Following a weekend that was packed with conference tournaments and Sunday night’s selection show, March Madness is officially here. The 2017 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament officially starts on Tuesday, before getting into full swing on Thursday. The state of Wisconsin has some rooting interest in the field of 64 this year, as the eighth-seeded Badgers will take on Virginia Tech on Thursday and the 10-seed Marquette will look to upset South Carolina on Friday.
Beyond those games, the local appeal of the tourney increases here in Milwaukee on Thursday with a quartet of games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Butler (4) will take on Winthrop (13) at 12:30 p.m., followed by a match-up between Minnesota (5) and Middle Tennessee (12). Later on, Purdue (4) will look to stave off an upset by Vermont (13) before the night ends with Iowa State (5) and Nevada (12). The winners will square off on the same court on Saturday, March 18. Sure, the draw is a little weak compared to many of the other regions, but there’s no time in sports that’s wrought with more drama, craziness, and fun than the NCAA tourney’s first two rounds. Even if goddamn Butler is the most intriguing team involved.
If you’re looking to witness some possible upsets in person or if you just want to have something—anything—to say when you inevitably encounter someone decked out in Winthrop apparel this week, we have you covered.
Located: Indianapolis, Indiana
Enrollment: About 4,700
Famous Alum: Cult leader Jim Jones, Second Lady Karen Pence, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens (faculty)
Team name: Bulldogs
Conference: Big East
You might remember this tiny Indiana school as the unheralded (then) Horizon League team that inspired countless “The Butler did it” headlines and who came a half-court shot from winning the national title in 2010. Since that Cinderella season seven years ago, program-establishing coach Brad Stevens took the Celtics coaching post, leaving Chris Holtmann to lead the team that was promoted to the once-mighty Big East in 2013. Even with the tougher conference, the Bulldogs have managed a more-than respectable 23-8 mark in 2016-17 and have earned the right to be the smallest four-seed participating in this year’s dance. Unless underdog Winthrop pulls off a huge upset, Butler should advance, much to the enjoyment of current Second Lady Karen “Mother” Pence and the ghost of cult leader Jim Jones.
Iowa State University
Located: Ames, Iowa
Enrollment: About 37,000
Famous Alum: George Washington Carver, Jeff Hornacek, Senator Joni Ernst.
Team Name: Cyclones
Conference: Big 12
The fifth-seeded Cyclones look to return to their first Final Four since 1944 in an opening round match-up against Nevada. Days removed from winning their conference tournament, Iowa State might have 10 losses, but their coming into the tourney hot.
Middle Tennessee State University
Located: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Enrollment: About 23,000
Famous Alum: Al Gore Sr., George Clinton, former NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb
Team name: Blue Raiders (mascot is Lightning)
Conference: Conference USA
Even though Middle Tennessee isn’t actually a state, the mid-sized mid-major will join the un-stately likes of East Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, Wichita State, Kent State in the tournament. The 30-4 Blue Raiders cruised to its third Conference USA title in the last four years. After enjoying a bit of a heyday in the 1980s with four tourney appearances, the school went quiet until returning in 2013. Last year, Middle Tennessee State upset Michigan in the first round before falling to Syracuse in round two. Almost every year finds a 12-seed turning some heads and busting a bunch of brackets in the process. The Blue Raiders could be that team this year.
University Of Minnesota
Located: Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
Enrollment: About 48,000
Famous Alum: Bob Dylan, Garrison Keillor, Paul Molitor
Team name: Golden Gophers
Conference: Big Ten
The Gophers haven’t really made much (non-NIT-related) noise in March since 1997, when coach Clem Haskins and sock-fashion icon Bobby Jackson brought Minnesota to the Final Four. However, that strong season’s results were vacated due to an academic scandal, so…uh, the Golden Gophers technically haven’t made the Sweet Sixteen since 1990. The perennial whipping boy of Big Ten basketball is on the rise, though. A solid season, coupled with the Badgers’ late-season collapse has Minnesota in the upper-tier of the conference in 2017 and earned them the fifth seed.
As noted above, Middle Tennessee State poses a deceiving first round challenge for the Gophs, but if all goes as planned, Milwaukee should plan on thousands upon thousands of Minnesotans staying through the weekend to dole out backhanded compliments and drink downtown bars out of Grain Belt before their team uncharacteristically good season is ended by Butler.
University Of Nevada
Located: Reno, Nevada
Enrollment: About 22,000
Famous Alum: Gabriel Damon from RoboCop 2, Colin Kaepernick
Team Name: Wolfpack
Conference: Mountain West
The Wolfpack are winners of both the Mountain West and the conference’s tournament. With just six losses against them this season, the 5 vs. 12 meeting with Iowa State could be more interesting than meets the eye.
Located: West Lafayette, Indiana.
Enrollment: About 41,000
Famous Alum: Neil Armstrong, John Wooden, Drew Brees.
Team Name: Boilermakers
Conference: Big Ten
Around the turn of the century, Purdue was a tournament mainstay and a squad always capable of making a run in March. The Big Ten’s tides have changed a bit, but the Boilermakers have stayed quietly consistent through it all—qualifying for its 11th March Madness appearance since 2000. This time around, Purdue enters the tourney as its vaunted conference’s champion for the first time since 2010, which was the last time the school made the Elite Eight.
University of Vermont
Located: Burlington, Vermont
Enrollment: About 12,000
Famous Alum: Trey Anastasio of Phish, Mike Gordon of Phish
Team Name: Catamounts
Conference: America East
While the Catamounts boast several NHL players among its alumnus, it’s not typically a school aligned with hoops notoriety. Even so, Vermont’s basketball team reigned supreme over the likes of Stony Brook, Maine, Albany, and New Hampshire this season en route to the conference title. As great as this season has been for the Catamounts, four-seed Purdue is sure to be a much tougher test than the Binghamton Bearcats.
Located: Rock Hill, South Carolina
Enrollment: About 6,000
Famous Alum: Andie MacDowell and pitcher Kevin Slowey
Team name: Eagles
Conference: Big South
Winthrop is the pride of the microscopic Big South Conference these days. The Eagles have won their conference 10 times since 1999, including this season. In 2007, the 11-seed Eagles destroyed Notre Dame in the tournament’s opening round to earn the school’s first and only March Madness win to date. After piling up 26 wins on the backs of schools like Campbell, Liberty, Radford, High Point, Longwood, and Presbyterian College in 2016-17, Pat Kelsey-led Winthrop will face its first true challenge of the year in Butler. Though the Garnet & Gold can pull off a notable upset Thursday, Andie MacDowell’s alma mater is unlikely to enjoy anything resembling a repeat of that amazing March day back in ’07.