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A Maryland basketball fan’s guide to the NCAA Tournament

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How to enjoy yourself even though the Terps aren’t dancing.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA Tournament officially kicks off today, and even though Maryland basketball has been laid to rest, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the Madness.

It’s always a little bit harder to get into it when your team isn’t dancing, but March is the apex of the college basketball season and its unpredictability is unrivaled. It’s a lot to take in, especially if you’ve only been paying attention to Maryland this season.

Here are a couple general ways to stay engaged over the next couple weeks.

Follow a local team or player

In terms of teams, the only one from Maryland in the field is UMBC. The Retrievers crashed their way into the NCAAs with a clutch three to take their conference tournament. Unfortunately, they drew a No. 16 seed, which means their tournament run is almost sure to end in a first-round exit at the hands of the bracket’s top overall seed, Virginia.

Virginia, though, will be without De’Andre Hunter. The ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year is out with a broken wrist, which will make it harder for Virginia to overcome its recent history of disappointing finishes. A No. 1 seed has never failed to make it out of the first round; that’s likely to stay the same this year. However, the second weekend is guaranteed to no one.

Outside of those two, there are no other teams from the extended DMV. There are a couple big name local players, though. There’s Jalen Adams at St. Bonaventure, while Phil Booth is still at Villanova and Chris Lykes is at Miami. The Bonnies knocked off UCLA on Tuesday night as part of the First Four and look to continue the trend of a First Four team winning at least one Round of 64 game. Villanova is just two years removed from a national title and has a realistic shot at winning its second in three years. Meanwhile, Lykes does things like this.

Look out for next season’s draft class

While Luka Doncic, the current frontrunner for the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft, plays overseas, a number of projected lottery picks will suit up for the tournament.

The 19-win Oklahoma Sooners being in the field means potential Player of the Year Trae Young will be in action at least once more. Young dominated discussion around the sport early in the season and led the nation in scoring (27.4 points per game) and assists (8.8 per game). However, the Sooners faltered late and their run could end sooner rather than later (no pun intended).

There’s also DeAndre Ayton at Arizona and Marvin Bagley at Duke, two centers leading their teams in scoring and rebounding that should go in the top five of the draft. Mo Bamba of Texas and Collin Sexton at Alabama are a couple other names to watch that should both be lottery picks. Mikal Bridges is one of the best 3-and-D wings in college basketball for Villanova, while Miles Bridges returned for a sophomore year specifically to make a run at a title. The latter is joined at Michigan State by Jaren Jackson on one of Tom Izzo’s most talented teams. Oh, and Michael Porter Jr. is back from injury to rejoin Missouri just in time for the tourney.

Take advantage of the quantity of quality players in this tournament.

Embrace the madness

Your bracket will probably bust. A double-digit seed will eliminate you from your pool. You can be as prepared as you possibly can, but can’t predict March. It’s okay.

Lean into the unpredictability. Maryland’s not going to win a championship, so what does it matter who does? Hang on to all the last second finishes, close games and utter madness that is this time of year. Enjoy it too, the college basketball offseason is a long one.

And MEMES!

Even if you don’t care at all about basketball, the memes are sure to be amazing. Kids are going to cry. Adults are going to cry. Band members will probably cry. There is going to be surprise, elation, shock and disappointment until a new winner is crowned, and cameras will be rolling the entire time.

*God’s Plan starts playing*