The road to March has finally reached a crossroads as the month for college basketball officially commenced this week, and teams across the country await their fate in the NCAA bracket.
Bracket predictions for the NCAA Tournament become more relevant and every loss matters just that much more for the lower-ranked teams trying to ensure a spot in the Madness.
When Selection Sunday arrives on March 14, those teams at the No. 1 spot in their conference can let out a sigh of relief, but the other 34 bracket spots will be determined by the selection committee. For those in the running for at-large bids, the next 2.5 weeks will be crucial.
A new name has crept into bracketology chatter this season, and it is one that - during my four years of college - I never imagined would be this close to tournament-bound. For the first time since the mid-1980s, the University of Richmond's men's basketball team made the top 25 rankings, and continues its push to prove itself worthy of the bracket.
With seniors David Gonzalvez and Ryan Butler, high-scorer Kevin Anderson and the strong defense of Darrius Garrett, the Richmond Spiders have made their name known in the college basketball circuit.
On Monday, the Bracketology 101 blog — a source followed and respected by college basketball fans — predicted the Spiders would be a tournament "In" with a No. 7 seed playing its first round in Providence, R.I.
Maybe this is getting a little ahead of myself — Richmond still has two games remaining during the regular season, and these predictions can be seen as nothing more than speculation — but the prospect of a seed for Richmond in March Madness is nothing short of thrilling.
Even though the team has proven its worth thus far, the Spiders cannot let the season's success thus far get to their heads. Richmond enters its game tonight versus the University of Dayton in the Atlantic 10's No. 3 spot after a nail-biting, double-overtime loss to Xavier University last Sunday that broke the three-way conference tie for No. 1.
Now, as the No. 3 seed, it will be crucial for the "giant killer" team to win tonight to stay in the race for the conference No. 1 spot.
Richmond will end the regular season on Saturday at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The 49ers maintain some leverage against the Spiders after their 71-59 win at the Robins Center in January.
This time the two teams will meet on Charlotte's home court, and one can only hope the Spiders will continue to improve their road record against a difficult opponent.
A little more than two weeks ago, Charlotte held the No. 1 spot in the A-10, but with recent losses against George Washington University, Xavier, the University of Dayton and most recently to St. Joseph's University, it has fallen to No. 5. Richmond will have faced each of these three conference teams by Saturday's face-off against Charlotte. The Spiders beat George Washington 74-70 during their most recent homestand and came very close to edging out Xavier last weekend.
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If the Spiders can take advantage of Charlotte's recent vulnerability, and stay competitive with No. 7 Dayton at home tonight, there is no reason the team's schedule should not end with two more Ws.
Tonight will be very telling for the Spiders. Even though it is the night before students leave campus for spring break, there should still be a reasonable student showing at the Robins Center. It is an exciting time for the school, and one in which students should actively participate.
Think back to football season when students rose to their feet for the entirety of the quarterfinal game versus Appalachian State University in the biting cold to see whether the Spiders could make another run at the National Championship. Tonight's basketball game deserves that same support and fan excitement.
It would be great to have a 9,000-plus crowd like there was at the George Washington game, but who knows on a Thursday night. These last two games will be exciting and are the men's basketball team's chance to show the country it is worthy of a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
No one knows when the Spiders will be in this position again. One would hope the team can remain competitive in the conference and continue to be nationally ranked, but making accurate predictions about the future are nearly impossible. No one can predict that.
This season marks the first time in 24 years that the Spiders have been nationally ranked. If this does not get people at the school excited about athletics, what will? So, if you are on campus and weighing your options for the evening, I urge you to consider what has been said in this column and take advantage of the opportunity to cheer the Spiders into the postseason.
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