March Madness Returns to the Rose Quarter. Here’s What to Watch.

These games are your chance to act like a Blazers scout and fall in love with somebody whose knees will shatter into a thousand pieces.

Is it maybe a little strange that a city with absolutely no college basketball juice frequently hosts games in the first round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament? Yes.

Should this prevent you from attending one or more games this Thursday at Moda Center when March Madness starts in earnest? No. If the past is any guide, early-round contests rarely sell out—which means you stand a decent chance of getting seats for even lower prices than the already-reasonable $27 for two games. (That’s a lot more than the $5 price of a Blazers ticket, but at the tournament both teams are trying to win.)

Speaking of the Blazers: For the first time in a decade, they’re wretched enough they will get a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA draft. That means these games are your chance to act like a Blazers scout and fall in love with somebody whose knees will shatter into a thousand pieces.

Here are the four games you can attend Thursday, March 17.

10:45 AM: MEMPHIS vs. BOISE STATE

WHY SHOULD I CARE? This is an No. 8-No. 9 seed matchup, and those are usually the most competitive games in the opening rounds. From a pure competitive leverage perspective, this is probably the biggest bang for your buck. Indulge!

COULD SOMEONE IN THIS GAME SOMEDAY BE ON THE BLAZERS? Memphis big man Jalen Duren is projected to go 12th in the upcoming NBA draft. The Blazers will probably have a better pick than that because they’re already slotted ninth and are really doing a heroic job of tanking, but hey: Maybe Duren will light shit up and you can say you were there when the Blazers brass knew that he was the future of the team. And hey: Infamous title-winning NBA coach Larry Brown is an assistant for Memphis, working under Penny Hardaway—and if you ask me, the Blazers need to take this opportunity to sweet-talk him into coming back home to the Association. Am I being sincere? I’ll never tell.

1:15 PM: GONZAGA vs. GEORGIA STATE

WHY SHOULD I CARE? Gonzaga is the top-seeded school in America, so they could, theoretically, win the whole dang tournament. But don’t they say that about Gonzaga every year, and doesn’t it never happen for a series of more and more hilarious reasons? Yes. But will it be different this time? No. But will you care, when you’re seeing them thrash Georgia State? Also no! Attach your dreams to the PNW’s finest collection of young Canadian men and dream.

COULD SOMEONE IN THIS GAME SOMEDAY BE ON THE BLAZERS? Chet Holmgren, projected third pick? He could theoretically end up on the Blazers, if they get exceptionally lucky in the lottery. Holmgren is a center who looks as if Oscar Isaac did one of those Christian Bale-style starvation roles, or if Luigi didn’t have a goatee but was thinking about growing one. He also shoots threes, which is wack aesthetically and ethically (twos are how a non-coward racks up their points) but is very useful in the NBA nevertheless.

WILL THERE BE ANY PROMINENT ANTI-VAXXERS AT THIS GAME? Really specific question, but OK. Former Utah Jazz point guard and Gonzaga alumnus John Stockton has spent the past year or so telling everyone that athletes who take COVID-19 vaccines have been dropping dead for no reason in the middle of the court. Because this game is pretty close to Spokane, where he lives, and they just now ended vaccine mandates, it stands to reason that Stockton might be there, and you can confront him and try to change his mind in the middle of the concourse! Wouldn’t that just be so exciting?

4:20 PM: WYOMING OR INDIANA vs. ST. MARY’S

WHY SHOULD I CARE? At the time of this writing, Wyoming and Indiana hadn’t contested their play-in game yet, so we don’t know which of the two will be squaring off against the St. Mary’s Gaels. A Gael, it turns out, is a Scottish or an Irish person. Their mascot is a monstrous, horrifying, Saxon-looking eldritch homunculus wearing a headband. You’re telling me you don’t want to see that abomination in person?

COULD SOMEONE IN THIS GAME SOMEDAY BE ON THE BLAZERS? No.

WHO SHOULD WE ROOT FOR IN THIS PLAYOFF? Indiana. Those corn-fed young men need to be exposed to a kale city, where they can finally try kombucha for the first time. The Wyoming boys are already leading lives of sinful, dairy-related excess. Portland is just a step down for them.

6:50 PM: AKRON vs. UCLA

WHY SHOULD I CARE? Because you are a sicko pervert, and the only thing you want in the whole world is to get blatantly overserved at an NCAA tournament game that is taking place at 7 in the evening, heckle anyone and everyone in sight, stumble out of Moda Center sometime after dark, and try to figure out which MAX line will take you to Sassy’s. Or you’re from Los Angeles, which is the same thing.

COULD SOMEONE IN THIS GAME SOMEDAY BE ON THE BLAZERS? The Blazers love drafting guards, even when they don’t need any. So keep a wary eye on UCLA’s Johnny Juzang.

HOW EXPENSIVE WILL A LYFT HOME FROM THIS GAME BE? Buddy, if you gotta ask, you cannot afford it.