March Insanity: NCAA Event first-weekend preview


School basketball’s Nationwide Invitational Event is in the identical huge, unhappy boat as all of the bowl video games that don’t affect the School Soccer Playoff. As harsh because it sounds, it’s simply the best way issues have turn out to be: If it’s not concerning the nationwide championship, it not issues that a lot.

A cavalcade of main packages — Indiana, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Memphis, Ole Miss, Oklahoma — have turned down probabilities to play on this yr’s NIT, and the temptation is to treat them as brats and infants. However they’ve all determined getting a leap on roster constructing for subsequent season is extra necessary, which, in 2024, it’s.

In the meantime, any of these packages would kill to be within the sneakers of the one which has turn out to be most notorious for falling brief within the NCAA Event: Purdue.

The Boilermakers wouldn’t understand how to the Ultimate 4 if there was nothing however a straight railroad observe and a black-and-gold locomotive pointed in the best course. Corridor of Fame coach Gene Keady by no means received them there. Future Corridor of Famer Matt Painter hasn’t, both. Nonetheless, the Boilers — the No. 1 seed within the Midwest area — all the time give themselves an opportunity. They’ve been a top-four seed in seven straight tournaments.

“Anyone can have staff,” Painter stated, “however can you may have program? …

“We’ve labored very laborious and finished the best issues in our program. All you attempt to do is combat to get it in the very best place attainable.”

They’ve by no means been in a greater place on Painter’s — or Keady’s — watch. Middle Zach Edey was extra dominant as a second-time nationwide participant of the yr. In level guard Braden Smith, he has a first-team all-Large Ten operating mate. Switch Lance Jones (Evanston) introduced protection and angle to the equation.

Nonetheless: Can Purdue lastly come by means of? Everyone seems to be questioning.


We’ve mentioned Purdue. As for the opposite No. 1 seeds:

It’s UConn, however is it UConn? Technically, the Huskies are attempting to win all of it back-to-back — which has occurred solely twice since John Picket’s UCLA dynasty — however it is a vastly totally different staff than final yr’s. Is that good or unhealthy? Watch and discover out; simply perceive that the headliners final March had been Jordan Hawkins, Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson, they usually’ve left the constructing.

Does Houston have an issue? The fear — perhaps the one one — is all the time about an offensive clunker. In 2022, the Cougars scored 44 factors within the Elite Eight. Final yr, they couldn’t purchase a three-pointer within the Candy 16. Final weekend, they scored 41 in a Large 12 title-game blowout loss. Nice staff, however be cautious.

Have you ever met North Carolina’s buddies? The ACC is way from what it was. This season, it ranked behind the Mountain West in convention RPI. The Tar Heels have an excellent participant in RJ Davis, however they’re one of many softest 1s we’ve seen.


Painter isn’t the one one.

Rick Barnes, Tennessee: At match time, nobody does much less with extra. Barnes’ groups are 3-15 towards the unfold of their final 18 NCAA video games.

John Calipari, Kentucky: His first three finishes, so as, with the Wildcats: Elite Eight, Ultimate 4 and — in 2012 — nationwide champ. However nobody ever calls this the highest program in America anymore.

Brad Underwood, Illinois: In the case of getting previous the primary weekend, he’s 0-for-3 at Illinois and 0-for-7 for his profession.


Should you’re nonetheless noodling round along with your bracket, this may assist.

1. As many bracket gamers have discovered, No. 12 seeds are promising upset picks. They’ve received about 35% of first-round video games because the subject expanded to 64 groups in 1985.

2. In 3-vs.-14 video games, the favorites are batting .855. There was solely certainly one of these upsets since 2016.

3. Clearly, 8s aren’t any higher than 9s. In the event that they had been, 8s wouldn’t be 74-78 within the first spherical.

4. On common — not exactly, however shut sufficient — two double-digit seeds attain the Candy 16. Just one did in 2023, however 4 did in 2022 (and two of them reached the Elite Eight).

5. Simply saying, 25 of the final 39 champs have been 1 seeds. It’s enjoyable to choose a non-1, however a lot of luck successful a pool that manner.


If I may watch solely 4 first-round video games — after Illinois’ and Northwestern’s, that’s — it will be these. Perhaps.

West: 8 Mississippi State (+1½) vs. 9 Michigan State (11:15 a.m. Thursday, CBS): It’s the very first recreation of Spherical 1, and it needs to be a banger. The winner may go on an actual run.

Midwest: 4 Kansas (-7½) vs. 13 Samford (8:55 p.m. Thursday, TBS): The preseason No. 1 Jayhawks have been deeply disappointing, however they get to hit the reset button and, effectively, there’s loopy stress on them once more.

East: 5 San Diego State (-6½) vs. 12 UAB (12:45 p.m. Friday, TNT): Out of all groups within the subject, the Aztecs have one of many worst information towards the unfold and the Blazers have among the finest. Do with that information what you’ll.

South: 5 Wisconsin (-5½) vs. 12 James Madison (8:40 p.m. Friday, CBS): When the Dukes received at Michigan State to begin the season, everyone flipped out. Yeah, effectively, they’re 31-3 now, and haven’t misplaced a recreation since January. Look out.


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