For some, the NCAA tournament is a time of jubilee: all basketball everything for two weeks, with 64 teams fighting each other and the cruelties of chance for a shot at the championship. For others, the tournament is a stopgap to get through the lull of the superior NBA season—less a celebration of basketball than a dreary hotbed for zone defenses, an endless parade players of players that can most kindly be characterized as scrappy, and an orgy of bricked crunch-time free throws.
This NCAA tournament primer is for those people—the people who prefer Kevin Durant to Aaron Craft, and uncalled travels to 30-second shot clocks. For the NBA elitists that tune in because they have to, who manage to stay awake only to analyze a handful of prospects. Here is what we proud curmudgeons will be watching.
No. 1 Kansas: Freshman big man Cheick Diallo, sophomore need-to-Google-how-to-spell-his-name Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, junior Wayne Selden, and senior Perry Ellis are all potentially NBA bound. Exciting! Except they are all projected to get picked in the second round, if that, and Bill Self has buried Diallo deep on his bench, just as he did with fellow promising freshman big Cliff Alexander last year. These guys are an early favorite to take this whole thing, so unfortunately we'll have to grow to like them.
No. 2 Villanova: Yes, the Big East is still a thing. No, I have not seen the 30 for 30. Enjoy Josh Hart, I guess?
No. 3 Miami: Some of the wildest jerseys you'll see in the tournament. Sheldon McClellan's a senior guard shooting 50-39-84, and—no, wait, where are you going?
No. 4 California: Two uber-talented freshmen, Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb, make the Golden Bears an intriguing follow. DraftExpress has Brown going third overall and Rabb getting picked in the lottery. They're good, in that teenaged way.
No. 5 Maryland: Lots of NBA talent here, with tremendous names. Diamond Stone sounds like a Bond villain. Melo Trimble? Perfect. Jake Layman and Robert Carter are less fun, which explains why they're not projected to go as high as their teammates.
No. 6 Arizona: The Wildcats are a bit of a favorite to get upset. That's all I got, to be honest.
No. 7 Iowa: Just checked to see what else is on TV during its first-round matchup with Temple on Friday. We've got Rocky III, Flight, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which we can presume is golf.
No. 8 Colorado: The younger brother of Chauncey Billups, Rodney, was an assistant at Colorado before recently being hired as head coach of the University of Denver. Just in case this comes up at the dinner table.
No. 9 Connecticut: For this team's NBA highlight, we turn to the bench. Head coach Kevin Ollie could have been coaching the Thunder right now, until he removed his name from consideration. He could also probably be playing eight respectable minutes a game for the Knicks.
No. 10 Temple: The Owls' head coach circled the practice facility waiting on his team's fate on Selection Sunday. Yeah, that's the most interesting thing I could find.
No. 11 Wichita State: Their best player is a guy named Fred VanVleet. He is already the best VanVleet in college basketball history.
No. 12 South Dakota State: Ah, yes. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits, looking for their first NCAA tournament win. *whistles Jeopardy theme song*
No. 13 Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors, too, are looking for a first tourney win. *lone tumbleweed rolls across desert road*
No. 14 Buffalo: The Bulls went 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play. Here are two Buffalo bulls fighting:
No. 15 UNC Asheville: Here's Rihanna's "Work" for you to listen to!
No. 16 Austin Peay: America's team.
No. 1 Oregon: What's with these No. 1 teams without the fun NBA prospects? Dillon Brooks is your man to watch here.
No. 2 Oklahoma: Buddy Hield. Buddy Hield. Buddy. Hield. Buddy Hield. Buddy Hield. Bear it in mind.
No. 3 Texas A&M: Danuel "Dunkuel" House. I don't think Dunkuel is actually his nickname, but it should be.
No. 4 Duke: Not sure if you've heard of this spunky upstart college in the Southeast, but it has some talent. There's freshman forward Brandon Ingram, who could get picked first overall in June. There's sophomore guard Grayson Allen, who will likely catch a lot of flack for looking kind of like Ted Cruz while playing for Duke, but who is also on track to join Ingram in the NBA. Then again, the Utah Jazz are in the playoffs chase, and Rodney Hood's absolutely destroying. So you can always get your Duke fix there if you want. I'm just saying you don't have to do anything you don't want to do.
No. 5 Baylor: Senior forward Taurean Prince is likely going to be a first-round selection, despite his disdain for the health and safety of rims everywhere. He possess wild length and is fun to watch defend, if you're into that sort of thing.
No. 6 Texas: Prince Ibeh (the names are on a tear right now) is your guy to watch, not that you could miss him if you tried. Dude is ginormous, so be sure to check him out, if only to see whether he has NBA skills outside of his size.
No. 7 Oregon State: Look, I should be talking about Gary Payton's son playing some darn good basketball for this team, but their head coach's name is Wayne Tinkle and I am only human.
No. 8 Saint Joseph's: Freshman forward DeAndre Bembry could be in the league next year, and he'll be quite fun to watch until then:
Also, his name's Bembry!
No. 9 Cincinnati: Played in a quadruple overtime recently. Hope for another one of those, if you're looking to score some free bonus Cincinnati basketball.
No. 10 VCU: Time to get it.
No. 11 Northern Iowa: Here's a thing Northern Iowa did way back when:
History does repeat itself! Sometimes!
No. 12 Yale: The Bulldogs are gunning for their first tournament win, but how comfortable are you watching a bunch of elite athletes that are also way, way smarter than you?
No. 13 UNC Wilmington: Fun story here with transfer Chris Flemmings. That's about it.
No. 14 Green Bay: The sixth fastest team in the nation, according to KenPom. It's going to be March at its finest—probably 40 minutes of this:
No. 15 CSU Bakersfield: Wow, really?
No. 16 A College Basketball Program: Undeniable.
No. 1 North Carolina: Senior forward Brice Johnson is the Tar Heels' most intriguing prospect, but March probably isn't the last time you'll see the names Justin Jackson and Marcus Paige associated with basketball. This also applies to those reading this in Europe or the Far East.
No. 2 Xavier: Sophomore forward Trevon Bluiett is no surefire NBA player, but he's got a hell of a story that makes you wish he were.
No. 3 West Virginia: I'm glad you asked. See, there's a very special suit that Bob Huggins reserves for important games, which is sponsored by French's mustard...
No. 4 Kentucky: You might be thinking, 'Hey, Kentucky—they definitely have some future NBA guys! They're Kentucky!' And you're right on the money. Freshman guard Jamal Murray is projected to go in the top ten, and has looked great down the stretch. Half of that—the getting drafted high part—is also true of freshman big man Skal Labissiere. Sophomore guard Tyler Ulis is 5'9'', but he could very well get picked in the first round, too, because he is quick and tenacious and all the other words traditionally associated with 5'9'' basketball players.
No. 5 Indiana: Freshman center Thomas Bryant is a very divisive prospect, making him well worth watching either way. You could say you saw his explosion into stardom or that you predicted his fast fade into obscurity before everyone else. Although who would you be saying this to?
No. 6 Notre Dame: Junior guard Demetrius Jackson is a contender for a lottery selection, and Notre Dame's must-catch point guard. Senior big man Zach Auguste is far less of a sure thing as a pro prospect, but he'll make himself known with a couple thunderous slams a night.
No. 7 Wisconsin: Look, just make Nigel Hayes your favorite player now, because he's going to be in a year or two anyway. Last year, he challenged a stenographer with advanced vocabulary, and then later got caught complementing another on her looks. This season, he pulled off a literal mic drop at a presser. All hail Hayes, who needs to bring this stuff to the NBA.
No. 8 USC: Long live O.J. Mayo.
No. 9 Providence: Kris Dunn. He's friends with God Shammgod and extremely good at basketball.
No. 10 Pittsburgh: Long live DeJuan Blair and Sam Young. (Can I get this joke by my editor, since chances are you won't recognize one or both of these names? Guess we'll find out.)
No. 11 Michigan: Caris LeVert will likely get drafted, and during the tournament you will likely see many puns made from his name. Perhaps fans would like to know what his max LeVert-ical is? He is not related to these guys, as far as I know.
No. 12 Chattanooga: I see we're in the geography quiz portion of the bracket.
No. 13 Stony Brook: Yes, definitely the geography quiz portion. *leans over to glance at classmate's paper*
No. 14 Stephen F. Austin: A fun team without much in the way of NBA prospects, but forever way better than Stephen A.
No. 15 Weber State: Yes, a No. 15 seed with a draft prospect. Joel Bolomboy is a 6'9 forward who plays terrific defense. Also, according to advanced eye test metrics, his wingspan is about as long as the airstrip at the end of Fast 6.
No. 16 Florida Gulf Coast: U-S-A! U-S-A!
No. 1 Virginia: Really a defensive, well-rounded team without much NBA talent. However, there's senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who I like because his last name is eerily similar to Breaking Bad's Bogdan.
No. 2 Michigan State: Last time NBA fans overlooked someone from Michigan State, Draymond Green happened. So let's pay close attention to Denzel Valentine and Deyonta Davis, yeah?
No. 3 Utah: Center Jakob Poeltl has garnered a ton of hype and will be a top-ten draft pick come June. Keep an eye out, and look up the backstory of how he wound up in Utah. He's your standard-issue professional big person, give or take some skills, but the story is interesting.
No. 4 Iowa State: Point guard Monte Morris is a popular second-round name, but we should acknowledge that his teammate Georges Niang, who could also make it to the league, did this:
No. 5 Purdue: A.J. Hammons is a big dude. Seven feet off the ground, with a 7'3" wingspan. Also, he's crazy versatile in some not-very-practical ways.
No. 6 Seton Hall: Brooklyn represent! Isaiah Whitehead's future in the NBA is an unknown, but he'll at least be around, and should be appreciated during this tourney run. Also he is being mentored by Lance Stephenson.
No. 7 Dayton: There are three active NBA players who attended Dayton, which was a fact that surprised me.
No. 8 Texas Tech: Freshman Jordan Jackson could do my job better than I can.
No. 9 Butler: Come on, how did this not go in?
No. 10 Syracuse: Senior swingman Michael Gbinije could slip into the draft, but what are the chances he can defend, given he's coming out of Syracuse?
No. 11 Gonzaga: Domantas Sabonis! Yes, the son of Portland Trailblazers legend Arvydas Sabonis. He's likely going to go in the first round, and can do this:
No. 12 Arkansas-Little Rock: Can't go with a better abbreviation than UALR?My first thought was, "U Already Lost, Right?"
No. 13 Iona: Has a player named A.J. English, who is the son of a former NBA player. Unfortunately, that father is A.J. English, not Alex English.
No. 14 Fresno State: When they fall behind by 20, be sure to tweet, "More like Fres-d'oh! State, am I right?"
No. 15 Middle Tennessee: Actually in the middle of Tennessee.
No. 16 Hampton: Oh beautiful, for spacious skies...