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Mike Lopresti | | February 28, 2018

March Madness: 31 questions for college basketball’s best month

March is (just about) here. And you know the old saying about March – it comes in like a lion and goes out with the Final Four. In honor of the month that college basketball lives for, a question for every day.

March 1: In its next-to-last game, can Grambling finish off the season’s ultimate rags-to-championship story and clinch at least a share of its first SWAC season title in 29 years? This for a program that during 2011-16 went 18-127, and lost 46 consecutive games against Division I opponents. This week is as close to the NCAA bracket as these Tigers are going to get; they’re ineligible for postseason competition.

March 2: Quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, which was pushed up a week to find a vacancy at Madison Square Garden. Will one of the league’s top teams lose, and possibly have 14 days off until its first NCAA tournament game?

March 3: Who’s the first team officially invited to the NCAA tournament? The answer will come from the Ohio Valley Conference, where the top seed is Murray State. Matt McMahon became the ninth Racers’ coach in a row to win a season league title.

March 4: The Missouri Valley Conference championship game. Who fills the Wichita State void? Maybe Loyola-Chicago, who hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 32 seasons. Among schools who were past national champions, only CCNY has a longer drought. 

March 5: Rider’s last NCAA tournament bid was 24 years ago. Will the No. 1 seed Broncs have one when the MAAC tournament is over? Their karma seems right. They’ve won seven games after trailing in the last four minutes.

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March 6: The West Coast Conference title game. It’ll be Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s that day in Las Vegas, as surely as the sun sets in the west over Death Valley. But which one?

March 7: The Patriot League final. Will the winner be season champion Bucknell, owner of one of the season’s oddest statistics? The Bison won three conference games in overtime – over Lafayette, Army and Holy Cross – and none of the three opponents had a single field goal in the extra period. They shot a combined 0-for-22. OT stood for off-target.

March 8: The quarterfinals of the Big 12. Can the tournament possibly match the league’s regular season in entertainment value? Let the record show that in the first 13 years of Kansas' remarkable regular season title run, the Jayhawks went on to win the conference tournament seven times.

March 9: Kentucky has won three SEC tournaments in a row and 31 of them overall. The rest of the league combined has won 27. It didn’t seem as if the Wildcats would add to their haul, but have they matured just in time? The quarterfinals will start answering.

AP Top 25: Kansas climbs, Virginia still No. 1 in latest college basketball rankings

March 10: The ACC final. Will it be Virginia winning, and going into the NCAA tournament as No. 1? P.S. Should someone tell the Cavaliers only two top-ranked teams in the past 22 years have won the national championship?

March 11: Selection Sunday. And the No. 1 seeds are . . . a Virginia here, a Michigan State there. And maybe Xavier, for the first time ever?

March 12: Who's doing the most day-after grumbling about their fate? Maybe the higher seeds in the way of Missouri, if Michael Porter Jr. suddenly appears in uniform?

March 13: The First Four begins in Dayton. Will the two 16-seed line teams who open the tournament live up to the drama of many of their predecessors? In seven years of the First Four, there have been four opening games decided by one point or in overtime. Including the time President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron sat in the first row.

March 14: The four survivors of the First Four are determined. Which one looks like the best candidate to pack up, fly to their first round site, and promptly pull off an upset? It’s happened every year of the First Four’s existence.

March 15: The first rounds begin, and office pool entrants everywhere lean forward, anxiously waiting to hear. Who’s the first bracket-busting blueblood to go?

Podcast: Tim Miles says Nebraska aiming for top four Big Ten seed; Self, Hurley discuss wide-open tournament

March 16: By the end of the first round, will the long vigil of the No. 16 seeds finally be over? Or will they be 0-136 against the No. 1 seeds?

March 17: Four second rounds are completed, including the Pittsburgh site. Assuming Villanova is there, have the comforts of playing in its home state helped prevent the First Weekend Blues? They have tormented the Wildcats three of the past four years as a No. 1 or 2 seed -- with the notable exception of 2016.

March 18: The Sweet 16 is set. Who is most conspicuous by their absence?

March 19: Any Cinderella stories bouncing around out there? You have to go back to 2007 to find a Sweet 16 without a double-digit seed.

March 20: Time to look at the regional fields and consider best potential Final Four storylines. A North Carolina repeat run? Mike Krzyzewski getting there for the 13th time at the age of 71, to pass John Wooden? Purdue making it to its first Final Four in 38 years? Xavier or Texas Tech for the first time ever?   

March 21: Trivia question of the day. What teams have the longest active consecutive streak of getting to the Sweet 16? It’ll be Gonzaga or North Carolina at four, if either is still alive.

March 22: As the South Regional opens in Atlanta, who will be the teams playing the first NCAA tournament game ever at Philips Arena? If the place is full of blue, guess Kentucky.

March 23: Welcome to Omaha for the Midwest Regional. Do you know the state of Nebraska has never hosted a Sweet 16 game, nor had a team play in one since Creighton 44 years ago?

March 24: If Kansas is still around for a regional championship, will Bill Self be hearing more about the two Elite Eight games he has won, or the five he has lost?

MORE: 7 NCAA basketball champions who were ranked No. 1 from start to finish

March 25: The Final Four is complete. Surely, there is at least one past champion included, right? There has been every year since 1990.

March 26: Is there an underdog story in the house? Maybe like a Gonzaga of 2017 or Wichita State of 2013 – though both get rather touchy about that tag. And it’s seven years since Butler and VCU.

March 27: How glad will Chris Webber be when this Final Four is over, so he doesn’t have to hear any more 25-year references to his ill-fated timeout for Michigan against North Carolina?

March 28: Since Mario Chalmers now plays for the Memphis Grizzlies, should we assume the city has forgiven him for what happened 10 years ago in the last San Antonio Final Four? His 3-pointer with 2.1. seconds left forced overtime, and saved the day for Kansas as it ruined the happy ending for Memphis.

March 29: Two of the more frustrating dry spells for their participants: No Big Ten national champion since 2000, no West Coast champion since 1997. Is anyone left to put an end to either?

March 30: It’s Final Four Eve in San Antonio. Is there a better sight the night before the event than all the different school colors strolling the Riverwalk?

March 31: By midnight, only two teams and the 80th championship game remain. Is the new version of One Shining Moment nearly ready?

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