We could use a sports distraction. With the Sounders just kicking into gear, the Mariners and Reign seasons on the horizon, the Kraken in last place, and Sue's last hoorah still a ways off, there's not much to divert our attention from the loss of a certain franchise quarterback. Except, of course, for March Madness.
After a 2021 bereft of packed arenas and a 2020 sans any brackets at all, the wildest tournament in sports is back in all its glory this week. And while both hoops teams at the University of Washington and Seattle University came up short in their bids for the tournament the year, there are still plenty of local rooting interests to tide us over until Seattle's college squads get their act together.
Here's who you should be rooting for this March (and April, if they're lucky).
The Zags. Unlike last year's squad, the Gonzaga men's team endured a few stumbles this year en route to the Big Dance. But like the 2020–2021 edition of the Zags, which was undefeated before falling to Baylor in the national title game, this year's group enters the field as the No. 1 overall seed and the favorite to win it all.
Even casual observers will remember star forward Drew Timme and his facial hair choices. Some may also recognize freshman Nolan Hickman's name, as he started his high school career at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish. But the difference-maker this year may be Chet Holmgren, a seven-foot freshman wunderkind who's drawing some comparisons to Sonic great (yeah, we're still claiming him) Kevin Durant. Gonzaga will open in Portland, if you wish to hop on the bandwagon in person. Just remember, anything can happen in March.
Don't sleep on the other Zags hoops team, either. The women's team is a nine seed after a 26-6 season. Last year's first round exit will surely motivate the balanced attack that heads to Louisville for a matchup with Nebraska on Saturday morning (8:30am PST). Until Spokane and the rest of Eastern Washington secede from our state, there's no reason why we can't get behind both of these squads.
The Washington State women's team. While the University of Washington faithful may be loath to root for an Apple Cup rival, the rest of Seattle can cheer on the eighth seeded Cougars, especially junior reserve Grace Sarver. The former West Seattle High School alum and her teammates will face Kansas State in Raleigh (Saturday, 8:30am PST).
Paolo Banchero. Yeah, rooting for Duke might be a struggle, and UW fans may still be salty about his decision to pass on his mother's alma mater. But Banchero, a freshman forward who's leading the Blue Devils in scoring, may ultimately go down as the best player ever from the Seattle area. Seriously. The former O'Dea star is vying with Holmgren to be the No. 1 pick in this summer's NBA Draft. Plus he wears his Seattle pride on his sleeve, quite literally. Since it's possible he'll play his home games in the city again one day, it's best to start ingratiating ourselves now.
Other local high school legends. Filling out brackets is tough. Who do you pick in, say, BYU vs. Villanova on the women's side? That's easy: BYU. Why? Paisley Harding. The senior guard out of Glacier Peak High in Snohomish averages 17 points per game for the Cougars. And she's not the only Washingtonian starring for a college outside our state's borders. Some others to track in the women's bracket:
- Hailey Van Lith (Cashmere High) leads No. 1 seed Louisville in scoring.
- Brynna Maxwell (Gig Harbor High) averages double figures for Utah.
- Quay Miller (Kentridge High) does the same for Colorado.
- Kallin Spiller (Lakeside School) is playing for Hawaii in her final season.
- Nadira Eltayeb (Thomas Jefferson High) comes off the bench for Kansas.
And on the men's side:
- Shane Nowell (Eastside Catholic School) gets some minutes for No. 1 seed Arizona.
- Khalil Shabazz (Rainier Beach High) helms upstart San Francisco.
- RaeQuan Battle (Marysville Pilchuck High) averages eight per game at Montana State.
- Mitchell Saxen (Ingraham High) and Jabe Mullins (Mount Si High) are role players for Gonzaga rival St. Mary's.
- Nate Pryor (West Seattle High) is a backup for New Mexico State.
Oh, and there's one other former local star: Anna Wilson. Yes, that Wilson. If you want to support Russ one more time, and throw some proxy shade at Seahawks management, cheer on his sister Anna. The younger Wilson played her final year of high school ball at Bellevue High before joining the Stanford Cardinal. Now in her sixth year, the starting guard hopes the Cardinal can do what her brother's (former, sigh) football team could not: repeat as champions. On second thought, this one might not be much of a distraction at all.