8:19 AM ET
- Myron MedcalfESPN Staff Writer Close
- Covers college basketball
- Joined ESPN.com in 2011
- Graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato
Well, we're here.
March has arrived, and now we're ready for the exciting, frustrating, captivating, saddening and amazing action that will come next.
Don't worry if you're not prepared for the frenzy.
We're here to offer our March Survival Guide to make sure you're ready, whether you're a die-hard who has tracked the action for the past four months or you're just here so you can keep up with the college basketball water cooler conversation at work.
Teams to know: Whenever they're playing, make sure you're watching
Steve Alford's squad is college basketball's Broadway act. The Bruins follow lead guard Lonzo Ball, potentially this year's No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, who commands a team averaging 91 points per game and connecting on 41.5 percent of 3-pointers, second in the nation. And the Bruins' defense is serviceable now, not the scattered slop the team displayed in the first three months of the season. The best show in Los Angeles plays at Pauley Pavilion, not the Staples Center.
This is not the uncanny crew of Power Ranger-like athletes from years past who will just rumble through the field. A week ago, these Wildcats had to overcome a 19-point deficit against Vanderbilt at home. Yet John Calipari's squad, which has won eight in a row, is also blessed with the athleticism, defensive strength and star power — meet Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox — to win another national title.
Yes, this small, private Jesuit school in Spokane, Washington, could reach the Final Four. And Mark Few should win national coach of the year after guiding Gonzaga to a 29-1 mark in the regular season and manufacturing a strong case for a No. 1 seed. Nigel Williams-Goss (16.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.7 APG) leads a team with the depth and talent to secure the program's first trip to the national semifinals.
Senior Frank Mason (20.5 PPG, 5.1 APG) seems positioned to win the Wooden Award, which would mark the first victory, surprisingly, for KU basketball since Danny Manning won it in 1988. The odds in the race favor Kansas, which features two candidates on the final Wooden Award ballot. Josh Jackson, a freshman averaging 16.4 PPG and connecting on 37.7 percent of his 3-point attempts, is also a finalist. Together, they can take Kansas to another championship.
Duke Blue Devils
In a season marred by injuries, Duke encountered more obstacles in its 2016-17 campaign than any contender in the country. Grayson Allen's tripping incident and subsequent suspension extended the troubling fall of a team most experts picked in the preseason to win the national title. But Duke also demonstrated its renewed promise in a recent seven-game winning streak. The Blue Devils will take a 1-3 record over their past four games, however, into the ACC tournament. How will this shaky season end? Stay tuned.
Rising teams: Get to know them now so you can say 'I called it!' if they make a run
Minnesota Golden Gophers
A momentous team in the Big Ten that's directed by a young leader who deserved the league's coach of the year crown after enhancing his program in his fourth season and leading his squad to the NCAA tournament. Guess who? No, we're not thinking of Northwestern and Chris Collins. Minnesota, ranked 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom.com, won just eight games last season. But the Gophers ended their 2016-17 regular season with an 8-1 mark in their final nine Big Ten games. They have the pieces and the defense — Reggie Lynch averages 3.5 BPG, second in the country — to nullify brackets worldwide.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Bonzie Colson, at 6-foot-5, is the best small-ball big man in the country. He's the go-to catalyst for a Notre Dame team that has defeated Northwestern, Louisville and Florida State this season — he's shooting 39.6 percent on 3s and 54.2 percent on 2s. Mike Brey's potent offense poses a problem for any prospective opponent in the postseason.
Wichita State Shockers
The Shockers are back in the NCAA tournament after Sunday's 71-51 win over Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship. That was the team's 17th win by 20 points or more this season. The Shockers lack a sexy resume, but they've become one of the nation's most dominant teams.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Oklahoma State squad that lost its first six Big 12 games this season? It isn't the team competing under Brad Underwood right now. The Cowboys finished 9-3 in their next 12 games after that rough start. How? Jawun Evans (18.7 PPG) sparks the most efficient offense in America, per KenPom.com. They're a handful for any team.
Ed Cooley for Big East coach of the year? He lost his best players, Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, from last year's team but still managed to finish 10-8 in the Big East, a league ranked third by ESPN's BPI. The Friars boast wins over Butler and Creighton and are riding a six-game winning streak. Providence will be a problem in March if it squeezes into the NCAA tournament.
The most frustrating teams: Can your stomach handle these inconsistent squads?
Coach Mick Cronin recently claimed the selection committee seeds the NCAA tournament based on prospective ticket sales. If that's the case, then Cincy is in trouble. The Bearcats failed to register more than 60 points in seven games this season. This talented team can stop any opponent with a defense among the top 10 in efficiency, but this squad scored only 49 points in a recent loss to Central Florida. That questionable offense won't sustain a postseason run.
The Cavaliers held North Carolina to 43 points in a 10-point win last week. It was the lowest sum for a Tar Heels squad in the shot clock era. Impressive. Tony Bennett's Cavs have won three in a row. But a year after surrendering a 14-point halftime lead and stumbling in a loss to Syracuse in the Elite Eight, Virginia's opponents outscored the Cavs by nine or more points after halftime in eight of their nine losses this season. They led at the break in most of those games. These second-half collapses by a team that misses the playmaking ability of Malcolm Brogdon could cause problems for Virginia in the postseason.
The Terps play through veteran star Melo Trimble, who nailed the game-winning 3-pointer in Saturday's win over Michigan State. But they also finished 4-5 in their last nine games of the regular season. The team's most significant challenge? Unreliable free throw shooting (68 percent in Big Ten play). Hop on this roller coaster if you want, but read the disclaimer first.
South Carolina Gamecocks
The team's star, Sindarius Thornwell (21.2 PPG, 2.2 SPG), is one of America's most versatile threats, and the Gamecocks play an elite brand of defense (second in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com). On Feb. 4, the Gamecocks had a 9-1 record in the SEC, but they finished 12-6 in league play after losing five of their next eight league games, including Saturday's road loss to Ole Miss. Ugly finish for a team that could dance all the way to the second weekend or fail to make it past the first day.
Florida State Seminoles
Leonard Hamilton coaches two teams. There's the dominant Florida State squad, backed by two NBA prospects (Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon), with wins over Florida, Minnesota, Duke and Louisville. But he also coaches a team that has lost often when it leaves Tallahassee (2-6 in final eight road games). Hard to trust a squad with two distinct identities: breathtaking at home, unremarkable on the road.
Rules for a perfect postseason party: Don't mess this up
Some tips …
For all hosts, nothing too heavy. Think finger foods, appetizers and wings. The stuff people can eat with minimal effort while they're watching games. This is not the time to test the new meatloaf recipe you found online. Trust us.
Don't invite that person who always kills the vibe. You know the one. Five minutes left in the game, your squad is down by three points and then the vibe-killer blurts out, "Has anyone binged any good Netflix series lately?" No! We don't care about "Gilmore Girls" right now! Our entire season is on the line.
Hey, way-too-many-stats guy. Enough already. Tools like KenPom.com, hoop-math.com, hooplens.com and Synergy Sports all help. But our brackets stink most years. Yours too. It's all one big crapshoot. So let's enjoy it and stop pretending we can see the future. This is coming from an expert who once went 0-for-10 on his bold predictions. So I speak from experience.
This is not the time or place to find a date. She's wearing her school's sweatshirt, socks and hat. She hasn't left her seat since tipoff. She's so nervous she can't even eat. She does not want to hear your Oscars-conspiracy-theory pickup lines. She's here for the games, OK?
To all coaches and former players: If you pause this game and move these couches so you can break down the triangle-and-two defense again, we're sending you home. We warned you about this last year.
Your favorite NBA team's next star: Don't miss a game when he's on the court
Lonzo Ball, UCLA Bruins
The 6-foot-6 point guard savant — averaging 14.9 PPG, 7.8 APG, 6.2 RPG and 2.0 SPG while shooting 42.4 percent from the 3-point line — has turned a 15-win UCLA squad that missed the postseason last year into a team that's won 28 games and could win a national title.
Malik Monk, Kentucky Wildcats
He's the first freshman to win the SEC's scoring title since 1989. The sharpshooting freshman wing (41 percent from the 3-point line) has scored 20 points or more in 17 games this season. He scored 47 points in a December win over North Carolina. That's not a typo.
Jayson Tatum, Duke Blue Devils
Duke's talented freshman now excels with a veteran's confidence. He's an explosive 6-foot-8 wing whose game and body will mature once he transitions to the next level. This season, he's shooting 47.4 percent from the field in isolation situations, "very good" per Synergy Sports scouting data.
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State Seminoles
There's so much love for the freshmen in this year's draft class, but don't overlook Bacon, the Florida State star averaging 16.9 PPG. He's a force at the collegiate level, but with a 221-pound frame, he has a grown-man body that can handle the physicality of the NBA.
Miles Bridges, Michigan State Spartans
You won't find many comparable freshmen in any era. The Michigan State standout possesses a unique and broad skill set. He's a strong, 6-7 forward who can fly through the air and dunk in traffic or step beyond the arc and change a game with his range (41 percent from the 3-point line).
How to sound like the smartest person in the room: Say this and your co-workers will call you a genius
Some more tips …
"Yeah, it's easy to doubt Gonzaga based on some of its past postseason challenges. But Mark Few is coaching the most efficient defensive team of his tenure and leading a roster so deep, he brings NBA prospect Zach Collins off the bench."
"I don't know. You all seem optimistic about Wisconsin, but the Badgers can't buy a 3-pointer these days. They only made about a third of their attempts in Big Ten play. They haven't been this unreliable from the 3-point line since 2013, the same year they lost to Ole Miss in the first round. Just saying."
"Well, you can't ignore the NBA's influence on college basketball. Entering this week, 108 Division I teams had shot a minimum of 700 3-pointers. In 2014-15, only 43 teams reached that total in the entire season. The NBA, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors are changing basketball everywhere."
"It's actually inaccurate to say Bill Self tied John Wooden's streak by leading Kansas to its 13th consecutive conference title this season. At UCLA, Wooden won nine conference titles in a row (1967 to 1975), and then his successors, Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham, won the next four (two each) from 1975 to 1979. So Self stands alone with this feat at Kansas."
"Um, you're wrong. Jacksonville State is in Jacksonville, Alabama, not Jacksonville, Florida."
Your next coach? If your coach is on the hot seat, these guys could replace him, so pay attention
The rumors will follow Miller, who will lead Dayton to its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance this year, until — if — he decides to leave his current post. He's not just Sean Miller's brother. He's the hottest coaching prospect in America.
Few leaders have thrived in adversity like Butler's head coach in recent seasons. His Bulldogs will enter the NCAA tournament with a glossy resume that includes a sweep of Villanova, the defending national champion. And he's only 45 years old. His phone will ring this offseason.
The man in charge at VCU is a 34-year-old coaching prodigy. In just 10 years, he's gone from graduate assistant at Clemson to a head coach who has led VCU to a 24-win regular season and possible at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. Like his predecessor, Shaka Smart, Wade can take his time as he ponders his next move.
Last season, the 44-year-old led UNC-Wilmington to its first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. And his squad gave Duke a scare in the opening round. Just six years ago, Keatts was the head coach at a prep school, Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. Now, he's destined for a high-major job. Someone should — and will — call him this offseason.
Perhaps the Crean-Indiana marriage will end soon. But he'd find a job quickly if he wanted to move. An abundance of athletic directors would love to add a coach who turned an Indiana program besieged by NCAA infractions into a two-time Big Ten champion, a recruiting monster and a squad with three Sweet 16 appearances in his nine seasons.
Pronunciation manual (We're here to help)
Gonzaga's Przemek Karnowski: SHEM-ick CAR-now-SKI
Arizona's Lauri Markkanen: L-Ow-Ree MARK-a-nin
Louisville's Anas Mahmoud: AH-nus mah-MOOD
Kentucky's Bam Adebayo: ah-DUH-BUY-o
Baylor's Jo Lual-Acuil: LOO-ahl ah-CHU-ill
SMU's Semi Ojeleye: Shemmie O-ja-lay
Saint Mary's Dane Pineau: PIN-oh
UCLA's Gyorgy Goloman: YOUR-he GO-loh-mun
Oregon's Chris Boucher: boo-SHAY
Butler's Andrew Chrabascz: SHRAB-iss