March Madness: Best Round of 64 matchups

The First Four is over, and we’re ready for the real March Madness to begin. Here are the matchups we’re looking forward to most in the Round of 64.

Midwest Region

Sam Perkins: No. 8 Cincinnati vs. No. 9 Purdue

Bearcat Octavius Ellis goes 6-foot-10 and about 240 pounds. He dunks a lot and punches shots. His boilermaker counterpart A.J. Hammons goes 7-foot, 260 pounds. He also dunks a lot and punches shots. Ellis’ backup, Coreontae DeBerry is 6-foot-10, 270 pounds. DeBerry’s counterpart and Hammons’ backup, Isaac Haas, is 7-foot, 297 pounds. Needless to say, there will be a whole lot of humanity in the low post. Beyond the bloodbath in the paint, neither Purdue nor Cincinnati features a true star, they both get everyone involved on offense, and this game could — and should — feature a lot of different lineups, changing defensive schemes, and selfless play. These are arguably the two most evenly matched teams in the entire Round of 64.

Doric Sam: No. 3 Notre Dame vs. No 14 Northeastern

I covered Northeastern once this season, and I was very impressed with the team’s poise. This veteran squad, led by Scott Eatherton, David Walker and Quincy Ford, will not whither under the bright lights of March Madness. The Huskies’ defense probably isn’t strong enough to stop the Fighting Irish, though, meaning we might be in for an old-fashioned shootout, which is always fun.

West Region

Sam Perkins: No. 5 Arkansas vs. No. 12 Wofford

This game looks like it could be a big-time battle of contrasts: Wofford is a sum-is-greater-than-its-parts mid-major that really gets after it on defense (24th in the nation in points allowed); Arkansas is a BCS program powered by a high-octane offense (16th in the nation in points per game, 12th in assists per game) that goes only as far as stars Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls will carry it. A battle on the low blocks between the 6-foot-11 Portis — a legitimate NBA-level talent — and Wofford power forward Lee Skinner (who at 6-foot-6 plays by the motto “heart over height”) could be an outstanding battle.

Doric Sam: No. 4 North Carolina vs. No. 13 Harvard

Out of the top-four seeds in every region, I think the Tar Heels were dealt the worst hand. Harvard is a sound defensive team and is not afraid of making the game ugly. Wesley Saunders is a baller in every sense of the word, and Siyani Chambers and Steve Moundou-Missi are studs. North Carolina should be on upset-alert.

East Region

Sam Perkins: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Georgia

I’ve always been partial to teams that get after it on the glass and mix it up in the paint, and for all of their respective failings (and despite their power conference status, neither the Spartans nor the Bulldogs are close to being a complete team), both of these teams get after it on the glass and around the rim. Spartans Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine both top out at around 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, but they’re both tough as nails and get after it on the glass, and watching them battle it out with the Bulldogs’ Montenegrin enforcer Nemanja Djurisic (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) and in-state brawler Marcus Thornton (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) should be fun to say the least.

Doric Sam: No. 3 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Albany

The Great Danes are a veteran team led by Sam Rowley and Peter Hooley and they have a strong supporting cast with Evan Singletary and Ray Sanders. Albany is well-coached by Will Brown, who always makes it known to his players that the pressure is greater for the higher-seeded team. That type of confidence gives the Great Danes a great chance at an upset, though they face a tough task in a strong Oklahoma team.

South Region

Sam Perkins: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin

You might as well call this one the Goliaths vs the Lilliputians. Utah features two 7-footers and starts four players 6-foot-5 or taller. Stephen F. Austin has just two players on its entire roster above 6’6”, neither of whom play major minutes. A low-post battle between bearded Lumberjacks Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker (6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, respectively) and Utes 7-footer Jakob Poeltl could be one heck of a battle. But far beyond the visual disparities, this game features a slow, methodical offense (Stephen F. Austin) versus a slow, methodical defense (Utah).

Doric Sam: No. 5 Utah vs. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin

Everyone should tune in to this game to see the offensive machine that is Stephen F. Austin. The Lumberjacks average 79.5 points and are tremendous on the offensive glass. Thomas Walkup (15.7 ppg.) and Jacob Parker (14.1 ppg.) give SFA a right-cross, left-hook 1-2 punch combo that can knock the daylights out of anyone. Utah is no slouch, either, as the Utes play strong defense (56.9 opp. ppg.), so this one should be fun.

Marcquise Reed — up to the challenge for Robert Morris

Marcquise Reed (bottom left) is more than motivated to lead Robert Morris onto the NCAA Tournament court.
Marcquise Reed (bottom left) is more than motivated to lead Robert Morris onto the NCAA Tournament court.

Not too many positives can be drawn from losing by 44 points.

But when Robert Morris got blown out by No. 6 UNC 103-59, in just their second game of the season, one Colonial was able to still impress.

Marcquise Reed scored 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting in just 24 minutes. Reed said the game impressed his coaching staff and led to him averaging 27.4 minutes-per-game in a season that ended with the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year award.

“I was real hyped for the game,” Reed says. “Everybody was just saying you better show out and show the world what you can do.”

Reed’s family and friends who motivated him earlier in the season will be cheering him on when Robert Morris encounters a new challenge: North Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Wednesday.

Reed, a Landover, Md-native has proved he can face challenges.

“It’s a rough, rough neighborhood, Reed says of his hometown. “There’s a lot of talent out there but a lot of people don’t get the offer.”

His adolescence was great preparation for a season of distractions for Roger Morris.
Suspensions and injuries resulted in only two players – Reed and Rodney Pryor – playing in all 33 games for the Colonials.

Reed said his grandparents, parents and all of his coaches consistently told him he was going to make it, even before he averaged 31.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game at Capitol Christian Academy.
It also helped that he came to the academy ready to play. Reed was already disciplined in the gym by playing football for most of his life. In fact, he originally thought he would make it out of Landover with a football in his hand.

But when he got to high school, he committed himself fully to basketball.

Once immersing himself fully into life on the hardwood, he added to his list of supporters.

Reed said Towson’s Byron Hawkins, a Fort Washington-native guard, has been like his brother since the Maryland days.

“It’s like a brother relationship,” Reed says. “We work out together, we push each other.”

And when Towson was knocked out in the first round of the CAA tournament, Reed said Hawkins still reached out to tell him that he needed to finish the job of putting his hometown on the national stage. “Even though they were out, he said it’s time to put on for back home,” Reed said. “Remember where we come from and try to make a run for the NCAA tournament.”

Quinton Chievous rocks rims in Hampton’s NCAA Tournament win

Quinton Chievous had to walk along a long and winding road less traveled before he finally found his way into a Hampton Pirates uniform and made it back to the NCAA Tournament.

He wasted no time in making his presence felt once he stepped out onto the grand stage and under the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament, posting a double-double while throwing down a pair of vicious slam-dunks in 16-seed Hampton’s 74-64 First Round win over fellow No. 16 Manhattan.

The son of former NBA player and Missouri all-time leading scorer Derrick Chievous, Quinton began his career at Tennessee, where he redshirted one season, and could never find his way into the rotation, watching from the end of the bench as the Vols’ advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2013. After graduating in three years, Chievous, a 6’6” wing, transferred to Hampton as a graduate student, and emerged as a key player in the Pirates rotation.

On Tuesday night, Chievous messed around and had a double-double by halftime, posting 11 points and 10 rebounds in the games first 20 minutes, before finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, while shooting 7-of-12 from the floor.

Chievous threw down a big one-handed dunk in each half, the more earth-shaking of the two coming in the second half when he caught a feed from outside the right low-block, took one hard power-dribble towards the hoop and took off, posterizing 6’9” Manhattan forward Zane Waterman.

Chievous would leave the game in the final minutes after landing awkwardly, but appeared in high spirits after the games final horn, saying he “had to get healthy,” in time for the Pirates Thursday night showdown against undefeated overall No. 1 Kentucky.

Max Plansky — The heart behind Northeastern

Born with cerebral palsy, Max Plansky (center) has been the heart behind Northeastern's run to the NCAA Tournament. Photo Credit: CAA Athletics
Born with cerebral palsy, Max Plansky (center) has been the heart behind Northeastern’s run to the NCAA Tournament. Photo Credit: CAA Athletics

If anyone had full confidence the Huskies would win the CAA championship, it was Max Plansky.

Plansky, 16, of Danvers Mass., has been a consistent source of inspiration for Northeastern since signing a national letter of intent in 2013 through Team IMPACT, a program aimed at improving the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

Plansky has attended every Northeastern practice and home game, even on school days, during his time with the Huskies.

Because his severe cerebral palsy limits his traveling abilities, away games are usually dubious. But Plansky, who long ago predicted Northeastern’s deep run, deserved to be with his teammates when it counted.

“We got to get ready for March,” Plansky told his speech specialist earlier in the season.

Once his father, Michael Plansky, heard the message, he made his son a promise: If Northeastern made the championship round of the CAA tournament, they would find a way to get down to Baltimore.

With the help of the Northeastern coaching staff, Michael would reunite his son with his teammates in the championship, which evidently reunited Northeastern with the NCAA tournament.

The Plan

Even before the early wakeup and the long, uncomfortable drive, Plansky had already provided a spark for Northeastern.

Before the start of the tournament, coach Bill Coen reached out to various alumni of Northeastern basketball requesting they send in a video-recorded bit of advice.

The video included Matt Janning, Chaisson Allen and NBA champion J.J. Barea, all saying what it would take to win a CAA championship. But the message that sent the Huskies’ locker room into a frenzy?

An image of Max Plansky using his computerized speaking device, to say, “Northeastern basketball, I love you guys. I’ll see you at the championship.”

The Huskies were so moved by their teammate’s message, they replied to his recording with their own video.

But getting Plansky to Baltimore is easier said than done.

While the Huskies were resting after a hard-fought win against UNC-Wilmington in the semis, Plansky and his father were waking up at 6 am on Monday morning for a 7-hour trip to Baltimore.

A 7-hour drive isn’t easy for any 16-year-old but not stretching out of his wheelchair for that long would be strenuous for Plansky.

“He just gutted it out,” said Michael. “He was just so excited about it. Every game is like Christmas for him.”

Upon arriving, Michael learned that the family’s parking had already been taken care of at the Royal Farms Arena. In fact, coach Dave McLaughlin was standing in the parking lot waiting for them when they arrived.

The Northeastern assistant coach got credentials for Plansky and his family too – but did it without telling any of the other players.

So when Plansky wheeled into the Northeastern locker room before tip-off of the championship, it gave a tense locker room a pre-game celebration.

“They were doing there pregame stretches and then suddenly it’s ‘Max is here! Max is here,” Michael said.

Plansky stayed in the locker room for pre-game and would return for halftime. Before the game, while Coen went over the game plan with his players, Michael said the coach regular would stop and ask Max if he approved.

“They include him in the true sense of including,” Michael said.

Contagious growth

Plansky has a usual spot during Husky games: at the end of the bench, to the right of personal trainer Art Horne.

It would be no different for the CAA championship. Plansky took ownership of his spot and his role of being positive from start to finish.

“He’s so happy to be there,” said Michael. “It doesn’t matter if things going are good, bad or whatever, he’s got a positive attitude.”

He wasn’t always like that. When Michael, a former player at Fairfield, left a career in coaching, he said Plansky struggled to control his emotions and would have bursts of frustration.

But ever since a Northeastern loss to Harvard earlier this season, he’s noticed a calmer, cooler and collected Plansky.

“That’s 180 degrees from what he used to be,” Michael said.

The growth of his son influenced Michael to found “You’re With Us,” a program aimed at connecting able-bodied college groups with disabled young adults.

If he needs any evidence for how affective the collaboration can be, he only needed turn to the end of Northeastern’s bench during the championship game.

Even when Marcus Thornton and Daniel Dixon led a late rally, cutting the Huskies’ once 20-point lead to single digits, Plansky remained unnerved.

And when the final buzzer sounded and the celebration had begun, Plansky’s teammates made sure he was in the middle of it all.

The 16-year-old was at the center of every victory picture and his team made sure to cut a piece of net just for him.

“He’s been an inspiration to these guys and really a source of compassion,” Coen said in the championship post-game presser. “…I’m so proud of the way our team has accepted him, embraced him and made him feel welcome and special and in return these guys get so much more.”

And Plansky is proud as well. When asked what gives him the most joy about being on the team, he said, “Just being around the guys.”

“It’s just special,” Michael said. “I don’t think I can put a different word on it. That’s become his identity, to remain rock solid. And I can’t see how that doesn’t rub off on other people.”

Seven questions with Max Plansky: Northeastern’s unsung hero

1. Has it hit you yet that your a member of the first championship team for Northeastern since 1991? It hasn’t hit me yet.

2. What does that mean to you?
I am happy for the guys and the coaches and all of their hard work.

3. What was your favorite moment from Monday?
Being part of the post game celebration.

4. In what area have you changed or grown the most since joining Northeastern?
Trying to remain positive no matter what happens.

5. Who would you rather play in the NCAA tournament.. Kentucky, Kansas or Maryland?
Maryland, but don’t let them know.

6. What about attending practices and games gives you the most joy?
Just being around the guys.

7. Any teammates you’re specifically proud of after this season?
All of them.

Cor: An earlier version of this story referred to Michael Plansky’s father as Tim. His name is Michael.

Wofford’s Lee Skinner: ‘Heart Over Height’

Lee Skinner. (Courtesy Photo / Mark Olencki / Wofford College Athletics)
Lee Skinner. (Courtesy Photo / Mark Olencki / Wofford College Athletics)

Wofford senior Lee Skinner has been told he’s too small to play power forward his entire career. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, his detractors may have had a point.

But instead of listening to all the negative static that surrounded him, Skinner let it fuel his play on the court.

“I just use it as motivation. I’ve never really been in the discussion of ‘Oh he’s a really good player, you have to watch out for him.’ I’ve always been on the other end like, ‘Oh, Skinner is gonna have a tough time matching up with so-and-so, he’s got two or three inches and 20 pounds on him,’” Skinner says. “But I love that challenge, it makes me better. I hate playing guys that are smaller than me, not that I can’t or don’t want to, but I love playing the goliaths and the giants so I can really show that it’s heart over height. Heart over height; I love that challenge.”

That chip on his shoulder helped him lead the Terriers to their second straight Southern Conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth. Skinner was named MVP of the SoCon tournament after dropping a team-high 17 points in a 67-64 win over Furman.

“It goes back to his basketball IQ—he’s got a great understanding of angles, he’s physical, he’s strong,” Wofford coach Mike Young says. “He masks [being undersized] with those characteristics. He’s got the heart of a mountain lion, and it’s because of that he finds himself in the right place more often than not.”

Skinner had been battling against circumstances larger than him long before he arrived at Wofford. He grew up in Lombard, Illinois as an only child raised by a single-mother.

“I grew up with a single parent, my mother, and struggled for a while—struggling with maintaining and having a guidance other than my mom, like a father figure,” he says. “I looked at sports as a gateway, a way to stay out of trouble.”

Skinner played basketball since he was in the eighth grade and says he stopped playing baseball after his sophomore year of high school. But his first love was football, which he played since he was four years old. As a wide receiver for Glenbard East High School, Skinner earned all-conference and all-area honors.

“Absolutely, I loved football,” Skinner says when asked if he misses football. “I really, really did. It was tied with basketball in my love for it, just the physicality and all of that. A lot of my friends played football growing up, and then when I get to Wofford I got a lot of friends here that play on the football team and with the school so small I run into them all the time. I go and check out the games and it’s hard not to miss it, for sure… I throw a football around every now and then, and sometimes I joke around with the guys on the football team here, just telling them they couldn’t guard me.”

After graduating, Skinner chose the squeaks of sneakers on the hardwood and the sounds of swishes through the basket over the clanks of helmets colliding on the field.

“I picked basketball to pursue after high school because I just felt like I loved it more,” he says.

Lee Skinner. (Courtesy Photo / Mark Olencki / Wofford College Athletics)
Lee Skinner. (Courtesy Photo / Mark Olencki / Wofford College Athletics)

He spent a prep year at Fork Union Military Academy, an experience unlike anything he’s ever gone through and something he says shaped the man he is today.

“It’s still a part of me that I didn’t have beforehand. They take away our phones, having no social media—when we got there they check your computer and they could tell if you’re on a blocked site,” he says. “So there was no communication really with the outside world other than a few minutes a day here and there. They totally strip you of who you are and what you were before you come in, and you come out a better person.

“It made me a better person—how I looked at things, how I treated people, how I treated myself, really put things into perspective and showed me what was important. Fork Union was amazing for me, I didn’t like it at the time but I love it now for what it did for me.”

Skinner was named to the all-SoCon second team after helping lead the Terriers to a 28-6 record. His impact on the team goes beyond the numbers he puts up on the court.

“He’s as fine a leader as we’ve ever had here,” Young says. “He’s the straw that stirs the drink for us; (Karl) Cochran gets a lot of attention, deservedly so, he’s a great player, but Skinner makes the train run.”

Wofford came out of nowhere to win the SoCon title last year, so winning it a second time gave Skinner and his teammates the validation they felt they deserved.

“Nobody expected us to win last year, so everybody said ‘Oh wow, they stole one,’ or ‘They came up lucky,’” Skinner says. “This year it was sweet because we started the conference number-one, we ended the conference number-one and we pretty much proved to everybody how hard we work and how we earned it and deserve it.”

Wofford was given a No. 12 seed in the West Region and will face fifth-seeded Arkansas on Thursday. Skinner looks back at his performance in the SoCon tournament and knows he will have to duplicate it if the Terriers hope to be successful.

“I think I was just a little more aggressive offensively; I know I’m gonna play defense every possession, every night every game,” he says. “If I’m out there screaming on defense and playing really tough and making plays for the team on the defensive end, then coming down and scoring every few possessions, I know that’s gonna have a huge impact on my team.”

This being Wofford’s second straight year in the Big Dance, Skinner says the Terriers aren’t just looking to take part, they’re going into the tournament to bust some brackets.

“We’re going to win as many games as we can,” he says. “Last year we got the chance to enjoy the experience, but this year we’ve been there before and we’re an even better team than we were, so I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”

Lee Skinner. (Courtesy Photo / Mark Olencki / Wofford College Athletics)
Lee Skinner. (Courtesy Photo / Mark Olencki / Wofford College Athletics)

Valparaiso’s Keith Carter: From Heartbreak to Happiness

Keith Carter. (Courtesy Photo / Valparaiso Athletics)
Keith Carter. (Courtesy Photo / Valparaiso Athletics)

Valparaiso junior guard Keith Carter was one of the happiest players on the floor when the Crusaders won the Horizon League championship. But before Carter could achieve happiness, he was forced to deal with heartbreak.

A standout at Proviso East High School in Illinois, Carter was runner-up for the state’s Mr. Basketball award in 2012 and earned a scholarship to Saint Louis to play for famed head coach Rick Majerus. But that same year Majerus was forced to take medical leave from the team, and died of heart failure on December 1, 2012.

The death of a coach is an indescribable pain for players to have to go through. Unable to play for the coach who recruited him, Carter transferred to Valparaiso prior to the start of the spring semester in 2013.

“He had a close relationship with Coach Majerus, and that was his reason why he was at Saint Louis,” Valpo head coach Bryce Drew says. “When he transferred to us he definitely was a lot more quiet, and it’s been really nice over the last year and a half to see him open up and really just be the great person that he is.”

A man of few words, it took time for Carter to adjust to his new surroundings during the 2013-14 season. This year, he is much more comfortable and has stepped up and became a true leader for the Crusaders.

“Just be the leader on the team, the second coach on the floor,” Carter says of his role this year. “I run the team and try to make sure everything goes well.”

“I’m sure when you talk to him, you wonder how is this guy a leader because he doesn’t really talk that much, but when he gets comfortable around you—like he’s comfortable around our team—he’s just tremendous,” Drew says. “When the guys hang out in the team room you always hear his voice going. On the court he does a great job talking to guys in between plays and getting guys on the same page. He has a really good basketball mind and it goes back to him having a good feel for the game, so I feel very comfortable with him talking to guys and talking in our huddles.”

Keith Carter. (Courtesy Photo / Valparaiso Athletics)
Keith Carter. (Courtesy Photo / Valparaiso Athletics)

Carter missed a little over a month of the season due to a dislocated toe but still managed to rank among the team’s leaders in multiple statistical categories. Carter was fourth on the team in scoring (8.5), led the team in assists (84), and was second in three-point percentage (38.3 percent) and steals (29).

“It’s been great. Last year I started off slow, but this year I feel like I’m on a roll,” Carter says. “I came together with my teammates and my coaching staff and just play my game and they allow me to run the team.”

“He has a great feel for the game. He can shoot the ball, he can score, he can pass, he can rebound,” Drew says. “He just takes what the game gives him; early in the season he was really scoring the ball well for us and lately he’s been penetrating and passing. He also has a great nose for the ball—he’s not necessarily a great jumper—but he does a great job finding where the ball is at and pursuing rebounds.”

Carter came up big off the bench in the conference championship, filling the stat-sheet with eight points, team-highs of seven rebounds and six assists, twos teals and a block. The Crusaders needed every bit of his performance to overcome a 10-point deficit in the first half and earn a 54-44 win over Green Bay.

“We went down early, so I just wanted to keep everybody level-headed and stay in the right direction,” he says.

Valparaiso received a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 4 Maryland in the Midwest Region on Friday.

“I think we have a group of guys who are excited to be there and enjoying everything so far about the experience, but we have a very competitive group,” Drew says. “I know that they’re gonna want to compete at the highest level when they get there.”

For Carter, he will forever carry around the memory of Coach Majerus as he and his teammates pursue the happiness that comes from the Madness of March.

Keith Carter. (Courtesy Photo / Valparaiso Athletics)
Keith Carter. (Courtesy Photo / Valparaiso Athletics)

NCAA Tournament: Best upset picks

The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner, and a few of us over here at One-Bid Wonders figured we would share some of our insight on the most likely upsets to help you with your last-minute picks. Enjoy!

Most likely West Region upset

Ari Kramer: No. 11 Ole Miss/BYU over No. 6 Xavier

Xavier has been wildly inconsistent this year. How so? The Musketeers beat Georgetown but lost to Long Beach State on a neutral floor. They beat Providence, but they lost to Creighton at home. Though Ole Miss’ best win was Cincinnati or Oregon, the Rebels took Kentucky to overtime at Rupp. I’m more sold on BYU, which won at Gonzaga.

Martin Kessler: No. 11 Ole Miss/BYU over No. Xavier

Xavier has lost to some meh teams — Long Beach St., Auburn, DePaul. BYU, meanwhile, has been playing solid ball of late, winning eight of their last nine games (including a split with Gonzaga). I expect BYU to come away with a win over Ole Miss in the First Four matchup and then carry on with another W against the Musketeers.

Doric Sam: No. 10 Ohio State over No. 7 VCU

VCU’s HAVOC defense isn’t nearly as strong or scary as it used to be with opponents averaging 65.5 ppg. I think D’Angelo Russell has a huge game to lead the Buckeyes.

Sam Perkins: No. 10 Ohio State over No. 7 VCU

Is this really an upset? I know VCU has Shaka Smart and a history as a tournament darling, but on paper, Ohio State is every bit as good, statistically. VCU has shown the ability to lose to some mediocre teams this year (Richmond twice, St. Bonaventure’s), and D’Angelo Russell can absolutely light it up. VCU is also without key defender Briante Weber, and has been a streaky shooting team for much of the year.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 13 Harvard over No. 4 UNC

That players-only meeting after the Crimson’s loss to Dartmouth has been the difference-maker for Harvard’s season. After that 70-61 loss, the Crimson has won 11 of their last 13 games. The Ivy-League team has proven they can upset teams in the past and this year may be no different.

Most likely Midwest Region upset

Ari Kramer: No. 12 Buffalo over No. 5 West Virginia

I like the Texas/Butler upset pick, but so does Vegas — the Longhorns are actually favored, despite having the worse seed. I’ll take Buffalo because the Bulls take care of the ball, are solid on the glass and get to the foul line, where they hit 72.2 percent of their attempts. That’s almost exactly how you counter West Virginia’s strengths.

Martin Kessler: No. 11 Texas over No. 6 Butler

Texas can really buckle down on defense, and I worry Butler won’t be able to get much going. This is sad because a we-used-to-be-cinderellas matchup between Butler and Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen would be fun.

Doric Sam: No. 12 Buffalo over No. 5 West Virginia

Simply superstition: I needed another 5-12 upset. Power forward Justin Moss averages 17 and 9 and will dominate inside if the Bulls can break the Mountaineers’ press defense.

Sam Perkins: No. 13 Valparaiso over No. 4 Maryland

Valparaiso likes to slow the pace down, and plays a style that could allow them to hang around all night. With the 6-foot-10 Vashil Fernandez (and his 7-foot-5 wingspan) and the 6-foot-9 Alec Peters, the Crusaders are not only not going to get bullied in the post, but could actually start throwing their weight around against the Terps’ less-than-intimidating frontcourt. I could see Valpo making this game ugly, with Fernandez taking over on defense, for an ugly, trench-warfare-style upset.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 9 Purdue over No. 8 Cincinnati

They’re only one seed apart, but it still qualifies as an upset. Cincinnati has proven they can lose to anybody with East Carolina, Temple and Tulane claiming wins over the Bearcats.

Most likely East Region upset

Ari Kramer: No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Louisville

Louisville is a team built to lose against a 2-3 zone. Force the Cardinals to shoot, and they become vulnerable. UC Irvine plays zone and has a 7-foot-6 giant named Mamadou Ndiaye manning the middle of it, so I’ll take the Anteaters.

Martin Kessler: No. 11 Dayton over No. 6 Providence

The Flyers get to play their First Four matchup at home. They should get the win against Boise St. Then it’s up to coach Archie Miller to come up with a scheme to stop Providence’s high-scoring duo of LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn. I think he’s up to the task.

Doric Sam: No. 9 LSU over No. 8 NC State

Jarrell Martin’s between-the-legs dunk in the middle of a game is one of the best things I’ve seen this year. To have the audacity to pull that off shows the Tigers play with a chip on their shoulder and won’t go down in the first round without a fight.

Sam Perkins: No. 12 Wyoming over No. 5 Northern Iowa

My heart wants me to go with No. 14 Albany and the amazing story of Peter Hooley’s perseverance after the death of his mother over No. 3 Oklahoma, and honestly, Hooley is the kind of emotional, inspiring player who could put his team on his back for a game. But I think Wyoming has the talent and potential — two big buzz words and huge “ifs” — and above all athleticism that they could put it together to shock the Panthers. Northern Iowa likes to play a slow it down style, but while Wyoming grinds it out on D, the Cowboys can really push the ball on offense. Star forward Larry Nance Jr. is well known nationally, and regarded as perhaps the best dunker in college ball, but he might not even be the best athlete on his own team. Wyoming point guard Josh Adams — whose tatted up arms and swag are reminiscent of Jason “White Chocolate” Williams, but whose crazy speed, insane athleticism and ability to stop and go on a dime are more similar to Allen Iverson — is the key for the Cowboys.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 10 Georgia over No. 7 Michigan State

The Bulldogs will represent the SEC and take down Tom Izzo’s Spartans. Big man Marcus Thornton should expect to see big minutes in the Round of 64.

Most likely South Region upset

Ari Kramer: No. 13 Eastern Washington over No. 4 Georgetown

There are a few solid upset picks in this region, but I’ve dug Eastern Washington since the preseason so I’ll go with the Eagles here. Tyler Harvey is the nation’s leading scorer. Venky Jois is one of the best bigs you don’t know. Eastern Washington is a bit smaller than Georgetown, but the Eagles can make up for the deficiency with a hot night from deep, where they shoot 39.6 percent.

Martin Kessler: No. 13 Eastern Washington over No. 4 Georgetown

Eastern Washington — winners of five straight — love to let it fly from beyond the arc. The Eagles have hit 39.6 percent of their three-point attempts (14th in the country) and take 43.2 percent of their shots from deep (18th in the country). Georgetown, meanwhile, doesn’t play great perimeter defense. I could see Eastern Washington getting hot and knocking off the Hoyas.

Doric Sam: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 Utah

SFA has been in this situation before, knocking off VCU as a 12-seed last year. Utah plays good defense (56.9 opp. ppg.), but the Lumberjacks’ high-powered offense (79.5 ppg.) will prevail.

Sam Perkins: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 5 Utah

Stephen F. Austin can score with anyone in the country, mainly because almost everyone on their roster can put the ball in the hoop AND find the open man (they led the nation in assists). Despite the presence of 7-footer Jakob Poeltl, I don’t think Utah has the roster to “big” Stephen F. Austin too much around the hoop, nor the athleticism to run them out of the gym. This is a game I could see the Lumberjacks hanging around, and hanging around, and hanging around, before making some veteran plays down the stretch. Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin’s best players and a pair of 6-foot-4/6-foot-6 men without positions are going to be tough matchups for the Utes.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 10 Davidson over No. 7 Iowa

With one of the best offenses in the nation, the Wildcats could very well shoot themselves past Iowa into the Sweet 16. They proved that earlier in the year against Dayton – and pretty much in every other game they played.

Upset you’d expect to see in the Round of 32

Ari Kramer: No. 11 Texas over No. 3 Notre Dame

I’ll preface by saying I think Jerian Grant is one of the best players in America and I love watching Notre Dame. That said, Texas’ defense has flustered some elite offenses, like Kentucky’s and Baylor’s. If the Longhorns can lock down the perimeter, they’ll dance into the Sweet 16.

Martin Kessler: No. 7 Michigan State over No. 2 Virginia

This is not a knock on Virginia — the Cavaliers play impressie defense. But Michigan State is a really tough matchup for anyone. Of course Tom Izzo is going to have his guys ready, plus the Spartans have some talented scorers in Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine.

Doric Sam: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 4 Georgetown and No. 7 Wichita State over No. 2 Kansas

As I stated above, I don’t believe in the Hoyas in March (plus, I’m a Syracuse fan). Also, I think the Jayhawks fold under the pressure of trying to avoid being upset by the Shockers.

Sam Perkins: No. 5 Utah or No. 12 Stephen F. Austin over No. 4 Georetown

Maybe it’s the fact that Kevin Broadus found his way back to the Hoyas staff after imploding Binghamton’s men’s basketball team; maybe it’s the fact that Georgetown completely crumbled under pressure against Florida Gulf Coast’s Dunk City two years ago, or the fact that the Hoyas have lost to a double-digit seed in each of their last four NCAA Tournament appearances – more likely, it’s all of the above – but no matter how you slice it, I just don’t believe in G-town.

NCAA Tournament: Final Four picks

The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner, and a few of us over here at One-Bid Wonders figured we would share some of our insight on the Final Four to help you with your last-minute picks. Enjoy!

No. 1 most likely to miss out

Ari Kramer: No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin’s potential Sweet 16 matchups are scary. If the favorites advance, the Badgers would face either UNC or Arkansas. Both squads have the pieces to frustrate Wisconsin — UNC with its size, athleticism and playmaking of Marcus Paige, and Arkansas with its frenetic pace. If the Badgers advance, they’ll probably face Arizona, a tough, physical team with the versatility up front to match Wisconsin’s.

Martin Kessler: No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers

This isn’t really about the Badgers. This is just about the West’s strength. Arizona, the No. 2 seed, has legitimate championship ambitions. Baylor, the No. 3 seed, is battle-tested. And No. 4 UNC recently beat both Louisville and Virginia in the ACC tournament. And don’t overlook No. 8 Oregon or No. 9 Oklahoma State — either team could be a challenge for the Badgers in the Round of 32.

Doric Sam: No. 1 Villanova Wildcats

If the Wildcats are able to get past Louisville, I have them facing Virginia in the Elite Eight. Villanova steamrolled through the Big East with ease and has not seen a defense like Virginia’s. Part of me also expects Justin Anderson to be at full strength by this point, which would allow the Cavaliers’ offense the ability to keep up with the Wildcats.

Sam Perkins: No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers

Gotta’ love Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky, and the Badgers are no joke, but they also would appear to have by far the toughest road to the Final Four of the four No. 1s, with a super physical Baylor squad, perennial contender UNC, and two very solid teams in the 8/9 game in Oregon/Oklahoma State.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 1 Villanova Wildcats

The Wildcats are in a tough, tough East Region and they rely on the long ball. 43 percent of their field goals come from beyond the arc and in a one and done scenario, one bad shooting game means an early exit from the tournament. With Louisville, Providence or UVA standing in the way, Nova’s trip to the Final Four looks unlikely.

Non-top-two seed most likely to make it

Ari Kramer: No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones

I love Iowa State’s draw in the South, a region loaded with offensive-minded teams. Fred Hoiberg’s offensive scheming is as good as anyone’s, and the up-tempo Cyclones wouldn’t run into a slow-paced, defensive-oriented team until the Elite Eight – and that’s if Utah or San Diego State gets on a roll.

Martin Kessler: No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones

The Cyclones enter the tournament on a roll, having just topped Kansas in the Big XII title game. Georges Niang is a beast, the type of player who could put Iowa State on his back for a couple games. The Cyclones would have to get past No. 1 seed Duke — admittedly a challenge — but I have a feeling No. 2 Gonzaga will fall before the Elite Eight.

Doric Sam: No. 7 Michigan State Spartans

Tom Izzo’s team can never be counted out in March. The Spartans are battle-tested with seven overtime games this season. As long as they don’t choke from the free throw line, which seems to be their Achilles heel, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make a run deep into the tournament.

Sam Perkins: No. 3 Baylor Bears

If Notre Dame was a 3-seed in any other region than Kentucky’s, I’d be going with the Irish, because their athleticism and toughness are ridiculous.  Instead, I’ll go with Rico “The Enforcer” Gathers and the Bears’ ability to rebound the ball, play physical, and make things really ugly in the paint.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones

Yes, this means I believe Jahil Okafor and Duke will not make the Final Four. ISU will beat the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight, and make the Final Four, behind one of the most entertaining, fluid and well-rounded offenses in the nation. Fresh off a win against Kansas, Georges Niang and Monte Morris and the full cast of Cyclones, will keep the momentum going straight to the end of March.

Seed worse than No. 7 most likely to crash the party

Ari Kramer: No. 8 San Diego State

Maybe this is crazy, but isn’t that the point of this superlative? In a region stacked with offensive teams, San Diego State is great a grind-it-out group. They say defense wins championships, and the Aztecs allowed just 88.3 points per 100 possessions (No. 4) this year. They also play at one of the country’s slowest paces. Slow down Duke and make the game ugly? The Aztecs can do that and win. Successfully apply that gameplan to Gonzaga or Iowa State, as well, and San Diego State, which already beat Utah, seems like a solid darkhorse to frustrate just enough people to crash the Final Four.

Martin Kessler: No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes

OK, maybe I just really want this to happen but there’s a non-zero chance D’Angelo Russell (who is averaging 19.3 points per game) goes off and leads Ohio State to four straight wins. Right? Either that or the Buckeyes lose their first game to VCU. It could go either way.

Doric Sam: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks

No real analysis here. I picked SFA to upset Georgetown, which would set up a game against Duke in the Sweet 16. Like most people, I hate Duke (and Christian Laettner, of course), so I’d love to see the Blue Devils get upset. The Lumberjacks would be riding high off such a huge win and use that momentum to be victorious in the Elite 8.

Sam Perkins: No.  9 LSU Tigers

The Tigers are interesting to me because they both rebound and share the ball. The Tigers’ frontcourt of Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey is no joke… NO JOKE – athletic, tough, physical, and relentless on the glass, a good recipe for March Madness success.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 8 Oregon Ducks

The Ducks have only three losses since late January, two of them coming against Arizona, a team in their region. It will be a tall task for Oregon to take a win-streak deep into March but senior Joseph Young’s performance of late has been enough to turn me into a believer.

Will Kentucky be stopped?

Ari Kramer: I just don’t see that happening, and if you’re going to call me lame, I’ll retort that anyone picking against Kentucky is doing that to be different. There’s no other reason. Sure, West Virginia could frustrate the Wildcats on the glass and with pressure defense. Kansas is a different team than the one Kentucky throttled by 32 points — 32 points! — in November. Arizona’s physical enough and Wisconsin’s versatile enough, and Duke could beat Kentucky in a shootout. At the end of the day, though, the Wildcats have overcome every ounce of adversity. They really look like a team that will go undefeated.

Martin Kessler: Kentucky will reach the Final Four. They’re too big and too deep to be stopped by anyone in the Midwest. But…in the Final Four, the Wildcats could face a huge test in Arizona  (more on that below). If they make it to the championship, though, I like Kentucky over Villanova, Virginia, Duke or anyone else from that half of the bracket.

Doric Sam: I am a strong advocate for kids staying in school to develop their games rather than coming out after their freshman year, so I admire someone like Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin. Granted, Kaminsky wasn’t as good as these current diaper-dandies, so staying in college was more of a necessity for him, but I digress. I predict his experience will be able to carry the Badgers over the youthful Wildcats

Sam Perkins: In theory, sure. Walk-on Sam Malone’s headband could snap on the sidelines and knock out the entire starting five… but, honestly, this team is a machine made up of NBA players just biding time before going on to the League. They’re super athletic, deep, far more talented than anyone else in the field and huge.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. That is all.

Matchup you would love to see

Ari Kramer: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 2 Arizona Wildcats

I think Arizona has the best chance to beat Kentucky, and if John Calipari’s bunch is going to go undefeated, I hope they don’t get to feast on a surprise Final Four team like No. 5 Arkansas. The Wildcats from the desert have the size to compete with Kentucky’s — the 6-foot-1 T.J. McConnell is the only starter shorter than 6-foot-6. Their defense — the third-most efficient in the country, behind Virginia’s and Kentucky’s — is predicated on keeping teams away from the rim, and only 24.5 percent of their opponents’ field-goal attempts are at the tin (No. 9 nationally). So basically I think Arizona has a shot. I’d love to see Kentucky face its stiffest challenge to a perfect season.

Martin Kessler: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 2 Arizona Wildcats

I think Arizona has a decent chance against Kentucky. Sure, the Pac-12 wasn’t very strong this year, but Arizona took care of business, finishing a dominant 16-2. More importantly, the team is big and athletic: four (four!) of Arizona’s starters are at least 6-foot-7 (6-foot-7!). If anyone can top Kentucky, it’s Zona.

Doric Sam: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers

I would’ve preferred they be on opposite sides of the bracket so this could be the national championship game, but seeing it in the Final Four will have to do. As I stated above, it would be a matchup of youth vs. experience, and it’s always interesting to see which wins out.

Sam Perkins: No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats vs. No. 2 Arizona Wildcats

Both of these teams are HUGE, Kentucky starts five players 6-foot-6 or above (including 6-foot-11 and 7-foot in the middle), and Arizona counters with four players 6-foot-7 or over including their own 7-footers. These teams are both deep, super athletic and physical, and it could be one highlight after the next.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 13 Harvard vs. No. 14 Northeastern

Because how awesome would that be for a Cambridge-native reporter who covers the Huskies?

NCAA Tournament: Sweet 16 picks

The NCAA Tournament is right around the corner, and a few of us over here at One-Bid Wonders figured we would share some of our insight on the Sweet 16 to help you with your last-minute picks. Enjoy!

Top-two seed most likely to miss out

Ari Kramer: No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers, East Region

Michigan State was a popular pick to beat Virginia in last year’s Sweet 16, and look what happened. That’s not to say Tom Izzo and the Spartans own Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers. It does show, however, that Izzo has found a way to beat Virginia’s pack-line defense. Even though the Spartans have fewer threats than last year, they’ve had quality players — like Bryn Forbes — step in and they’ve looked pretty good lately.

Martin Kessler: No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs, South Region

Gonzaga is 32-2, but the Bulldogs have a tendency to choke — they’ve failed to reach the Sweet 16 each of the last five seasons. Does this year’s team have what it takes to make it to the second weekend? Maybe but Gonzaga could have a tough time with either Iowa or Davidson in the third round.

Doric Sam: No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks, Midwest Region

Facing Wichita State in the Round of 32 will not be an easy task, and the Jayhawks know it. The Shockers play sound defense and have the benefit of not having to deal with the media blitz they dealt with last year. Remember when everyone was picking them to upset Kentucky in the second round? Wichita State doesn’t have nearly as much pressure this year, whereas the Jayhawks will definitely feel pressure weighing on them as they try to avoid an upset.

Sam Perkins: No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs, South Region

Call it a troubling trend, call it history, call it bad luck. As much as it pains me to say this — more than anything because I remember watching Gonzaga’s run before the term “Mid-Major” even existed and because I am a massive fan of Lithuanian basketball (see: anyone with the last name “Sabonis”) — the Bulldogs just can’t seem to follow through on their talent and potential in the postseason. These guys are good, but I just get that feeling in my gut they won’t make the Sweet 16. The Bulldogs have a tendency to choke — they’ve failed to reach the Sweet 16 each of the last five seasons. Does this year’s team have what it takes to make it to the second weekend? Maybe, but Gonzaga could have a tough time with either Iowa or Davidson in the third round.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks, Midwest Region

Even at the Jayhawks best moments, their defense looked suspect. In January, they gave up 78 points in a win over Oklahoma. A couple weeks later Kansas gave up 76 points in a win over Iowa State – the Jayhawks one win out of three meetings with the Cyclones. In fact, their most recent game was a 70-66 loss to 3-seed Iowa State. When a team’s defense is so inconsistent, it could mean upset alert.

Double-digit seed most likely to crash the party

Ari Kramer: No. 11 Texas Longhorns, Midwest Region

Believe it or not, Texas is the rare underdog that’s actually favored in the first round. Vegas is giving Butler a point or point-and-a-half, depending where you look, and the Longhorns have the size and raw talent to beat a lot of teams, including No. 3 Notre Dame. The question is: can they play smart? I think they can play just smart enough to crack the Sweet 16.

Martin Kessler: No. 10 Davidson Wildcats, South Region

No, Steph Curry does not have any eligibility left, but I still like the team’s chances to make a run to the Sweet Sixteen. Why? The Wildcats have shown they can hang with good teams — see wins over VCU and Dayton — and they let it fly from deep. Davidon attempts more threes than almost anyone in the country (45.7 of the team’s field goal attempts are threes) and they connect on 39.3 percent of their shots. That high-variability on offense could pay off. The Wildcats will have to get by Iowa in their first game and will then likely face No. 2 Gonzaga in the third round. The Zags have a history of coming up short in the tournament.

Doric Sam: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, South Region

The Lumberjacks are one of my 5-12 upsets, and that would set up a matchup with Georgetown in the second round. I just don’t believe in the Hoyas in March. I predict Georgetown will go cold from the field, and the Lumberjacks’ fire power will be way too much for the Hoyas to handle.

Sam Perkins: No. 12 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks, South Region

There are bigger, faster, more athletic, and much more “traditional” double-digit seeds than the Lumberjacks, but that’s what makes them so interesting to me. A team of misfit toys, neither of the Lumberjacks two best players — Thomas Walkup and Jacob Parker — have a true position. But this team finds ways to get the job done, is very efficient on offense, plays incredibly hard and has all the characteristics to fluster and frustrate bigger teams from higher-level conferences by playing such a different style while presenting matchup problems across the board.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 15 New Mexico State Aggies, Midwest Region

Trust that the Aggies believe in the upset detailed above. Red-hot NMSU’s last loss came on Jan. 17 to Seattle but they haven’t looked back since. Don’t get me wrong, the winners of 13-straight are clear underdogs against Kansas. But don’t be surprised if freshman Pascal Siakam is dancing while Wayne Selden Jr. is watching come the Sweet 16.

Matchup you would love to see

Ari Kramer: No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones, South Region

This game would be too much fun, so leave it to No. 6 Southern Methodist or No. 11 UCLA to spoil the party by ousting the Cyclones in the Round of 32. If the basketball gods are kind enough to treat us to this matchup, we’ll see two different but great point guards (Kevin Pangos vs. Monte Morris) and two versatile forwards (Kyle Wiltjer vs. Georges Niang) go at it. This game could very well end in the high 80s.

Martin Kessler: No. 6 Providence Friars vs. No. 7 Michigan State, East Region

Don’t get your hopes up, but how fun would this matchup be? On one side, you’ve got Providence, a team that nearly toppled Villanova with two guys — LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn — who could go off in any game. On the other side you’ve got Michigan State, a team that brings it every March. The Spartans also have star power in Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson.

Doric Sam: No. 1 Villanova Wildcats vs. No. 4 Louisville Cardinals, East Region

When I first started following college basketball, I became a fan of Syracuse and the Big East. I long for the days of the Big East Tournament, and seeing the Wildcats against the Cardinals in a high-stakes game would be the closest thing to those high-intensity games at Madison Square Garden. Even though as a fan I hate both these teams, the media pundit side of me would love to see Villanova’s high-powered offense against Louisville’s pressure defense.

Sam Perkins: No. 2 Arizona Wildcats vs. No. 3 Baylor Bears

How fun would it be to see Baylor center/Nose Tackle Rico Gathers — “undersized” at 6’8” and 300 pounds — go head-to-head with the Wildcats towering, physical front court? I’ve always been a huge fan of brawls on the low-blocks, and with true low-post players who embrace the physicality of the game on the verge of extinction, this could be a throwback to the kind of battles I watched as a kid in the 90s.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs: No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners vs. No. 6 Providence Friars

After a 30-point blowout win over Albany, Oklahoma will lose to Providence and that is purely why I would love to see this game. The Friars have beaten two out of the three teams ranking higher than them in the Big East. They were close to beating Villanova at the end of the season in a 63-61 loss. With the best passer in the nation in Kris Dunn and a prolific scorer in LaDontae Henton, Providence is dangerous.

North Dakota State’s Lawrence Alexander Jr.: Shooting for his son

Lawrence Alexander Jr. Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia
Lawrence Alexander Jr. Photo by Dave Eggen/Inertia

Lawrence Alexander Jr. corralled a short-hopped bounce pass on the right wing with 11 seconds remaining in the 2014 NCAA Tournament second round and his 12th seed North Dakota State Bison trailing fifth-seed Oklahoma by three.

He had no fear. The pressure of playing the role of giant-killer against a national power on national television, and taking the biggest shot in school history — one on which the hopes and dreams of an entire state rested — had nothing on trying to keep his son alive as a poor teenage father in Peoria, Illinois.

“That was an amazing day,” says Alexander, who calmly drilled the game-tying 3-pointer en route to a then career-high 28 points to lead the Bison to the first NCAA Tournament win in school history.

But it wasn’t the most amazing day of Alexander’s life.

“Not by a long shot,” he says, with palpable joy in his voice as he thinks back four and a half years earlier to Oct. 26, 2009, the day his son, Lawrence III was born.

“The birth of my son is the greatest moment of my life, it’s not even close,” says Alexander, who had turned 18 just four days before Lawrence III entered the world. “I was broke, I was scared and I didn’t know how I was going to keep him alive, and I am forever a better person for it,” he says.

Now 23, as a 6’3” point guard, Alexander has emerged as a bona fide NBA prospect and mid-major star, earning Summit League Player of the Year honors by averaging 18.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while hitting 44.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Achievements and honors that, along with his shot against Oklahoma, he says would not have been possible without his son.

“I don’t think I’d be playing basketball if he wasn’t born,” says Alexander. “He definitely changed my whole life, my responsibilities completely changed: It wasn’t just worry about yourself and your own needs, it’s you have to put someone else whose entire life depends on you first.”

Lawrence Alexander. Photo Credit: North Dakota State Athletics
Lawrence Alexander. Photo Credit: North Dakota State Athletics

Against all odds

Poor, black and a teenage father; Alexander had three strikes against him in the eyes of many by the time he turned 18.

“I kind of had a lot on my plate before getting here,” says Alexander. “My senior year (of high school) I was becoming a father, I had to balance school and basketball and becoming a father.”

But Alexander credits the odds that seemed to be stacked against him for making him the man he is today.

“I think everything I faced growing up, the family I have, and of course my son, are what made me who I am today,” he says.

Alexander was born and raised in Peoria, a city that sits on the Illinois River in the heart of the state.

“It’s a great city and a good community, but you still have things that make you lose focus, a lot of danger,” says Alexander of his hometown, where nearly 20 percent of residents live below the poverty line.

“The crime rate has been going up every year. You have peers who try to force you to do things that are not healthy for you, healthy for your body,” he says.

Alexander admits that he didn’t always have his priorities in order as a teenager, but that all changed when his son was born.

“Once I became a father, I started to get a lot better,” he says, “he turned me into a better person.”

On the hardwood, Alexander had a solid career at Peoria Manual High School, averaging 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game as a senior for the Illinois Class 2A runners-up, earning First Team All-Conference, All-State and state tournament MVP honors.

But upon graduation, he found himself without a single Division I scholarship offer.

“North Dakota State actually wanted me to walk-on,” he says of his senior year, “but my family didn’t have the money so I couldn’t.”

But he was able to land a scholarship to play prep basketball for St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisc. It was an opportunity that Lawrence could not pass on if he was going to make a run at his dream of playing college ball, but one that meant moving away from his young son, which he calls the hardest decision he’s had to make in his life.

“It’s definitely hard. No father wants to be away from their child for not even a half hour. But I knew it could lead to a better life for him,” he says. “I knew once I left it would be tough on me, him and his mom, but I knew when it was all said and done he’d be able to have things that he needs and he wants.”

Lawrence Alexander Jr. Photo Credit: North Dakota State Athletics.
Lawrence Alexander Jr. Photo Credit: North Dakota State Athletics.

Fargo-bound

After a standout prep season at Northwest Military Academy, Alexander was offered a scholarship by then head coach Saul Phillips, and jumped at the opportunity. The only thing was, he didn’t know the first thing about Fargo.

“No, actually, I couldn’t,” he laughs when asked if he could have located Fargo on a map at the time.

“When [Phillips] old me he was in Fargo North Dakota I was like, ‘where is that?’ All I could think of was just a bunch of farmland and nothing surrounding it,” he says.

But Alexander says he immediately warmed to the notoriously frigid city.

“Once I got here it definitely changed my mind. I came here and I fell in love with it,” he says. “I was kind of spoiled for the first two years, because they didn’t really have a bad winter, but last year it definitely caught up to me.”

Far apart but always in his heart

For Alexander, playing college basketball and earning a college degree has meant spending most of his four-years in college nearly 700 miles away from his son, something he calls “excruciating.”

“I love him, and I want to be around him all the time, but I think the sacrifices today will provide him with a much, much better tomorrow,” he says.

Alexander has kept up with his over the phone, facetime and the internet, and remains a constant presence in his life even from afar.

“He was born with a basketball,” he says proudly of his son, “he had one in his crib.”

But while Alexander admits he’d be happy if his son enjoyed the same successes as he has on the court, he isn’t trying to push him into the sport.

“He’s had a ball with him ever since he could walk, but he actually played peewee baseball last spring. He wants to play flag football, but I don’t think his mom is going to let him,” he laughs. “Honestly, I don’t want him to feel like he has to follow in my footsteps or live up to anything I’ve done, as long as he’s happy and healthy, I’m happy.”

Announcing himself to the world

Alexander stepped out onto the hardwood at the Spokane Arena on March 20, 2014 and stared across the court at fifth-seed Oklahoma. He saw as not only chance to prove that he belonged on the same floor as one of the premier programs in the country, but also as an chance to pay back the school that had given him the biggest opportunity of his life.

“North Dakota State gave me a chance to continue to play basketball and even more importantly to get a degree, it gave me a big chip on my shoulder to prove myself against everyone else and to play against Oklahoma,” he says.

Up until that point, Alexander had enjoyed a solid but unspectacular career, averaging between 10.8 and 12.8 points per game in each of his first three seasons. But against the Sooners, Lawrence played out of his mind, drilling 10-of-15 shots and 4-of-7 three-pointers.

The monster game served as a launch pad for Alexander’s career. As a senior, Alexander has scored 20 or more points 14 times, including 25 points, 17 of which came in the second half, in a 57-56 win in the Summit League championship game over archrival South Dakota State.

Alexander has vowed to savor every moment and leave every once of himself on the floor when 15th seed North Dakota State takes the floor against second-seed Gonzaga in the final NCAA Tournament of his career.

“This is it. I’m forever grateful for everything North Dakota State has done for me and I’m going to give them everything I have in return,” he says.

When his college career does come to an end, Alexander would like to continue his career professionally, either in the states or overseas.

“Hopefully I can continue to play basketball and be somewhere playing professional basketball, but if not, I’d love to get into coaching,” he says.

But wherever he goes and whatever he does, his motivation remains the same as when he first set out on his journey five years ago.

“Whatever I do, I’m going to be doing it to provide with my son,” he says.

Lawrence Alexander Jr. Photo Credit: North Dakota State Athletics.
Lawrence Alexander Jr. Photo Credit: North Dakota State Athletics.

For more untold stories of the underdogs that make March Madness and the NCAA Tournament so magical, read here.