It’s March: Start cramming for your NCAA tournament bracket

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Today marks the first day of March, meaning that it is officially the best month of the calendar year.

Time to ring in the madness.

And while you’ve spent the last four months watching football, the NBA, The Bachelor and whatever show The Walking Dead has turned into, we’ve been typing our fingers to the bone and spending hours upon hours a night on the couch, watching and writing and learning all about the college basketball landscape this year just so we can impart that wisdom on you. 

(You’re welcome, by the way.)

Anywho, for those of you that are just tuning into college basketball this season, here are the nine things that you need to know about the sport as we get ready for the Greatest Tournament On Earth.

1. The freshmen are awesome this year: Last season, the biggest star in college hoops and the eventual No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Ben Simmons, didn’t end up making the NCAA tournament with LSU, and while there are a couple of potential top five picks that will likely be watching the tournament from the same place you will — a barstool or a couch — the majority of what is a sensational freshman class will be participating in the Big Dance.

Lonzo Ball is the first name to know. He’s the star point guard for UCLA, a Jason Kidd replica and a potential No. 1 pick in the 2017 Draft. Kansas wing Josh Jackson will push Ball for the title of best freshman in America, but those two have plenty of company. There may not be a more exciting player in the tournament than Kentucky’s Malik Monk, who has proven that he can single-handily win a game all by himself, while Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is a 7-foot forward that shoots 44.4 percent from three. Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac has been terrific, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges is the best dunker in college hoops and Duke’s Jayson Tatum is slowly making people think that Carmelo Anthony’s body-double has returned to the collegiate ranks.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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2. Speaking of Duke … : The Blue Devils have been the hardest team in the country to figure out. They entered the season projected as the best team in the country and started out the year great despite playing shorthanded. Then their freshmen stars — Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden — got healthy and they started playing poorly. Then Grayson Allen tripped someone again, the third time in a year that he’s done so, and we all spent the next month over-analyzing every single thing that any of his extremities did during a game. There were alleged trips, and alleged flops, and an alleged shove of an opposing coach. It was the wildest thing I’ve ever seen in sports, and it all happened while Coach K was out getting back surgery and the Blue Devils were starting ACC play 3-4.

They were a psychologist’s dream, this team of future first round picks that couldn’t seem to find a way to get along on the court. Every step forward led to a step back … until Coach K returned to the floor and the Blue Devils reeled off seven straight wins. That led to a myriad of “Duke is back!” columns which led to even more “Duke is back to not being back!” columns after they lost two in a row last week.

So yeah. Duke has as much talent as anyone in the country, they don’t really have a point guard but they may have a power struggle among the best players on the roster, and their season has played out like the writers of Friday Night Lights decided to make a teen drama TV series about an ACC basketball team.

Your blind guess is probably as good as mine.

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 14: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils dribbles the ball during the game against the Louisville Cardinals at KFC YUM! Center on January 14, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Jayson Tatum #0 of Duke (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

3. Duke isn’t the only blueblood that’s awesome. They all are … except Indiana: That’s been the best part about this season to date: All the biggest and best programs in the country happen to be having terrific seasons … except Indiana. Poor Indiana.

  • Kansas has a senior point guard named Frank Mason III who is going to win National Player of the Year and has his own theme song despite the fact that freshman Josh Jackson is probably the best player on the team. They’re deservedly the No. 1 team in the country right now.
  • Kentucky’s Malik Monk is the most entertaining player in the sport, a must-watch talent that scored 47 against North Carolina earlier this year and put up 30 points in a half in a win over SEC rival Florida.
  • Lonzo Ball’s addition to the UCLA roster has turned the Bruins into an offense as high-octane as the Showtime Lakers. Ball is a singularly unique talent in his ability to pass the ball and bury 30-foot threes. The Bruins, when they are at their best, are the best team in college basketball.
  • North Carolina has been overlooked by a lot of people throughout the season, but the bottomline is that this is a veteran team with a deep, talented front line and two guys — Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II — that can take over a game with the best of them. Roy Williams has now won eight ACC regular season titles in the last 13 years.
  • Arizona spent the first three months of the season waiting for Allonzo Trier, their best player, to have the PEDs he accidentally ingested in the offseason clear his system, but now that he has, he joined an Arizona team that already looked like one of the best in the sport.
  • Louisville goes through some long scoring droughts, but they play that typical Louisville defense and they have a guy named Donovan Mitchell who is awesome.

And then there’s Indiana.

The Hoosiers started the season so promisingly, beating both Kansas and North Carolina, but they’ve since been obliterated by injuries and sabotaged by the lack of a point guard, meaning that they are going to likely miss the NCAA tournament in a year where it’s near-impossible to not be good enough for the bubble, and that, in turn, has put Tom Crean’s job status in peril once again.

Poor Indiana.

4. Gonzaga almost had an undefeated season and now may not get a No. 1 seed: The Zags won their first 29 games of the season, including wins over Arizona, Florida and Iowa State, but since they’re Gonzaga and somehow everyone has gotten into their head that the 2013 season — the one where Mark Few’s club was 31-2 entering the tournament, earned a No. 1 seed and lost to Wichita State in the second round — is the norm and not the outlier, they get zero respect for those first 29 wins. This is how bad it is: They enter the WCC tournament with a 29-1 record, the ‘1’ being a lose in their regular season finale to a BYU team that’s beaten them in Spokane three straight years, but they may very well end up dropping to the No. 2 seed line on Selection Sunday.

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Nigel Williams-Goss #5 and Josh Perkins #13 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrate a victory over the Iowa State Cyclones at HP Field House on November 27, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Nigel Williams-Goss #5 and Josh Perkins #13, Gonzaga (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

5. This may finally be the year the West Coast gets back in on the Final Four mix: If we’re being fair, that has less to do with the fact that Gonzaga’s profile is relatively weak than it does with just how strong the profiles are for the other top teams around the country. Villanova, Kansas and North Carolina are close to locks for the No. 1 seeds in the East, Midwest and South, respectively, and one of the three teams at the top of the Pac-12 — Arizona, Oregon and UCLA — would have a very strong argument for the No. 1 seed out west if they win the Pac-12 tournament title.

Where this really gets interesting is that the last time a team west of Norman, Oklahoma, reached the Final Four was 2008, the third in a string of three straight Final Fours by UCLA. The last time a western team not named UCLA reached the Final Four? Arizona in 2001. The Wildcats won the last national title for the left coast as well, and that was all the way back in 1997. The West Coast can claim four of the nation’s top eight teams this season, and it would not be surprising to see three of them get to the season’s final weekend.

6. But the Big Ten, not so much: The West Coast has four national title contenders, the Big Ten has about a third of one. The league is down this year, and it’s not just because Indiana went from looking like a team that could get to the Final Four to a team that can’t even get to the NCAA tournament. Michigan State is young and got off to a rough start to the year. Ohio State, who won five Big Ten regular season titles in a seven-year span during head coach Thad Matta’s tenure, stinks this year. Even teams like Maryland and Minnesota, who are both going to finish in the top four of the league, aren’t really all that good.

The two teams at the top of the conference are Purdue and Wisconsin. The Badgers have lost four of their last five games and, quite frankly, haven’t had the look of a title contender very often this season. Purdue is the one team that might have a chance. They have a National Player of the Year candidate in 6-foot-9 Caleb Swanigan and they surround him with shooters. But they don’t play great defense and they struggle with more athletic teams, which they’ll see in every round after the opening game of the tournament. The Boilermakers are probably destined for a No. 5 seed. Can they get to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed?

VILLANOVA, PA - NOVEMBER 11: Josh Hart #3 of Villanova attempts a shot as Nick Lindner #11 and Kyle Stout #24 of Lafayette defend during the second half of a game at The Pavilion on November 11, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. Villanova defeated Lafayette 88-48. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Josh Hart #3 of Villanova (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

7. Villanova is a legitimate threat to repeat: The credit for this one falls on the shoulders of Jay Wright. Not only does he have his team in a position to make another run at a title, but he has them there despite losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, arguing the two most irreplaceable players on last year’s team, and while star freshman Omari Spellman and junior Phil Booth haven’t playing this season. Josh Hart has played like an all-american, sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson isn’t all that far behind and, despite going just seven players deep, the Wildcats are going to slot right into a No. 1 seed in the east.

8. Louisville and North Carolina are still waiting on decisions on their NCAA investigation: The NCAA has been in Louisville and in Chapel Hill for investigations in recent years. Louisville was caught having a staff member hire dancers and prostitutes for players and prospects, while North Carolina is still dealing with the fallout of 18 years worth of fake classes provided by the African-American studies department. Neither will be resolved before the season ends despite the fact that two of the most high-profile programs in college sports are involved.

9. The bubble is weird because everyone outside the Big Six leagues stinks: There are teams like Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9 ACC), TCU (17-12, 6-10 Big 12) and Vanderbilt (16-14, 9-8 SEC) on the brink of getting at-large berths to the NCAA tournament this year because everyone outside of the Big Six. The ACC only has two at-large teams (SMU and Cincinnati) because teams like Memphis, UConn and Temple are all down. Unless Rhode Island lands a couple of Atlantic 10 tournament wins, that conference is probably going to send just VCU and Dayton to the tournament as at-large bids. The Mountain West is a one-bid league as San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV are all outside the tournament picture. Wichita State, Illinois State, Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee State might be able to land at-large bids, but beyond that, there aren’t any mid-major teams with bubble-worthy profiles.

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Arizona State lands four-star guard Luguentz Dort

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Arizona State landed a huge commitment on Wednesday night as four-star guard Lugentz Dort pledged to the Sun Devils.

The second commitment for Arizona State in the Class of 2018 in less than a week, the 6-foot-3 Dort is a big-time athlete on the perimeter as he selected the Sun Devils over his other finalists of Baylor and Oregon. Dort took official visits to all three schools during the process.

One of the better shooting guards in the 2018 class, Dort is a physically-imposing guard who should be ready to immediately contribute in the Pac-12.

Dort joins Finnish shooting guard Elias Valtonen in the Arizona State Class of 2018 recruiting haul.

Oregon sued by former recruit who tore ACL during official visit

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The University of Oregon and members of the men’s basketball staff, including head coach Dana Altman, are being sued by a former recruit who tore his ACL during an official visit to campus.

Crisshawn Clark, a junior guard at Portland, suffered his injury during an official visit to the Ducks which began on Oct. 16, 2015. At the time, Clark was a junior college recruit at Canada College and he suffered the injury as Oregon assistant coach Mike Mennenga ran him through a basketball workout during the visit. Clark was treated by an Oregon trainer, and after the injury was believed to be serious, an MRI confirmed a torn ACL.

Clark eventually committed to Pitt and sat out last season rehabbing his knee before ending up at Portland.

Even though Clark had a bad knee injury that required surgery, he is not seeking money for medical expenses. Clark’s lawsuit said that his medical expenses were paid for by Oregon. But Clark is suing for compensation for pain and suffering along with damages for the loss of future income. Clark estimates it will be over $100,000. And he might have a case.

That’s because the lawsuit alleges that Oregon violated an NCAA rule that prohibits on-campus evaluations of prospective student-athletes who are playing at a junior college. Oregon self-reported this violation in Oct. 2015, according to a report from Jack Pitcher of the Daily Emerald, citing athletic department spokesman Jimmy Stanton. The NCAA classified this as a level 3 violation.

If Clark was put through an illegal workout by Oregon — who admitted to violating a rule by self-reporting — then he might have a case. Along with Altman and Mennenga, Oregon assistant coaches Kevin Mckenna and Tony Stubblefield are also named in the lawsuit along with Oregon director of basketball operations Josh Jamieson.

Clark is sitting out the 2017-18 season due to NCAA transfer rules as he is hoping for two years of eligibility after. Due to his torn ACL, Clark and Portland can apply for an extra year of eligibility for the 2019-20 season.

(H/t: Jack Pitcher, Daily Emerald)

Rick Pitino received subpoena in FBI’s college basketball probe

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Former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino has received a subpoena in the FBI’s college basketball bribery scandal, his lawyer told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Wednesday.

Pitino’s lawyer, Steve Pence, confirmed the subpoena as Pitino joins Miami head coach Jim Larranaga as coaches to receive a subpoena this week in the FBI’s probe. Those two head coaches join Auburn, Arizona, Oklahoma State and USC as the six known subpoenas, so far, in the case.

“We’ve already acknowledged that the coach has a subpoena and he’s gathering documents for the … U.S. attorney,” Pence said of Pitino to the Courier-Journal.

While it was known that Pitino had voluntarily spoken with the FBI thanks to an affidavit submitted to the University of Louisville Athletic Association in a packet from Pitino’s lawyers earlier this week, the subpoena was not mentioned, according to the Courier-Journal. The packet also included results of a lie detector test and copies of text messages.

The subpoena for Pitino doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but coupled with the report of Larranaga’s subpoena, it sounds like the FBI is taking the next steps in its case.

Report: Miami coach Jim Larranaga receives grand jury subpoena for FBI’s college basketball investigation

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Miami head coach Jim Larranaga has received a grand jury subpoena as the FBI continues its investigation into corruption in college basketball. According to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, Larranaga received a subpoena for texts, emails and other items.

Larranaga’s attorneys told Fenno that the veteran head coach has done nothing wrong. “There’s nothing there,” Larranaga’s attorney said to Fenno. “We’re trying to get them to admit they made a mistake and move on.”

While Larranaga and Miami have previously cooperated with the FBI in turning over phone records and documents in a report from Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel on Oct. 3, the news of a subpoena makes things far more serious.

FBI documents about the scandal don’t specifically mention Larranaga or Miami by name but the school was identified as one of the universities referenced with Adidas allegedly paying players. Miami confirmed the FBI investigation on Sept. 27, stating, “We have confirmed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that, at this time, it is investigating a potential tie to one member of our coaching staff and a student recruit.”

One wiretapped conversation, according to the FBI’s investigation, included a discussion into how much money it would take for a top recruit — believed to be North Carolina 2018 commit Nassir Little — to play at Miami as part of a bidding war.

Patriot League Preview: Can anyone challenge Bucknell?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Patriot League.

The 2016-17 season in the Patriot League was one dominated by the Bucknell Bison, with Nathan Davis’ team winning the regular season title for the sixth time in the last seven years. Led by Patriot League Player and Defensive Player of the Year Nana Foulland, the Bison were the best team in the league with regards to both offensive and defensive efficiency and won the regular season title by three games. After winning 26 games and reaching the NCAA tournament as a 13-seed, the question for Bucknell entering the 2017-18 season is what can this group do for an encore.

The good news for Bucknell is that all four double-digit scorers from last season, led by Foulland and forward Zach Thomas, are back on campus. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game last season, with the versatile Thomas leading the Bison in scoring with an average of 15.9 points per contest. Add in guards Stephen Brown and Kimbal Mackenzie, and Bucknell has a rotation that won’t lack for talent or experience.

Given Bucknell’s recent track record and their returning contributors, there’s a simple question for the rest of the Patriot League: which team is best equipped to make a run at the Bison? One could argue that up to four teams are in the conversation, with there not being much to separate them on paper.

Despite losing an outstanding front court presence in Tim Kempton and another productive senior on guard Austin Price, Lehigh is one of those teams. Head coach Dr. Brett Reed will call upon an experienced backcourt to lead the way, with junior Kyle Leufroy averaging nearly 12 points per game last season and senior Kahron Ross leading the league in assists last season. The Mountain Hawks also add one of the Patriot League’s top newcomers in guard Lance Tejada, who sat out last season as a transfer after playing the first two seasons of his college career at East Carolina. With regard to the front court, the progression of sophomore forward Pat Andree will be key if Lehigh is to threaten Bucknell.

Also in the mix is Colgate, with head coach Matt Langel welcoming back six players who made at least 14 starts a season ago. At the top of that list are sophomore forward Will Rayman and senior guard Sean O’Brien, with Rayman being the Patriot League’s top freshman last season. In Rayman, O’Brien and Jordan Swopshire the Raiders return three double-digit scorers, and if Colgate can become a more efficient team on both ends of the floor look out.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

Navy and Boston University should also be heard from in the Patriot League conversation, with the Midshipmen being led by senior guard Shawn Anderson. Ed DeChellis’ team won’t lack for depth, with the team’s top five scorers from a season ago back in Annapolis. As for the Terriers, Boston University has to account for the loss of two of the Patriot League’s best players in Eric Fanning and Justin Alston but the cupboard isn’t bare. Guards Cedric Hankerson and Cheddi Mosely return, as does all-rookie team forward Tyler Scanlon, which should make for a good foundation on which to build a possible contender.

Loyola (MD), Lafayette and Army West Point will look to fight their way into the upper half of the Patriot League standings, with the Greyhounds returning one of the Patriot League’s best guards in senior Andre Walker. Lafayette returns three of its top four scorers, led by the Patriot League’s top returning scorer in senior forward Matt Klinewski. And in his second season as the head coach at Army West Point, Jimmy Allen will look to make strides with a team that won 13 games in 2016-17. Guard Jordan Fox is back for his junior season, and in total five of Army’s top six scorers are back.

American, which won just eight games last season, returns its top two scorers in sophomores Sa’eed Nelson and Mark Gasperini. However, the Eagles do have to account for the loss of one of the top defenders in the Patriot League in wing Charlie Jones. Holy Cross, which won 15 games last season, will have to account for the loss of its top two scorers in Robert Champion and Malachi Alexander. Head coach Bill Carmody will look to juniors Karl Charles and Pat Benzan to step forward, but with no seniors on this season’s roster it will take the Crusaders some time to develop into a Patriot League contender.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON PATRIOT LEAGUE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nana Foulland, Bucknell

Not only was Foulland the Patriot League’s best player in 2016-17, but he was also its best defender. Foulland averaged 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game as a junior, shooting 63.0 percent from the field.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE TEAM

  • Kahron Ross, Lehigh: Ross led the Patriot League in assists (5.3 apg) last season while also scoring nearly ten points per game. With Tim Kempton gone, Ross will have more opportunities to score within the Lehigh offense.
  • Andre Walker, Loyola (MD): Walker averaged 14.6 points, 3.9 assists and 3.6 rebounds per night for the Greyhounds last season, and he also shot 38.0 percent from three.
  • Shawn Anderson, Navy: The 6-foot-4 senior guard saw his field goal percentage dip as a junior (41.8 percent after shooting nearly 50 percent as a sophomore), but he still averaged 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per night.
  • Zach Thomas, Bucknell: Thomas led the Bison in scoring (15.9 ppg) last season, while also averaging 6.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night. His ability to score both inside and out will be key for Bucknell.

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PREDICTED FINISH

1. Bucknell
2. Lehigh
3. Colgate
4. Navy
5. Boston University
6. Loyola (MD)
7. Lafayette
8. Army West Point
9. American
10. Holy Cross