We're halfway into the month of March, which means the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner. Most of the country is about 7 days into their 30-day NCAA basketball attention span, trying to figure out which mascot they think will win in a fight between a Badger and a Cyclone so they can finish their bracket before the deadline. NBA fans are no exception; you're in the stretch run of your own season, watching the standings to see if your team is in the playoffs or the lottery. You don't have time to research who the leading rebounder is for the Green Bay Phoenix, or if there is a Green Bay, or if their mascot is actually a phoenix.
(Now you're interested. Go ahead and Google it, I'll wait.)
(You didn't know that was even a team, did you?)
(Neither did I until a week ago.)
So with that in mind, let's set the table for you on what to expect this week.
This isn't pretty basketball
If you're a NBA fan, you've spent the last few months watching Steph Curry redefine the concept of shooting. You've spent the past 3-4 years watching the San Antonio Spurs create an offensive system that's as much poetry as sport. You've had a decade of Lebron James doing things no 250 lb man should be able to do. This is not that game. NCAA basketball is trying to improve the offensive flow with a number of rule changes to the block/charge call & hand-checking, amongst other things. Early returns are positive, but it's a work in progress and you're likely to see a game with a foul every minute at least a couple times the first weekend. NCAA basketball is moving away from being Murderball, but you're probably going to have some flashbacks to mid-90s Detroit Pistons/New York Knicks games.
The players aren't great
You're used to seeing the best basketball players in the world, so you gotta dial back your expectations a little. Most of these guys are going to be accountants & project managers in 2 years, not the 6th man for the Brooklyn Nets. There aren't any transcendent players this season; Buddy Hield & Denzel Valentine are great NCAA players and will likely have solid NBA careers, but they're not Kevin Durant or The Brow. A guy like Georges Niang is going to have his jersey in the rafters for the Iowa State Cyclones sooner than later, but it's highly unlikely he makes a NBA squad next season. There will be at least a dozen guys who make a name for themselves this month and are never heard from again because that's how it is when you're in a league with 350 other D1 schools(I'm not exaggerating, there are 351 D1 schools technically eligible for March Madness.)
The scores will be low
There are a number of reasons for this; the shot clock is longer (30 seconds v. 24 for NBA), the games are shorter (40 minutes v. 48 for NBA), and the players are on average worse shooters (trust me). The Connecticut Huskies broke 100 points a couple days ago...it took them 4 OTs to hit it. Expect your bracket to be full of final scores in the 60s & 70s.
I'm painting a really rosy picture right now, I know. I can imagine you're wondering why you should even bother turning on the games, and it's a valid question. One answer is because you're a degenerate gambler and the first week of the NCAA Tournament is basically Christmas in Las Vegas, but that's not really what we're getting at here. We've made it through the cons, here are the pros.
Nobody is immortal
This NCAA season has no NBA D-League teams like last year's Kentucky squad, there are a number of teams that could make it to the Final Four is larger than I've seen in years. Any of the #1 seeds could get popped early (alright, not in the 1st round, it isn't that insane) or they could all make it to the end, it's wide open.
Do you want to watch a team that runs the floor for 40 minutes? Watch Green Bay. Do you want a team that runs a full-court press? Watch the West Virginia Mountaineers. Do you like a team that owns the boards? The Baylor Bears are a good bet. Do you appreciate teams that value the ball? The Temple Owls turn the ball over less than anybody in the tournament. There's something in this tournament for everybody, you just have to know where to look.
The results will be unpredictable
For all the NBA has going for it, when it comes to the playoffs the NBA is fairly predictable. Last year it wasn't a surprise that the Cleveland Cavaliers made it to the finals, and it wasn't particularly surprising that Golden State won the whole thing. This year feels like - barring Greg Popovich stuffing kryptonite in Steph Curry's mouthpiece - one long coronation for the Warriors. This year could be especially messy; there are a pack of 10-15 teams at the top who are all bunched up together and a bunch of teams being led by battle-tested seniors lurking in the middle seeds. There may not be a 15-seed making it to the Sweet Sixteen, but don't be surprised to see a number of 10-13 seeds destroying brackets this year. Bask in the glow of not knowing who is the clear favorite, it's part of the entertainment.
If you're a basketball purist and you think anything less than the Warriors is shit, you probably should just stick to the NBA. But if you have the capacity for normal human emotions and want to mainline 96 hours of basketball, this is the best weekend of the year. Pick a random team to root for - not Kentucky, don't be Drake - and ride the rolller coaster.