As March Madness prepares to tip off on Thursday, Washington—and the greater DMV area—is all over the bracket. No fewer than eight men’s teams from DC, Virginia, and Maryland are making a run for the championship. A couple standout players from the area, meanwhile, will be suiting up for other teams.
Maret alum Luka Garza is the top player on the formidable Iowa squad, winning National Player of the Year honors for the second year in a row. Garza is also Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, prompting the Hawkeyes to retire his number after he graduates. And Alexandria native Hunter Dickinson, who went to high school at DeMatha, features prominently in Michigan’s offense. Dickinson was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year this season, and was also honored as a second-team All-American.
This year’s tournament will look different than in the past, with all the games being played in the Indianapolis area due to coronavirus restrictions.
Here’s a quick look at the local contenders:
The Hoyas, headed by DC basketball royalty—alum Patrick Ewing—are actually one of this year’s surprise teams. They were having a pretty mediocre season until they made a strong run in the Big East tournament and won the conference, earning them an automatic bid into the NCAA bracket. The squad features DC native Jamorko Pickett, a senior who was a top-100 recruit out of Eastern High School.
This year marks the fifth time in six years that the Terps have made it to the dance, despite an up-and-down season in the contentious Big Ten conference. The roster includes junior and BCC grad Jade Brahmbhatt, along with freshman Marcus Dockery, who suited up for Bishop O’Connell before going to a prep school in New Hampshire. The Terps are a slight underdog in their first-round matchup, against UConn, on Saturday.
Mount St. Mary’s
The Mountaineers are a First Four team, which means they’ll have to play an extra game on Thursday against Texas Southern just to make it to the first round. But parts of Bethesda are already cheering—the squad is coached by native Dan Engelstad, who played college ball at St. Mary’s, founded the Fast Break Basketball Camp and coached for Whitman’s summer teams, and once interned for the Washington Wizards.
University of Virginia
The Cavaliers are the highest-ranked area team—coming in as a #4 seed. And after last year’s tournament was canceled amid the start of the pandemic, they’re looking to defend their 2019 title. Despite a recent positive Covid test, the team is expected to play their first game at 7:15 PM on Saturday. If you’re down near Navy Yard and see the area crawling with Hoos, it’s because Mission, owned by UVA alum Reed Landry, is a go-to for spectating.
Put the Flames on your list of teams to watch this year: The Atlantic Sun conference champions dominated this season (sporting a cool 23-5 record), and their roster has some prognosticators labeling them a Cinderella team. No surprise given they have a 12-game winning streak, the third-longest in the nation.
The Hokies—whose roster includes Bowie-raised Darius Maddox—essentially backed their way into March Madness after five of their last seven regular-season games were canceled because of Covid, culminating in a loss in their first game of the ACC tournament. They’ll play Florida on Friday, in their first meeting since Tech won in 1991.
The Spartans won the Mid-East Athletic Conference after a strong regular season. Like Mount St. Mary’s, Norfolk State is a First Four team, so they’ll face Appalachian State on Thursday for a chance to take on powerhouse Gonzaga in the first round. It’s only the second time the Spartans have advanced to the tournament since they became a Division-1 squad more than two decades ago—an honor that the school’s athletic director has said “means even more” in a pandemic year.
The Rams were another surprise team this year, finishing second in the Atlantic-10 after being projected in the preseason to end up ninth. VCU will take on the Oregon Ducks at about 10 PM on Saturday.