaging over 5.8 assists per game and 13.8 points in the Big East.
No. 2 University of North Carolina vs. No. 15 Lipscomb University
UNC [25-10, 11-7 ACC] have had a down year by Tar Heel standards. Though, two wins in the notorious Duke-UNC rivalry and victories against OSU and Tennessee still make for a formidable No. 2 seed few would like to face.
The high-paced offensive attack puts up 82 points per game, led by senior point guard Joel Berry. Berry is averaging 17 points per game, second behind teammate Luke Maye and he nails 2.6 threes per game.
Lipscomb [23-9, 10-4 ASUN] beat out former March Madness darling and home of lob city Florida Gulf Coast University for the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship and a bid to the Tournament.
Garrison Mathews is their team scoring leader, pouring in an impressive 22.1 points per game. He is also grabbing 5.5 rebounds a game. The Bisons will need all the firepower the can in the uphill battle ahead of them.
At the end of the day, it’s March, where anything can happen. So, when push comes to shove, disregard all numbers, knowledge or wisdom and take out the dart board to make some quick, uninformed decisions.