An eventful Champ Week saw a number of teams featuring Australian men advance to the 2019 NCAA Tournament, with March Madness taking a hold in US college basketball.
Selection Sunday finalised the NCAA Tournament field, with a total of 12 Australian men across 8 teams set to go 'dancing'. Seven of those teams won their conference tournaments to book direct entry into the event, while one (Virginia) were included in the field after a brilliant season and are currently ranked number two nationally entering this week.
Saint Mary’s of course avoided the bubble talk this year after stunning number one ranked Gonzaga in the final of the WCC Tournament, with Jordan Hunter named Most Outstanding Player and to the All-Tournament Team. Duke Captain Jack White played a support role off the bench as the Blue Devils won the ACC Tournament with Zion Williamson returning to the line-up from injury.
Jayden Hodgson and Bradley booked their ticket following a Missuri Valley tournament win, while the Aussies at Montana (Ben Carter, Big Sky), Utah State (Ben Fakira, Mountain West), Colgate (Hugh Baxter, Patriot League) and UC Irvine (Aiden Krause, Big West) all won their conference tournaments also to ensure they were going to go dancing.
Saint Mary's upset #1 ranked Gonzaga in the #WCChoops Championship game to advance to book a ticket to the NCAA Tournament! Jordan Hunter was named All-Tournament Team after posting 12 points and 15 rebounds in the final. #AussieHoops #MarchMadness
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Aussies in the Bracket
This is how all the teams boasting Australians were drawn, with the First Round tipping off on 22-23 March Australian time.
#1 Duke (White) vs #16 North Dakota State or North Carolina Central (First Four)
#15 Bradley (Hodgson) vs #2 Michigan State
#8 Utah State (Fakira) vs #9 Washington
#1 Virginia (Stattmann) vs #16 Gardner-Webb
#13 UC Irvine (Krause) vs #4 Kansas State
#11 Saint Mary's (Hunter, Clark, Krebs, Perry & Mudronja) vs #6 Villanova
#15 Colgate (Baxter) vs #2 Tennessee
#15 Montana (Carter) vs #2 Michigan
Assessing the draw
There is no denying that Duke as a number one seed and boasting the national player of the year back from injury are one of the teams to beat. Jack White as team captain plays a supporting role of the bench, but his influence on the on-court performances have diminished over recent months.
While Duke may garner a lot of the attention, don't write off fellow number one seed Virginia who has been one of the hottest offensive teams this season, and like Duke, ranked inside the top 10 teams in the nation all season long. Freshman Kody Stattmann has been sparingly used this season, and may see little or no court time come the tournament unless the game is a blowout.
Saint Mary's played goliath in the WCC Tournament final by knocking off current number one team Gonzaga, with Hunter and Tanner Krebs playing key roles for the Gaels. Like most Randy Bennett coached teams, they play efficiently and boast good shooters. Given their success against the 'Zags last week, they will be full of confidence when they take on Villanova in the first round and must like their chances of progressing to a possible date with Purdue (#3) or Old Dominion.
Of the remaining teams with Aussies on their rosters, as low seeds they all face huge tasks to get past their first round opponents. UC Irvine may well be the best placed to cause an opening round upset, having dismantled all their Big West foes en route to securing their NCAA tournament bid. However it is unlikely we will see much on court action from their Aussie players who have played small roles throughout 2018/19.
The Australian's will tip-off their tournament campaigns on 22 March Australian time following the conclusion of the First Four.