By Eric Norwood Jr.
CNJ staff writer
March is soon ending, but the madness is just beginning in the Land of Enchantment.
New Mexico has both of its Division I schools playing in the 68-team NCAA tournament, but does the area have a favorite?
If you ask Dee Madrid, owner of the Sports Connection, she says it’s a yes for her.
“I gotta go for the Lobos because they are from the home state. I’m also a fan of Kentucky though, from when Rick Pitino was there,” Madrid said as she hung up team scarves for college basketball powerhouses North Carolina, Arizona, and Kansas at her local sports memorabilia shop.
Filling out brackets is a tradition of March Madness, and with cash prizes being offered from multiple websites for perfect brackets — including a $1 billion prize for what would be the first documented perfect bracket — locals are already completing theirs.
“I filled out a bracket for ESPN, they’re offering $25,000,” said Brandon Brooks, who was spending his day playing basketball at Roy Walker Gymnasium. “I’m going for Duke; Jabari Parker is nice.”
Eastern New Mexico University head basketball coach Andrew Helton has a unique perspective on the tournament. Even though ENMU can’t play in the Division I tournament, Helton admits he watches games and has a few teams he is rooting for.
“I don’t fill out brackets, I just like watching and rooting for some teams and people I know. This year I’m pulling for North Carolina State, I know a gentleman that coaches there and for Texas Southern as well,” said Helton.
One of Helton’s players, forward Johari Templin, is rooting for his hometown team.
“I picked Texas,” said the Austin native. “When I watch the tournament, I relate to the players and what they are going through but I’m a fan too.”
Clovis natives Jaye Crockett, a senior forward at Texas Tech, and John Dawson, a freshman guard at Marquette, both missed out on The Dance. Marquette finished the season 17-15, and will miss the postseason for the first time since 2001. Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith suffered his first losing season in 23 years as a coach, but Crockett was still named Third Team All-Big 12 for the Red Raiders.