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5 Celtics-centric storylines to follow during March Madness

Micah Shrewsberry’s Nittany Lions have a chance to bust some brackets.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Nebraska
Micah Shrewsberry has led Penn State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t worry, Celtics fans. In mid-April, the NBA will take the spotlight once again.

For the next few weeks, though, March Madness will dominate the basketball world.

If you love both the NBA and college hoops – and don’t want to neglect one while you tune into the other – here are some Celtics-centric storylines to follow as the NCAA Tournament gets underway.

1. Micah Shrewsberry and Kara Lawson are shining

Remember Micah Shrewsberry? Turns out he’s a pretty darn good head coach. The former Celtics assistant led the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament since 2011.

They nearly erased a 17-point deficit to stun No. 1 Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament final before falling just short, but they still earned an at-large bid. Penn State is a 10-seed in the Midwest and will face No. 7 Texas A&M this Thursday at 9:45 p.m. EST on TBS.

Shrewsberry, 46, coached with the Celtics from 2013-2019 and is in his second year at PSU.

On the women’s side, Kara Lawson is in a similar spot. Lawson, 42, who coached with the Celtics from 2019-2020, is in her third year as Duke’s head coach.

The Blue Devils are back in the tourney for the first time since 2017-18. They earned a No. 3 seed and will face No. 14 Iona in the first round this Saturday at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN.

2. Speaking of Iona...

Any idea who coaches the Gaels men’s basketball team? If you guessed Rick Pitino, come claim your prize.

Pitino, who coached the Celtics from 1997-2001, is in his third season leading the program and is set to make his second tourney appearance with Iona. The Gaels earned a No. 13 seed and will face No. 4 Connecticut on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on TBS.

Rumors are swirling that he might head to St. John’s, but he said nothing is set in stone.

3. An eye toward the NBA Draft

Some people watch March Madness mostly to see which players they want their NBA team to draft.

First off, if that’s the only reason you watch, you’re missing out. Secondly, here’s a little cheat sheet and a look at some players the Celtics could take with one of their three second-round selections.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana – If Boston wants another versatile forward, Jackson-Davis may be an ideal fit. At 6’9, 245 pounds, he adds a lot to a team (20.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.7 blocks, 0.9 steals). He doesn’t have much of an outside shot, but in college, he hasn’t needed one.

Jaime Jaquez Jr., UCLA – Jaquez can straight up hoop. The 6-foot-7 forward is putting up 17.3 points and 8.1 rebounds a night and often makes defenders look silly. He’s crafty, poised and under control.

Keyontae Johnson, Kansas State – Johnson has an inspiring backstory. While playing for Florida, he collapsed on the floor during a game in 2020. Now, he’s averaging 17.7 points and 7 rebounds for a Kansas State team capable of making a run.

Baylor Scheierman, Creighton – Scheierman is unlike any other player in the tournament. At 6’7, he averages a team-high 8.4 rebounds. He also handles the ball and is dishing out 3.2 assists per game. Scheierman shot 46.9 percent from 3-point range last year and can’t be left open for a second.

Azuolas Tubelis, Arizona – Tubelis is a legit 6’11, 245 and has a great feel for the game. He may not be the next Domantas Sabonis, but the Lithuanian forward is averaging 19.8 points. 9.3 rebounds and 2 assists for the No. 2 Wildcats.

Isaiah Wong, Miami – Wong (16.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists), a 6-foot-4 energizer with a pep in his step, has NBA speed and agility. He could be a backup combo guard for years to come.

4. Al Horford is still in an exclusive club

Al Horford’s Florida squads in 2006 and 2007 are still the last teams to win back-to-back national championships.

Those teams had ridiculous talent, with future NBA players Horford, Joakim Noah, Taurean Green, Corey Brewer, Chris Richard, and Marreese Speights all in the mix.

Kansas earned a No. 1 seed this season and has as good a chance as any team to win it all again. As recent history as shown, though, it’s much easier said than done.

5. Speaking of bragging rights...

The following Celtics players’ colleges are in the men’s tourney: Jayson Tatum (Duke), Grant Williams (Tennessee), Malcolm Brogdon and Sam Hauser (Virginia), Robert Williams (Texas A&M) and JD Davison (Alabama).

The following players’ schools weren’t as fortunate: Jaylen Brown (California), Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State), Derrick White (Colorado), Horford, Luke Kornet (Vanderbilt), Mike Muscala (Bucknell), Payton Pritchard (Oregon) and Mfiondu Kabengele (Florida State).

Grant Williams’ and Tatum’s teams could potentially meet in the round of 32. It’s highly unlikely Williams would talk any trash if the Volunteers get there, though. He also wouldn’t guarantee Tennessee will win both.

It’s also possible Brogdon and Hauser’s Cavaliers could get a crack at Davison’s Alabama squad in the Sweet 16. It’s unclear if Davison is confident enough socially to talk smack himself, but maybe this will help him gain a little rookie swagger.

Robert Williams and Shrewsberry may exchange some texts as well.

Enjoy the Madness and the NBA, folks. Double-dipping isn’t just allowed; it’s encouraged.

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