Outside of football, there may not be an event that holds more Chargers’ allegiances than March Madness. Predominately, the first connection Chargers fans make between the tournament and the Bolts is Antonio Gates. The future Hall of Famer helped make Kent State the Cinderella team of 2002 when the Golden Flash reached the Elite Eight. But keep in mind when the tournament starts that there are 22 Chargers who’s alma mater is vying for the NCAA title. Which begs the question: whose alma mater has the best chance of going all the way?
4. San Diego State – The Aztecs are back in the tourney for a fifth straight season, dating back to when Vincent Brown was a sophomore cheering them on at Viejas Arena. They last reached the Sweet 16 back in 2011, just a couple weeks before the Bolts drafted Brown in the third round. Overall, the Chargers will be supporting San Diego State loud and proud as they aim to bring the college basketball title to America’s Finest City.
2. Wisconsin – The Bolts boast two Badgers in Marcus Cromartie and Jake Byrne. They open play against Patriot League Champion American University, with the possibility of facing an Oregon team that was once home to one of the newest Chargers.
7. Oregon – Kellen Clemens is new to San Diego. Should the Ducks beat BYU and then defeat Wisconsin, it will surely be an interesting scene when the new quarterback meets Cromartie and Byrne for the first time.
14. Louisiana Lafayette – Based on seed alone, Ladarius Green’s Raging Cajuns have the toughest path in the tournament. They punched their ticket to the big dance with a Cinderella run through the Sun Belt tournament, and their reward is a date against Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays. Should they pull off the upset, Green may find himself rooting against one of his teammate’s beloved teams in Nebraska. While Danny Woodhead went to Chadron State, the North Platte native is a huge Cornhusker fan.
2. Michigan - The lone Wolverine in the tournament is Jonas Mouton. Michigan is tournament tested, having made it all the way to the championship game in 2013 as a four seed before falling to Louisville. They face the Wofford Terriers on Thursday, with the chance to face either seventh seeded Texas or 10th seeded Arizona State next.
9. Kansas State – There are a pair of Wildcat alumni in San Diego, as both Jeromey Clary and Reggie Walker attended Kansas State. The ninth seed in the Midwest faces a difficult opening weekend, having to square off against Kentucky. Should they survive that landmine, they most likely will face top seeded Wichita State, who is 34-0 on the season.
10. Arizona State – The Sun Devils are a trendy pick to pull out an upset win over Texas, which is music to Lawrence Guy’s ears. Should they win, they may very well face Mouton’s Wolverines in the second round. Either way, Arizona State would probably have a better chance to go far if Guy was patrolling the paint. After all, the defensive end specializes in blocking field goals and swatting balls away at the line of scrimmage.
12. North Carolina State – Philip Rivers’ Wolfpack may have the most difficult path to the Final Four as they will square off against Xavier in a play-in game. The winner of that match then faces off against fifth seeded St. Louis with the possibility of facing defending champion Louisville in the round of 32. NC State is the school in the tournament with the most current Chargers alumni, as both Terrell Manning and Tobais Palmer attended the university as well.
2. Kansas - There are more teams in the South with Chargers ties than any other region, and the one with the highest seed is Darrell Stuckey’s Jayhawks. It’s been a memorable month for Stuckey as the safety and special teams ace re-upped with the Bolts. Kansas going all the way would make it even sweeter.
3. Syracuse – Syracuse was the hottest team in the country for most of the year, but recently, Dwight Freeney’s alma mater has stumbled. Perhaps the Orange could get back on track by incorporating some of Freeney’s moves, particularly his patented spin move.
4. UCLA – The Bruins enter March Madness on a tear, fresh off a Pac-12 tournament win. Can they add to their record 11 NCAA title wins? Mike Harris sure hopes so. The last time UCLA made it to the Final Four came in 2008 when the tackle was a freshman.
6. Ohio State – To go far in the tournament, teams have to excel on both offense and defense. That is something Zach Boren is familiar with as he played both fullback and linebacker at Ohio State. The lone buckeye Bolt joined the team in January on reserves/futures contract to strictly play fullback in San Diego.
10. Stanford – Much to Thomas Keiser’s delight, the Cardinal is back in the dance for the first time since 2008. If they can upset seventh ranked New Mexico, Keiser may very well find his team tipping off against Stuckey’s Kansas juggernaut.
1. Virginia – Going by the seeding, former Cavaliers John Phillips and Dontrelle Inman have an inside track at reaching the Final Four. Virginia is in the tournament for just the second time in seven years, but they have had a stellar season, winning the ACC championship with a 28-6 record.
5. Cincinnati – Mike Windt’s Bearcats have a stiff opening test against Harvard. Winning the Ivy League for the third consecutive year, the Crimson now look to advance to the round of 32 for the second consecutive season.
7. Connecticut – With the addition of running back Donald Brown, Kendall Reyes has another Huskie joining him in the locker room. A perennial powerhouse, UConn last won the title in 2011 when Reyes was on campus as a senior.