Canzano: NCAA Tournament reveal is more than March Madness -- it's a giant win for Portland
Tournament will bring Gonzaga, UCLA, Saint Mary's... and an opportunity.
Gonzaga is the No. 1 overall seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament bracket and will play at Moda Center.
I flew into Portland International Airport on Sunday afternoon, noted the green trees and clean air. The scenery got even better later in the day when the men’s NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed.
Biggest winner: Portland.
The first and second round games at Moda Center on Thursday and Saturday will feature some of the most interesting and fun basketball teams in the country. I love the match-ups in Portland more than any opening-round site in the tournament.
WEST REGIONAL - Thursday
No. 1 Gonzaga v No. 16 Georgia State
No. 8 Boise State v No. 9 Memphis
EAST REGIONAL - Thursday
No. 5 Saint Mary’s v No. 12 Wyoming-Indiana winner
No. 4 UCLA v No. 13 Akron
Portland not only landed the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament (Gonzaga), it also got a fun Pac-12 team (UCLA) coming off a Final Four appearance in 2021 and very dangerous Saint Mary’s. There’s also a juicy potential second-round match-up on Saturday between Mark Few’s Gonzaga squad and Boise State, led by long-time Few disciple Leon Rice. They’ve never coached a game against each other.
Portland has suffered a well-documented public relations beat down in the last couple of years. City leadership has some heavy lifting to do when it comes to homelessness, mental illness, garbage clean-up, enforcement of laws, etc. The optics and narrative have been detrimental and clobbered the city’s brand.
As I exited Airport Way and turned onto Interstate-205 on Sunday I saw a burned out RV parked alongside the freeway ramp and several tarps, piles of garbage and two other abandoned vehicles just beyond that. These are among the first images visitors will see as they fly in for NCAA Tournament games.
Every big city has problems. Ours are fixable and I’m not here to pile on. Just pointing out that Portland has a massive opportunity this week to collect some wins.
Can sports help fix a city’s broken brand?
SportOregon CEO Jim Etzel is trying to land a future women’s NCAA Tournament Final Four. The Portland Diamond Project wants to bring a Major League Baseball team to our city. NASCAR’s Xfinity Series is coming to Portland in June and Worlds of Sport will take over the Oregon Convention Center for its inaugural fan-facing event on Father’s Day weekend.
On Sunday, as the men’s NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed on CBS during the nationally televised Selection Show I couldn’t help but notice the on-air crew talking repeatedly about “Portland” in favorable terms.
It was sweet music, wasn’t it?
Gonzaga is coming to Portland. UCLA, too. Their fans and those of Saint Mary’s and Boise State are booking flights, hotel rooms, making reservations at restaurants and buying tickets for the games at Moda Center. They’re all delighted to be coming to our city.
Oregon was assigned a No. 5-seed in the women’s NCAA Tournament and will play No. 12 Belmont.
FAMILY BUSINESS: I was rooting for the University of Oregon women’s basketball program to either host an opening-round game in Eugene or get assigned to an NCAA Tournament site within a quick plane trip of Portland. Why? Will Graves, the youngest son of Ducks’ coach Kelly Graves, is a 6-foot-5 guard on the Gonzaga roster.
Last season, the elder Graves scrambled to Indianapolis for the men’s Elite Eight and Final Four after his team was eliminated in the Sweet 16 of the women’s tournament. This season he also attended a game in Spokane to see Gonzaga play.
Sunday’s bracket reveal didn’t go Graves’ way, though.
Gonzaga was assigned to Portland on the men’s side. But later in the day the Ducks received the No. 5 seed in the Wichita Region of the women’s tournament. UO and Graves will face No. 12 seed Belmont in the opening round on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn.
MARCH MADNESS POOL: My annual NCAA Tournament Bracket Challenge is officially open. Join my special “John Canzano Group” on ESPN’s fantasy sports website. Fill out your best NCAA Tournament bracket and let’s have some fun.
No entry fee.
One bracket per person.
All are welcome.
Prizes to the top-three finishers.
Good luck. Feel free to share this post with friends and family member. Let’s see how many of you can beat me.