MIAMI – The interest in the NCAA tournament among Miami Heat players got a head start this year when Kansas State and Wake Forest were paired in a play-in game.
That meant the automatic friendly wager kicked in between players when two of their colleges meet in the tournament.
Rodney McGruder (Kansas State) gladly accepted his winnings from James Johnson (Wake Forest).
“I came in like a man, I gave him my money and shook his hand,” Johnson said. “That was the last I wanted to hear of it.”
Kansas State’s 95-88 victory meant the Wildcats advance as an 11th seed.
McGruder is one of seven players and two coaches whose school is in the 64-team field. The list with the teams’ seeds:
Wayne Ellington, North Carolina: 1.
Josh McRoberts/Justise Winslow, Duke: 2.
Okaro White, Florida State: 3.
Udonis Haslem, Florida: 4.
Chris Quinn, Notre Dame: 5.
Juwan Howard, Michigan: 7.
Rodney McGruder, Kansas St.: 11.
Luke Babbitt, Nevada: 12
None of these teams could meet before a regional final. But we could have Florida and Duke the East final, FSU and Notre Dame in the West final, Nevada and Michigan in the Midwest final and North Carolina and Kansas State in the South final.
Only the truest/most die-hard Heat fan would have those Elite 8 matchups in their bracket.
We caught up with a couple of the players for their assessment on their teams’ chances:
Ellington (North Carolina’s opening game is Friday against Texas Southern): “I expect them to go win a championship. In the beginning of the year I wasn’t sure how well our team was going to do. But obviously coach (Roy) Williams has proven to always make his team get better and better as the year goes on. That’s what they did this year.
“We’re ready, man. Jumping in as a No. 1 seed, it’s going to be challenging. But we’re ready to face the challenge.”
White (FSU’s opening game is today against Florida Gulf Coast): “We’re a 3 seed. Should have been a 2 seed. I got all the faith in those guys. Let’s go get us our first national championship. They’re young but they’re long and athletic. Surprising things happen every year.”
I informed Okaro that one analyst said FSU may have two future pros in Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac but they always “screw it up.” He was brutally honest.
“We normally do,” he said. “The years we’re supposed to go. … The year we won the ACC championship (2012) we were supposed to at least get to the Elite 8 and there was Final Four talk. We lost in the round of 32 to Cincinnati (62-56, as a 3 seed). We messed that up. It was kind of set up for us.”
Haslem (Florida’s opening game is today against East Tennessee State): “I’ll always have faith in my guys. I’m going to ride with my guys,” he said. “They got a good team. Talented. They did a great job recruiting. The tradition continues on.”
Haslem said he is also rooting for his hometown team of Miami and South Carolina, coached by his high school coach, Frank Martin.
“I’m keeping my eye on a few teams,” he said.
McGruder (K-State’s next game is Friday against Cincinnati): “I feel like you’re a tougher team playing in that play-in game because you already have that first game under your belt, the butterflies are out,” he said. “You know what it’s like to play in the tournament now. Some people don’t know what it’s like to play in the tournament. They haven’t had a game yet. It’s an advantage.
“You make the tournament that’s an accomplishment any way you look at it play-in game or not. The 11th seed is not like you’re a 16th seed.”
Babbitt (Nevada’s opening game is today against Iowa State): “They have a tough matchup. They’ve been OK in the past. I have them at least going to the Sweet 16 and then they play Kansas.”