LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For as long as I can remember, Louisville has been the top TV market in America for consuming college basketball.
The next three weeks will be the ultimate test of the bond between local fans and the NCAA Tournament. I don’t have to remind you of the local programs that are sitting home as the party begins down the road in Bloomington, Indianapolis and West Lafayette, Indiana.
I believe you’re still all-in. Ready to watch. Ready to fill out your bracket.
And ready for next season.
Before the first air ball is launched, here is Dr. Bo’s Guide To March Madness.
Five Coaches To Watch
- Fran McCaffery, Iowa — It’s taken McCaffery 11 seasons to construct his first legitimate Final Four contender. The Hawkeyes rewarded him with more money and more years on his contract. But the record shows that in nine NCAA trips, Fran has never reached the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes are a 2-seed. It’s time.
- Bob Huggins, West Virginia — Got to his first Final Four 29 years ago with Cincinnati. Figured to make many more trips and win a national title. Could have happened in 2000. Then Kenyon Martin broke his leg. Huggs will be 68 in September. The Mountaineers are a legitimate 3-seed. It’s time.
- Leonard Hamilton, Florida State — Reasonable minds predicted the Seminoles were a wise choice to win the title last season. When FSU has been good this season, they’ve been terrific. When they struggled, they lost to Notre Dame and Central Florida. Leonard is also on the clock. He’s 72. It’s time.
- Greg Gard, Wisconsin — Most preseason predictions had the Badgers forecast no worse than third in the Big Ten. They went 10-10 and finished tied for sixth. Wisconsin is a 9-seed and figure to exit sooner, not later. Some people in Madison remember Bo Ryan, and they’re grumbling. It’s time.
- Mark Few, Gonzaga — He’s a terrific coach. He’s built an amazing program. The Zags likely have three of the 15 best players in the tournament. But with usual heavyweights like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State and Kansas with missing or sub-par this season, Few will never have a better chance to silence the crowd that insists the Zags are overrated. It’s time.
Five Toughest Opening Game to Predict
- No. 5 Creighton vs. No. 12 Cal-Santa Barbara — The Bluejays lost three of their last six and looked as if they were free-falling in the Big East Tournament against Georgetown. You wonder if the players tuned out coach Greg McDermott after his racially insensitive statement. UCSB is a tough, tall, veteran team, but the Gauchos have not played a single top-100 opponent.
- No. 8 LSU vs. No. 9 St. Bonaventure — LSU coach Will Wade caused a stir Wednesday when he alleged ESPN commentator Dick Vitale lied to him about something said during a broadcast during the SEC Tournament. Who gets mad at Vitale, other than a guy trying to rally his team against a dangerous opponent?
- No. 5 Colorado vs. No. 12 Georgetown — Who are the Hoyas? The team that won six of its last seven and blasted through the Big East Tournament with a revised lineup and rotation? Or the team that sat at 5-10 more than a month ago with a loss to Navy?
- No. 7 UConn vs. No. 10 Maryland — This is the Huskies’ best squad since the 2014 national champs, especially when James Bouknight is dropping shots from every spot on the court. But Maryland has four guys who made 36 or more 3s this season. So when the Terps start rolling, beware.
- No. 5 Tennessee vs. No. 12 Oregon State — Somebody tell me what the Volunteers did to deserve a 5-seed, considering they lost half of their last eight and seven of their last 15, while finishing fourth in the SEC.
Five Familiar Faces
- Rick Pitino, Iona — One of the biggest wins of Pitino’s career came in 1987 when his Providence team took down Wimp Sanderson’s finest Alabama squad. If Pitino does it again ...
- Mark Pope, Brigham Young — Hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Pope played center for UK’s NCAA title team. He’s built a solid reputation with the Cougars and gave Gonzaga a legitimate scare last week. BYU will get the winner of Michigan State and UCLA, a game they can win.
- Kelvin Sampson, Houston — Guess who’s back in Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall with a team that can defend and rebound like crazy? In Quentin Grimes, Sampson has a 5-star talent who can carry a team, and I’ve got the Cougars advancing to the Elite Eight before they lose to Illinois.
- Mick Cronin, UCLA — The former U of L assistant is only two seasons into his journey of living in John Wooden’s shadow. The Bruins stumble into the party on a four-game losing streak.
- Preston Spradlin, Morehead State — He’s picked up the pieces left by Sean Woods and taken the Golden Eagles to the tournament for the first time in a decade. Learned his craft well from John Calipari.
Five Players Missing In Action
- Moses Wright, Georgia Tech — The ACC player of the year will not be available because of COVID-19.
- De’Vion Harmon, Oklahoma — The Sooners will be without their second-leading scorer because of a positive COVID-19 test.
- Collin Gillespie, Villanova — The Wildcats has lost their last two after losing Gillespie, their senior point guard, to a knee injury.
- Isaiah Livers, Michigan — Word from the Wolverines is that it would require a miraculous recovery from a foot injury for Livers to play this weekend.
- John Fulkerson, Tennessee — After taking two sharp elbows to the face in the SEC Tournament, Fulkerson spent time in a Nashville hospital. He is questionable for the Vols’ opener against Oregon State.
Five Teams With Legitimate Questions
- Alabama — Yes, the Crimson Tide won the SEC regular season and tournament titles. Yes, they have top-10 computer rankings. They also went 5-4 outside the league, losing to a pair of teams (Stanford and Western Kentucky) that failed to make the tournament.
- Virginia — Technically, the Cavaliers are the defending champions. But because of COVID issues, much of Virginia’s preparation this week has been virtual and with individual drills. They will be the final team to arrive in Indianapolis on Friday.
- Baylor — The Bears were not the same team after they returned from a three-week COVID pause, struggling to beat winless Iowa State and losing two of their last six.
- Loyola (Chicago) — The computer formulas of Ken Pomeroy and Bart Torvik suggest the Ramblers should be a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. The tournament selection committee disagreed, giving Porter Moser's team an 8-seed, even though this program finished 24-4 and crashed the Final Four three years ago. They open against Georgia Tech, which will be without its best player, then should get the game of their dreams against Illinois. Talk about a chance to quiet the doubters.
- The Big Ten — No national championships since 2000. Two No. 1 seeds. Two No. 2 seeds. The entire tournament being played in Big Ten territory. It’s time.
Five Teams Most Likely to Win the Title
- Illinois — Brad Underwood’s team has it all. A guy who get you a basket in Ayo Dosunmu. A beast inside in Kofi Cockburn. A point guard who can break you down in Andre Curbelo. Depth. And fans who can drive over and grab the few tickets that become available.
- Gonzaga — The Zags have three legitimate NBA prospects in Jalen Suggs, Drew Timme and Corey Kispert. They handled Kansas, Iowa, West Virginia and Virginia, all top-4 seeds. They just haven’t been tested the last two months the way the Illini have been tested.
- Houston — I’d like the Cougars more if they weren’t in the same region as Illinois, but Sampson has a relentless group that earned a 5% chance of winning the title at Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight.com analytics site. The Cougars are also one of only four teams ranked in the top-20 in offensive and defensively efficiency.
- Ohio State — With Baylor searching for its misplaced, the Buckeyes are positioned to steal the South Regional
- Texas — Michigan is injured. I’m not sold on Alabama. I have to include somebody from the East Regional. So give me Shaka Smart’s Texas team, which has three veteran guards and regrouped down the stretch to win its last five games.
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