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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Pat Forde

March Madness: Forty Things to Watch in the 2024 NCAA Men’s Tournament

Forty things you can expect to see in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament:

1) More points. Teams currently are averaging 73.6 points per game. That’s the highest since 2018, when the average was 73.8, and the second most since 1995. Generally speaking, teams are playing faster and shooting more three-pointers, which has made for a more viewer-friendly product. Six of the top seven scoring teams in the nation will be in the tournament: Alabama, Kentucky, Arizona, Samford, Florida and Gonzaga.

2) Fewer charges. One area of officiating emphasis this season has been making it harder for defenders to draw charging calls. Secondary defenders are not being rewarded for sliding in front of driving players, thus reducing the number of “charbage” calls. This has been one of the more significant improvements in recent years.

3) Rampant parity. Among the top six teams in the AP Top 25 heading into championship week, only one won its conference tournament: UConn claimed the Big East. Houston was routed in the Big 12 title game, Purdue lost in the Big Ten semifinals, Tennessee was blown out in the SEC quarters, North Carolina was upset in the Atlantic Coast title game and Arizona was taken down in the Pac-12 semis. Only three teams have three losses (UConn, James Madison and McNeese State); everyone else has more.

[ March Madness 2024: News & Analysis | Schedule | Bracket ]

4) A chaotic bracket that should be rife with upsets. The field was shaken up Saturday when No. 10 ACC seed North Carolina State and No. 4 Pac-12 seed Oregon won bids, knocking at-large teams out of consideration for the tournament. There was tumult in the American Athletic Conference, with No. 11 Temple and No. 4 UAB advancing to the final to take away another bid. So did the Atlantic 10, which advanced No. 6 Duquesne and No. 4 VCU to the Sunday final. Seeding has likely never required this many late-breaking alterations.

5) International flavor. The tourney will have a sharpshooter from Japan (Keisei Tominaga of Nebraska). A leading man from Canada (Zach Edey of Purdue). A floor general from Lithuania (Augustus Marčiulionis of Saint Mary’s). An abundance of Australians (Tyrese Proctor of Duke, Achor Achor of Samford, Johnny Furphy of Kansas, Reyne Smith of Charleston). A low-post power from England (Great Osobor of Utah State). A 7-footer from Russia (Vladislav Golden of Florida Atlantic). Big men from Mali (N’Faly Dante of Oregon, Mady Sissoko of Michigan State, Fousseyni Traore of BYU). And so forth.

6) You will not see or hear Jim Nantz, who hung up his national championship neckties after last season. Ian Eagle is the new lead voice of March Madness on CBS.

7) A lot of Cougars: Houston, BYU, Charleston and Washington State. And Bulldogs: Gonzaga, Samford, Yale, Drake and Mississippi State.

8) Not an abundance of NBA draft lottery picks. A lot of the projected top picks are foreign or already playing professionally in the U.S. The most likely lottery-level players are Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht; Colorado’s Cody Williams; UConn’s Stephon Castle and Donovan Clingan; Kentucky’s Reed Sheppard and Rob Dillingham; Duke’s Jared McCain and Kyle Filipowski; and Baylor’s Ja’Kobe Walter.

UConn Huskies center Donovan Clingan (32) celebrates as the clock winds down against the  Marquette Golden Eagles in the second half at Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 16, 2024.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

9) The tourney will have plenty of excitement in Storr. There is Wisconsin leading scorer AJ Storr and a defending champion from Storrs, Conn.

10) We’ll see UAB, the most popular team at NCAA headquarters after the Blazers disposed of extreme underdog Temple to win the American Athletic Conference. That alleviated one problematic headline for the association.

11) We’ll see and hear a lot of huffing and puffing about the officiating of Purdue big man and national Player of the Year Edey. At 7'4" and 300 pounds, he is literally the biggest thing in the Big Dance, and his game is all about contact and collisions in the paint. Edey leads the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes at 9.7 and has shot 370 free throws—nearly 100 more than anyone else in the tourney field. Opponents think he gets away with everything. Purdue thinks he gets fouled way more than it’s actually called.

Related: Midwest Region Breakdown: Can Purdue Finally Break Through?

12) Coaches of highly seeded teams with something to prove after underachieving in recent NCAA tourneys: Matt Painter of Purdue has never made a Final Four and has upset losses to Fairleigh Dickinson, Saint Peter’s, North Texas and Little Rock; Rick Barnes of Tennessee hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2003; John Calipari of Kentucky hasn’t been since ’15, despite routinely having the most talent; Brad Underwood of Illinois has never made it past the first weekend; and Shaka Smart of Marquette has nothing but early exits since taking VCU to a Cinderella Final Four in ’11.

13) Coaches who know the way, having won national titles in the last decade: Bill Self of Kansas, Scott Drew of Baylor, Dan Hurley of UConn and Tony Bennett of Virginia.

Related: South Region Breakdown: Top Two Seeds Houston and Marquette Have Strong Cases

14) Coaches who have been to at least one Final Four in the last decade but didn’t win it all in those appearances: Brian Dutcher, San Diego State; Dusty May, Florida Atlantic; Hubert Davis, North Carolina; Kelvin Sampson, Houston; Mark Few, Gonzaga; Bruce Pearl, Auburn; Tom Izzo, Michigan State; Dana Altman, Oregon; and Calipari, Kentucky.

15) A coach who was essentially fired last week before the team’s conference tournament, his departure effective at the end of a season that refuses to actually end. That’s Dan Monson at Long Beach State.

16) We’ll see two Long shots: Longwood, which was seeded fifth in the Big South tourney, and Long Beach State, seeded fourth in the Big West.

17) Conference with the most to prove: the Mountain West. After getting six NCAA bids, more than several high-major conferences, a league that has seen only San Diego State have tourney success in recent years needs other teams to advance this time around.

Related: Mountain West Takes Torch of Hottest Men’s Basketball Conference on West Coast

18) We’ll see two Dukes (James Madison and Duquesne) and one Duke (Blue Devils). Unfortunately, Bradley point guard Duke Deen did not make the field.

19) Many trips to the video monitor. In addition to the late-game reviews of possession and game clock, there is more scrutiny of blows to the head than ever before. While generally a good thing in terms of player safety, this inevitably has led to abuse in search of a competitive advantage. Players are exaggerating contact above the shoulders, flopping is on the rise and athletes who appear to be seriously injured one minute are perfectly fine the next. Just be ready for delays brought about by replay review.

20) First-time dancers. Stetson, champion of the Atlantic Sun, and Grambling, champion of the SWAC. Welcome. Stay as long as you can.

21) Teams that are streaking in. James Madison has won 13 straight games, Charleston 12, McNeese State 11 and Vermont 10. The longest active winning streak among high-major teams is UConn’s seven.

22) Teams that are staggering in. Tennessee is on a two-game losing streak and led in those two games for just three minutes and 11 seconds out of 80. Kansas has lost two in a row and four out of five (but should get back two key players who were out with injuries in Kevin McCullar Jr. and Hunter Dickinson). Dayton has lost three of its last six. Clemson has lost two straight and three of its last four. Alabama has lost four of its last six.

Related: West Region Breakdown: North Carolina Earns Last No. 1 Seed But Has Hard Path

23) There are star players getting their first Dance chance after upgrading from lesser teams and leagues. Among them: Knecht, who went from Northern Colorado to Tennessee; Riley Minix, from Division II Southeastern (Fla.) to Morehead State; and Cam Spencer, from Loyola Maryland and Rutgers to UConn.

24) There are fewer instant-impact freshmen in the get-old, stay-old current climate of college basketball, but they do still exist. Five to keep an eye on: Sheppard and Dillingham at Kentucky; Castle at UConn; Milan Momcilovic at Iowa State; JT Toppin at New Mexico; McCain at Duke; and Walter at Baylor.

25) On the AARP end of the spectrum, there is BYU forward Spencer Johnson, who is 26½ years old.

26) The roundest player in the tournament is NC State center DJ Burns Jr., who is 6'9" and charitably listed at 275 pounds. That’s about as accurate as Donald Trump saying he’s 215. Burns doesn’t have the stamina to play 30-plus minutes, but he’s productive when he’s on the floor. He averaged 15.2 points in the Wolfpack’s five-wins-in-five-days rampage through the ACC tourney.

27) The five most efficient offenses in the Big Dance belong to UConn, Alabama, Purdue, Illinois and Kentucky.

28) The five most airtight defenses belong to Iowa State, Houston, Tennessee, Auburn and North Carolina.

29) The most accurate teams from three-point range are Kentucky, Purdue, Dayton, Northwestern and Colorado. The most avid three-point shooters, in terms of a percentage of their total shots, are BYU, Creighton, Charleston, Alabama and Dayton.

30) There are two Drews (Baylor coach Scott and Grand Canyon coach Bryce), two DeVrieses (Drake coach Darian and star player Tucker, his son), but in the end only one Pitino (Richard’s New Mexico Lobos are in, Rick’s St. John’s Red Storm just missed).

31) There are deft dime droppers. The top assist men are Marquette’s Tyler Kolek (provided he returns from an oblique injury that kept him out of the Big East tournament), Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens, Houston’s Jamal Shead and Baylor’s RayJ Dennis. Also a pair of guys with the same name, spelled differently: Purdue’s Braden Smith and Colgate’s Braeden Smith.

Related: East Region Breakdown: Auburn Could Stand in UConn’s Way

32) There are supreme shot blockers. Among them: UConn’s Clingan, Houston’s Ja’Vier Francis, Duquesne’s David Dixon, Auburn’s Johni Broome and Samford’s Achor.

33) There are glass eaters like Akron’s Enrique Freeman (who produced 24 points, 21 rebounds and seven blocks in the MAC semifinals), NC State’s Mohamed Diarra, Yale’s Danny Wolf, UAB’s Yaxel Lendeborg and Arizona’s Oumar Ballo.

34) There are shooting stars: Kentucky’s Sheppard and Antonio Reeves, Dayton’s Koby Brea, Texas Tech’s Kerwin Walton, Colorado’s KJ Simpson and UConn’s Spencer.

35) There are ball thieves like McNeese State’s Shahada Wells, Iowa State’s Tamin Lipsey, Montana State’s Robert Ford III, Kentucky’s Sheppard and TCU’s Jameer Nelson.

36) And there are alley brawlers who never shy away from physical play: Purdue’s Mason Gillis, Texas’s Brock Cunningham, North Carolina’s Armando Bacot, Houston’s J’Wan Roberts and Tennessee’s Tobe Awaka.

37) We have a flock of birds. There are Eagles (Marquette, Morehead State), Owls (Florida Atlantic), Gamecocks (South Carolina), Bluejays (Creighton), Peacocks (Saint Peter’s) and a fictional bird (the Kansas Jayhawks). But we don’t have Larry Bird’s alma mater; Indiana State was a bubble casualty when everything broke wrong for the Sycamores during the week since they lost to Drake in the Missouri Valley final.

38) Alas, we will not see Brown. The Bears came within a buzzer-beating shot by Yale in the Ivy League title game of being the most improbable Cinderella in the field. They were 6–17 on Feb. 16, then peeled off six straight wins to make the four-team Ivy tourney. Once there, they stunned regular-season champion Princeton to make the final and had Yale all but beaten before letting it get away in a flurry of missed free throws and big shots by the Bulldogs. As it stands, Brown is still looking for its first NCAA bid since 1986.

39) We’ll hear a lot about the likelihood of expanding the tournament. There is no need, but it’s coming. Some of the power brokers from the power conferences are pushing for it, and the extremely difficult final decisions the selection committee had to make this year will be used as a vehicle to advance that agenda. Don’t fall for it. We don’t need 72 or 76 teams. We have 68 and that’s enough.

40) When all is said and done on April 8, we’ll see UConn cutting down the nets again, becoming the first repeat champion since Florida in 2006 and ’07.

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