They’re a week away from establishing the Final Four in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, but in the Buccaneers’ locker room it’s already been whittled down to the Final Six.
(Sweet Six? Happy Half-Dozen? Elite Almost-Eight? Whatever.)
March is not the Bucs’ best time for One Buc Place trash talk, actually, as the players are still enjoying some down time before the offseason program begins in earnest. If the tournament fell in, say, November, you can bet it would be the top locker room topic after every practice.
When the 2013 bracket was unveiled on March 17, a total of 18 current Buccaneers (not counting unsigned free agents) had reason to be proud of their former NCAA homes. With at least one representative in each of the four regions, Tampa Bay players had a somewhat slimmed-down version of their own bracket ready to begin on Thursday.
Now? Well, a Final Four with Buccaneer rooting interests in every team is still possible, but just barely. Only six Bucs can still claim a team in the running now that the field has been slimmed down to 16, and two of those six are rooting for the same school. Here’s a rundown of how the 17 tournament teams with Buccaneer locker room ties have fared so far:
Lost in the Play-In Round (Technically, Round One):
- Boise State (RB Doug Martin)…Martin’s tournament fun was over almost before it started, as his team lost the West Region 13-seed play-in game to LaSalle, which has gone on to challenge Florida Gulf Coast University for the title of this tournament’s darling.
Lost in Round Two (Thursday/Friday):
- Pittsburgh (TE Nate Byham)…Went down meekly, 73-55, to one of the team’s early Cinderallas, Wichita State.
- Wisconsin (LB Jonathan Casillas)…Victim of a bracket-busting upset for some pool players, as the fifth-seeded Badgers lost to 12-seed Ole Miss.
- Kansas State (QB Josh Freeman)…Another victim of upstart LaSalle, meaning the core of the Buccaneers’ offense isn’t too fond of the Explorers right now.
- Oklahoma (G Davin Joseph, DT Gerald McCoy)…Lost the 7-10 game in the South Region to San Diego State, 70-55.
- North Carolina State (C Ted Larsen)…Missed the chance to take on #1 seed Indiana by losing a close one to Temple.
Lost in Round Three (Saturday/Sunday):
- Iowa State (CB Leonard Johnson)…Johnson, who beat the odds to make an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent last summer, nearly saw his team overcome underdog status and make the Sweet 16. The Cyclones upset 7-seed Notre Dame in their opener but lost to Ohio State on a last-second three-pointer Sunday.
- North Carolina (K Connor Barth)…Lost a matchup of traditional powerhouses on Sunday, giving up a 30-21 halftime lead in a 70-58 decision against #1 seed Kansas.
- Minnesota (QB Adam Weber)…In one of only two matchups so far between Buccaneer teammates, the Gophers fell to Florida, 78-64, as the Gators advanced to the Sweet 16.
- California (DE Ernest Owusu)…The Golden Bears lost in what was the other matchup pitting Buc teammates against each other, falling to Syracuse, 66-60, on Saturday night.
On to the Sweet 16!:
- Oregon (RB LeGarrette Blount)…The Ducks took down fifth-seeded Oklahoma State and fourth-seeded St. Louis en route to a Sweet 16 matchup with #1 seed Louisville this coming Friday. Blount is the lone remaining Buc in the Midwest Region.
- Arizona (WR David Douglas)…The Wildcats have drawn #11 seed Belmont and #15 seed Harvard so far and have handled both easily. Next up for Douglas’ team is #2 seed Ohio State on Thursday. Douglas is the last Buc alive in the West Region.
- Michigan (CB James Rogers)…The Wolverines have won their two games, over #13 seed South Dakota State and #4 seed Virginia Commonwealth, by an average of 20 points. It’s likely a tougher task ahead for Rogers’ team as they play #1 seed Kansas on Friday.
- Florida (S Ahmad Black, P Chas Henry)…The Gators have a very interesting matchup on Friday against the first #15 seed ever to make the Sweet 16, Florida Gulf Coast. UF has so far dispatched of Northwestern State and Minnesota. The two former Gators and Michigan’s Rogers could meet in the Elite Eight later in the weekend.
- Syracuse (WR Mike Williams)…’Cuse gets a crack at #1 Indy in the East Region on Thursday after dismantling Montana, 81-34 and getting past Owusu’s Cal crew, 66-60.
Many Buccaneer players will be back to work at team headquarters by the beginning of April, which means the potential for tournament trash-talking still exists if the Final Four falls right. The nuclear scenario: A Final Four of Oregon in the Midwest, Arizona in the West, Florida in the South (since there are two former Gators on the roster) and Syracuse in the East.
Chances are, there aren’t too many brackets with an Oregon-Arizona-Florida-Syracuse Final Four. But you never know!