New York • If you ask him to, Donovan Mitchell will fill out your bracket for you.
Just don’t expect him to give an unbiased opinion.
Mitchell has No. 7 seed Louisville, his alma mater, winning the title in his NCAA bracket, going on a run that goes through No. 10 Minnesota, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 1 Duke and more before cutting down the nets in Minneapolis.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s unfortunate that all of these guys are going to lose. I’m excited for my guys at Louisville, they’re going to make a run, make a push,” Mitchell said.
But go around the Jazz’s locker room, and you’ll see that Mitchell’s fan-driven optimism isn’t exactly unique. Georges Niang believes No. 6 Iowa State will come out ahead in its games as well, making a run to — and through — the Final Four.
“Our schedule takes up a lot of time, but whenever you get a chance to watch your alma mater, you tend to tune in and want to be able to have bragging rights, especially if it’s your school beating another guy’s,” Niang said.
It might be belief in Baylor that’s at its highest in Jazzland. Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey attended Baylor, as does his son Jake. Center Ekpe Udoh and guard Royce O’Neale both attended Baylor as well. The Bears’ first-round game is in Salt Lake City at Vivint Arena on Thursday night at about 8 p.m., which means it should tip right after the Jazz play Atlanta on the road.
While they may be able to watch the game, Udoh and O’Neale are disappointed to be out on the other side of the country while their school visits Utah for a rare trip. They’re also expecting a close game against Syracuse in the first round.
“It’s going to be a slobber-knocker. Both teams run zone, it’s going to be a long game,” Udoh said.
Mitchell thinks Syracuse is going to come out ahead in the matchup, though that might more reflective of his desire to see his team get further in the tournament than buddy O’Neale’s squad instead of actual basketball analysis. Niang, on the other hand, thinks Baylor will get to the Sweet 16, upsetting Gonzaga along the way.
For his part, Jae Crowder watches Marquette as much as possible, logging in on his phone when the Jazz are on the road and can’t get to a television set. Reports say Joe Ingles has been wearing a Marquette sweatshirt around, too, presumably a gift of Crowder’s.
But Crowder is wary of Marquette’s first-round opponent, Murray State, and that always-tricky No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup. Murray State is led by Ja Morant, likely to be selected at No. 2 in the NBA Draft come June.
“If we get past those guys, we’ve got a chance to make some real noise,” Crowder said. Either Florida State or Vermont would be up next if they Golden Eagles were able to win their first round game.
Meanwhile, Kyle Korver’s Creighton squad and Derrick Favors’ Georgia Tech are both on the outside looking in this season. Creighton, at least, has had a respectable history of making it to the tournament in recent years, making it in five of the last seven years.
For Favors, though, it’s a little bit harder. He still loves Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets haven’t found their way to the NCAA Tournament since 2010. So maybe it’s not a coincidence that he says he doesn’t watch college basketball much, even at this time of the year. “I haven’t paid attention to college basketball since my fourth or fifth year in the league,” he said.
“They had a tough year this year,” Favors laughed. “We’ll be back next year.”
JAZZ VS. KNICKS
At Madison Square Garden
Tipoff • Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.
TV • ATTSN
Radio • 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 41-29; Knicks 14-57
Last meeting • Jazz, 129-97 (Dec 29)
About the Jazz • Dante Exum is out indefinitely due to a partially torn patellar tendon. … Jazz are No. 1 in the league in margin of victory in their wins this season, have won their last four games by at least 15 points each. … Despite being from the New York area, Donovan Mitchell’s lowest PPG average is against the Knicks, where he’s averaged 17 points per game in three contests.
About the Knicks • Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith, and Noah Vonleh all missed the Knicks 128-92 loss to the Raptors on Monday night. All are considered day-to-day. … 21-year-old Dennis Smith Jr. has averaged 14.6 points per game for the Knicks since being acquired in the Kristaps Porzingis trade in February... The Knicks have won only five games since Jan. 1, including a 124-123 win over the Lakers on Sunday night.