It’s the most wonderful time of the year: brace season.
Selection Sunday is like Christmas morning for college basketball fans, as well as casual sports fans who have been waiting for something to pique their interest since the Super Bowl.
For those who just tuned in, there haven’t been one or two shows that stand out as a clear favorite this year, but I still like a little chalk.
Houston looked vulnerable minus All-America-caliber guard Marcus Sasser in its AAC title game loss to Memphis on Sunday. To say that Sasser (dealing with a groin issue suffered in Saturday’s semifinal win over Tulane) was a game-time decision might have been a head game the Cougars and coach Kelvin Sampson were playing in committee. NCAA Tournament selection so the injury won’t affect his seed, who was flirting with No. 1 overall before the injury and loss.
I’m going with the idea that he could have played and will be strong enough to try in his second-round matchup with Iowa. To that, I think the loss to Memphis is exactly what the Cougars (31-3) needed to ignite. one race through the rest of March until the championship. His defense is that good, and Sampson can outplay just about anyone on the field.
( March Madness: Alabama, Houston, Kansas, Purdue Seeds 1 )
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Houston will face Final Four contender Alabama for the first time in the finale, which started to look good again after appearing out of place in the wake of Brandon Miller’s legal troubles. Miller, a top-5 pick in the upcoming draft by most forecasts, is the best freshman in the country. He and the Crimson Tide have not handled optics well following their indirect involvement in a murder. However, they seem to have overlooked how it affected his season.
The Big East will represent well with Marquette and UConn returning to the Final Four. UConn’s length will give anyone trouble and the Huskies won’t have to face Kansas in the Sweet 16 when the Jayhawks are eliminated by Arkansas, another team with the length and top-tier rookie Nick Smith Jr. who has looked like the lottery pick we all thought he was after missing half the season with a knee problem.
The Midwest Region will look like an old Southwest Conference reunion for Texas A&M, who, after being snubbed out of the field last year, will defeat ruthless rival Texas in the Round of 32 and lose to Houston in the final. regional.
Speaking of the old SWC, TCU will make its own run into the Elite Eight, taking out Gonzaga and UCLA, who will miss Jaylen Clark dearly. The Bruins are trying to be as coy about Clark as Houston was about Sasser, but some reports say Clark (averaging 13.0 ppg) will miss the tournament. He was missed in the Pac-12 final loss to Arizona. With Clark, UCLA was Final Four material for sure.
( Alabama’s Miller Calls Fatal Shooting ‘Really Heartbreaking’ )
One double-digit seed I see running into the second weekend is Providence. The 11th-seeded Friars didn’t finish the season strongly, but I can see Ed Cooley uniting this group even as rumors circulate that Georgetown is making him their top target to replace Patrick Ewing. Looking for Bryce Hopkins to thwart his old school Kentucky in the first round before PC rebounds at Kansas State.
Another 1 seed that I couldn’t get out of the opening weekend is Purdue. This has been some of Matt Painter’s best work in West Lafayette, but despite winning the Big Ten tournament, the Boilermakers’ perimeter seemed vulnerable in the past month. The duo of Memphis’ Kendric Davis and DeAndre Williams could help expose that enough to deny Zach Edey’s presumed national player of the year.
So take this column as a way to inform your parentheses, if you want to. Above all, make sure you have a lot of fun over the next three weeks. Even if I haven’t given you the right Cinderella, I hope your selections fit like a glass slipper.