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Column: A guide on who to cheer for in March with Ohio State not in the Men’s NCAA Tournament

The Buckeyes failed to make the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t watch — or wager money (responsibly) — on the games.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-National Championship-Kansas vs North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The madness is here, and if you are not one of the millions of people who will attend or watch the games because Ohio State is not involved, you will be missing out. March Madness brings wall-to-wall, all day college sports that are entertaining. Fill out a bracket, both men’s and women’s, and you will see just how fun the commitment to the first weekend is.

Unfortunately, Ohio State is not in the men’s tournament, and I’d be incredibly off-base writing about who we should cheer for given the circumstances without mentioning the women’s basketball team. Despite battling injuries all season long, the Buckeyes landed themselves a spot in the tournament as a No. 3 seed.

With one true juggernaut in UConn in the way, there is a real possibility Coach McGuff’s squad goes on a deep run. Rooting for Taylor Mikesell, Jacy Sheldon, Cotie McMahon, and company is the best place to turn your Scarlet-and-Gray rooting interest.

Now back to the men’s tournament. There will be plenty of storylines and numbers thrown at you during the first four days of the tournament. During the first 34 basketball games on Thursday and Friday, upsets and rooting on the spectacle is where it starts. There are not many sporting events that give you close to 48 hours of pure chaos, but that is the college basketball tournament.

Once that spectacle is over, and the teeth are sunk in, there is a bunch of different ways to find fandom through the tournament and here is the ultimate fan guide to finding a team to root for.

Conference Allies, but for how long?

Year in and year out the Big Ten is one of the most represented conferences at the NCAA Tournament, and that is the case once again this year with eight out of 14 teams making the field. Now, conference pride doesn’t run as deep in these parts, but there is something to see about the conference succeeding at the highest level. The goal should be to get at least one team to the Final Four and not have any teams bounced in the Round of 64.

Looking at the teams remaining from the conference, Purdue is off the rooting list for beating the Buckeyes, as are the Hawkeyes due to Fran McCaffrey, and any other teams with an old unlikable coach. That leaves this list:

Penn State (10-Seed in Midwest Region): Led by Micah Shrewsbury, the Penn State Nittany Lions went on a similarly magical run in the Big Ten Tournament until they fell short in the finals. Led by experienced guards Jalen Pickett, Andrew Funk, and been there forever forward Seth Lundy, this teams wins games ugly which is a skill come tournament time.

Indiana (4-Seed in Midwest Region): Trayce Jackson-Davis could catch a lob if you threw the ball out of the concourse area of any arena. As a team, the Hoosiers disappointed down the stretch. They will be looking to bounce back with a strong tournament from Jalen Hood-Schifino and known Buckeye irritant Miller Kopp. The talent is there, but if the defense doesn’t improve the tournament may end quick if shots aren’t falling.

Northwestern (7-Seed in West Region): The nerds made it. That is not something that is common, but they are arguably the most likable team to root for from the Big Ten given their roster turnover coming into the year and the consistency they played with on the season in spite of the turnover. Hearing the large number of journalists put their fan hats on is never fun, but I’m still going to be thinking purple this March.

UCLA (4-Seed in West Region): They are not officially members of the Big Ten yet, but the idea of UCLA joining the Big Ten was strange until the basketball history was brought to the conversation. Losing a versatile defensive stopper in Jaylen Clark won’t help, but having PAc-12 player of the Jaime Jacquez Jr. should give the Bruins the fire power to make some noise in the West Region.

Wiley Underdogs to watch for

Every year there is a group of bracket busters. Last year’s was St. Peter’s, and looking back in the tournament over the last decade there is always one plucky underdog who goes even further than anyone believes. This year the group has some names that are a little more familiar to the area, and this tends to be where America leans in their interest as the tournament progresses.

Kent State (13-Seed Midwest Region): That is MAC Champion Kent State Golden Flashes to you, and to any doubters of the team hailing from northeast Ohio. Led by All-Tournament Name team guard Sincere Carry, the Golden Flashes have averaged 76 points per game on the year. They play a fun brand of basketball and guard play matters in March, this group has a tough first round matchup against Indiana. If they are able to advance, then the Flashes could make some serious noise.

Iona (13-Seed West Region): Now “root for” is a loose term here, but the Rick Pitino redemption tour is on its final stop before he gets a major college basketball coaching job again. Iona is a fun basketball team, they are a high-seed, and they will win a game in this tournament. Wager responsibly.

11-Seeds (Every Region): According to the NCAA website, 11-seeds are 54 out of 144 in opening matchups at the tournament. That means one-in-three games involves an 11 over six upset. Five 11-seeds have made the Final Four, with the most recent being UCLA, and 24 have gone to at least the Sweet 16. If you want to sound smart, and put the cart in front of an 11-seed horse, make sure you pick any of Pitt, Providence, NC State, or Arizona State/Nevada to make a run.

The least unlikable “Blue Bloods”

This is an incredibly subjective category, but the idea behind it is there is always “Blue Blood” that finds their rhythm in March. Being a bandwagon fan is problematic behavior — looking at you Ohio State football/Duke basketball fans. But when it comes tournament time occasionally there is a story or two that can get a person to cheer for even the biggest programs.

Kentucky (6-Seed East): There is probably little possibility to convert any non-casual college basketball fans into rooting for the Kentucky Wildcats, I know. With that being said, Oscar Tshiebwe is a workhorse that deserves respect. He’s an old school big who gets boards and dunks. Leading this team that has some talented guards coming on late has me feeling a deep Wildcats run, especially with John Calipari on the hot seat.

Kansas (1-Seed West): Bill Self has taken on the NCAA over the past few years and is the driving force behind the “what are you going to do” attitude many coaches have taken with the organization. This team is not as good as last year’s, but they are playing for their coach who recently went through a serious health issue. Jalen Wilson is one of the best all-around players in the tournament, and if you’re into villains look no further than Gradey Dick.

Your Bracket

This one is easy. If your bracket is doing well you will have the teams you need to root for preplanned for you. There is not a better feeling than seeing the bracket that was meticulously put together having success.

And definitely not any of these teams...

There are just teams that unlikable for a long list of reasons. They either have front runners, an annoying way to win basketball games, or have been in the news a lot of a truly tragic story that was handled poorly by a university. These teams are very clearly not all in the same category of “not able to root for,” but for reasons no one should support these teams in March.

Alabama: I am definitely not a lawyer, and will not pretend to understand the complexities of what goes in a courtroom. That being said, the way head coach Nate Oats handled the Darius Miles-Brandon Miller situation was appalling. Wrong place wrong time is not an excuse, and this team does not deserve a happy ending.

Purdue: Still bitter, maybe. But having a 7-foot-4 behemoth is not fun to watch. Zach Edey is playing basketball on a toy basket, at least a few years ago their guard play was fun. Now the games involving Purdue include up to 40 possessions of throwing a ball down on the low block. It is insufferable and there is a reason they have only been to five Elite Eights. It’s because they’re not winners, they’re just taller.

Duke: It does not matter that Coach K has retired, they’re still Duke and are an insufferable fanbase at all times. The worst part about Duke is hearing how some guy in Southern California fell in love with Kyle Singler’s run in the tournament. Just say you’re a front runner, it’s more commendable.

Virginia: Boring, boring, boring Tony Elliott’s teams have been described as. No one watches snail racing unironically, so why would anyone want to watch Virginia basketball without being a fan of the Cavaliers. The only fun anyone has had watching Virginia play basketball is when they got beat by a 16-seed.

Now that the guide is complete, there is plenty of reasons to not agree with any of these choices. The tournament will bring us together, and tear us apart all the same. This is always the most wonderful time of the year for sports fans, there is games on from morning until late at night.

Underdogs always find a way in March to have a little fun, and America always finds a team to get behind. Even if your bracket is busted early, don’t give up on watching the NCAA tournament. There are still so many ways to get engaged with these incredible basketball games. March is about the madness and aligning yourself with the chaos will make the coming weeks that much more invigorating.

There is nothing else to do, but put the PTO you banked, find a local watering hole, and take in the wonderful madness of March.