Your team: K-State
Who to root for: West Virginia
Why: Former K-State coach Bob Huggins is one of only 5 active D1 coaches with 700 or more career victories. I believe WVA and KSU basketball fans have shared many of the same struggles. Both schools and the cities that house them are often (unfairly) seen as backwoods outposts, filled with farmers and hillbillies, not located in great recruiting stations, and not really the first place 4 and 5 star recruits want to play. However, Huggins always manages to get the most out of his players. He’s a tough coach to play for, but his players all love him because they know he is only pushing them to get better.
Similarly, the best K-State squads in recent years have been Frank Martin’s teams who weren’t supremely talented, but played hard every single minute on the court, under a hard-ass coach who could be seen as abusive at times.
Huggins’ team this year plays a mighty full-court press for the entire game. They finished second in the Big XII, the nation’s toughest conference, and a deep tournament run isn’t unlikely.
Your team: LSU
Who to root for: Kentucky
Why: If you were hyped for, and ultimately disappointed by, five-star recruit Ben Simmons, I think you’ll like Kentucky’s Jamal Murray. It’s no secret (and no surprise) that Ben Simmons has been blowing off his classes all year, exposing a flaw in the one-and-done system. It kind of appears that he’s been blowing off college basketball as well. His lack of competitiveness in big games has raised questions about whether he’ll be the top NBA draft pick everyone thought he was at the beginning of the season. He seems to value showboating for a highlight reel over actually making big plays when his team needs him.
Conversely, Jamal Murray struggled early in the season, but has finished by shooting 52.9% in the last nine regular-season games. His strengths lie in his outside shooting and his ball handling, as well as his contagious positivity. He meditates before every game and immediately after it. He’s basically the antithesis of an apathetic player like Ben Simmons.
Your team: Monmouth
Who to root for: Stephen F. Austin
Why: Monmouth got snubbed for a chance at the dance and the real loser here is America. No team in the field of 64 will be as entertaining at Monmouth’s bench, whose celebrations are now the stuff of legends. But if I had to pick another mid-major to watch, it would be Stephen F. Austin.
They are far too good for their conference (53-1 in league play since 2014), and they’ve had some exciting tournament runs as well, beating VCU in overtime in 2014 and losing a squeaker to Utah 57-50 last year. They are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation, ranking 21st in the nation in scoring with 80.7 ppg. They are second in the nation in assists and their defense ranks 13th. The team is small (only one starter above 6’5”), but they play big (their leading scorer, senior forward Thomas Walkup is only 6-4) and they are great on the offensive boards. They were woefully given the 14 seed, and as a result, have to play a tough West Virginia team in the first round.
While no one will ever be as gif-worth as the Monmouth bench, look for this guy (who’s real name is Blake Loggins) on Lumberjack mascot duty. That axe tho.
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