Every year around the third week in March, the collective interest of the nation turns to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Seemingly everyone, regardless of whether they're basketball fans during the other 11 months of the year, pays attention to the field of 68 if for no other reason than the prospect of winning a cash prize and/or the respect of their peers for filling out the most correct bracket.
But NBA players typically have a bit more skin in the game than your average fan. Since the majority of players go to college, and the most historically successful colleges when it comes to basketball, they tend to have an interest in the tournament that goes beyond picking winners, though they're also filling out brackets just like the rest of us. And when you're a young team like the Trail Blazers, many of your players still have former teammates and friends who are competing in The Big Dance, which, again, adds an element that surpasses that of the typical March Madness observer.
The Trail Blazers have eight players and one coach who went to schools competing in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Here's what they had to say about their respective alma maters prospects in the tournament.
San Diego State
Thoughts on Oklahoma's chances
"I was surprised they were a No. 10 seed going up against San Diego State. Lon Krueger has done a remarkable job. I don't think anybody expected them to make the tournament this year. It's a rebuilding job. I had the good fortune of working with him in Atlanta for a short time and what he's done, not only at Oklahoma but wherever he's been in college, is come in and make a change quickly. And he does it with a lot of class as well. I've very proud of the program."
The winner of the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds vs. James Madison play-in game
Thoughts on Indiana's chances
"They're good. We've got a talented team. It's just everybody in the tournament, there's so much parity in the tournament this year I think it's going to be hard to say anybody is the favorite. Right now we're as good as anybody in the country. We've got enough talent so hopefully they can all put it together right now."
Thoughts on No. 1 seed
"The seed is obviously good. Still got a tough bracket but if we can get through it, we've beaten some of the best teams in the country. We've proven we can beat good teams, so just a matter of us now showing it at tournament time."
Thoughts on Marquette's chances
"I think they've got a good chance. Every time you can get a high seed, a good seed, that always bodes well for the most part. Anything can happen in March, but I like our odds."
Thoughts on No. 3 seed
"It's a fair seed. Could have gotten better if we wouldn't have laid an egg against Notre Dame but we'll take it. Take on Steph (Curry's) Davidson … what are they they Wildcats or something? Whatever Steph. He don't want no problems with us
Thoughts on Virginia Commonwealth's chances
"We've got a good chance. We've got a real good team. We've got Albany in the first round, think we can take care of them, possibly see Michigan in the second round. I think we match up pretty good."
Thoughts on No. 5 seed
"We got moved to the Atlantic 10 Conference, now we're going to be able to get higher seeds. We had to win our conference championship just to get 11 and 12 seeds."
Thoughts on Duke's chances
"Duke has beaten a lot of great teams this year but they've proven they can be beat by anybody. It depends on what Duke team shows up one game at a time in this tournament. They have a great chance to win it but also could be beat by anybody."
Thoughts on No. 2 seed
"That's a good seed. That loss to Maryland hurt them getting a No. 1 seed. I like our bracket and I like our chances."
Thoughts on Memphis' chances
I think this is the year they break through that first round thing. It's a chance that Memphis matches up with Duke in the Sweet 16. That would be crazy for me (Williams attended both Duke and Memphis).
Where would your allegiances be at that point?
Man, I love both school but there's a difference when you're from a city. I'm from Memphis so it would be tough to root against them.
Thoughts on No. 6 seed
I think that's fair. Playing in Conference USA, they had a great record, but at the same time, I don't think they beat a ranked team, I don't think. But they had a really great season and I think they're worthy of it.
Thoughts on Illinois' chances
"At times throughout the season we've played really well and then at times, when we're not making shots or we have a tough game, we've lost some close ones. I've got all the faith in the world in those guys. I've played with most of them for one or two years. Great friends of mine. Lethal offensively and defensively. Coach Gross brings a lot of energy, really preaches playing together and working hard, so I think they have a chance to really surprise some people. They've got Colorado coming up then I assume they would have the matchup against Miami. Obviously that will be a tougher game but I was listening last night to Digger Phelps and Dick Vitale an some of those guys and they kind of had then as an under the radar-type team where they have a chance to maybe make a Sweet 16 if they make shots and play well. Think about it: we beat Indiana when they were No. 1. Gonzaga got a one seed, we beat them earlier in the year. We beat Butler. We have some quality wins. So I like our chances but definitely going to have to play well."
Thoughts on No. 7 seed
"A decent draw. Like I said, we had some quality wins but we also had a few bad losses. That's the way the season goes, though, with every team. I think they could have potentially had a little of a higher seed but they're in The Dance and that's all that matters."
Thoughts on Memphis' chances
"I think they got a real good chance man. I feel like if we get that first one, the most important one, the monkey will be off their back, get that swagger. It's hard to do something you never did before. They get that first one, I think they'll make a run. They've got all the talent. It's about matchups and their mental approach. They'll be fine."
Thoughts on No. 6 seed
"I think it's a good seed for them. I feel like they can make some noise at the No. 6 seed. They went undefeated in conference, only four losses on the season, so hopefully they'll be ready to play, which I think they are."
North Carolina State
(Ed. note: Hickson had no thoughts on the NCAA Tournament)