By Christine Rousselle

Credit: Al Sermeno Photography/Shutterstock.

Ah, March. For Americans, this means many things: questionable weather, St. Patrick’s Day, the beginning of spring, and, oh yes, the emotional rollercoaster that is NCAA March Madness.

If your alma mater wasn’t one of the 68 teams selected for this year’s tournament and you’re looking for a bandwagon to join, here’s a quick profile of each of the Catholic schools who are part of this year’s big dance.

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(Full disclosure: the author of this piece is an alumna of Providence College and would gladly vote for Head Coach Ed Cooley to be commissioner of the NCAA and the NBA. Go Friars.)

SOUTH BRACKET:

(8) Creighton University
Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Bluejays
Conference: Big East
Star players: Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, Mitch Ballock
Tournament outlook: The Bluejays are up against Kansas State on Friday. If they survive that, they’ll face off against the overall number one seed, UVA. Barring a miracle, the round of 32 is likely the best case scenario for Creighton.

(11) Loyola University Chicago
Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Ramblers
Conference: Missouri Valley Conference
Star players: Clayton Custer, Donte Ingram, Marques Townes
Tournament outlook: Loyola University Chicago last qualified for March Madness in 1985, and they’re looking to make the most of this year’s opportunity. Everyone loves a Cinderella story, right? The Ramblers’ longshot quest to become a bracket buster begins on Thursday against the University of Miami.

WEST BRACKET:

(1) Xavier University
Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Musketeers
Conference: Big East
Star players: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Kerem Kanter
Tournament outlook: Xavier is one of the teams that could very well win the entire thing. First, they’ll take on the winner of the North Carolina Central University/Texas Southern play-in game, and then the winner of Missouri/Florida State. Despite their impressive credentials, the Musketeers certainly aren’t flawless–they recently blew a 17-point lead over Providence to lose in overtime during the Big East Tournament. This being said, expect Xavier to go pretty far.

(4) Gonzaga University
Catholic affiliation: Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
Nickname: Bulldogs
Conference: West Coast Conference
Star players: Josh Perkins, Jonathan Williams, Killian Tillie
Tournament outlook: Gonzaga begins its tournament as the heavy favorite over UNC-Greensboro, and then will be  favored against the winner of Ohio State/South Dakota State. The Bulldogs have beaten both of those teams earlier this year, giving the school an easy path to the Sweet 16. Last year, Gonzaga made it to the Final Four before losing to UNC in the national championship game.

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(10) Providence College
Catholic affiliation: Order of Preachers (Dominicans)
Nickname: Friars
Conference: Big East
Star players: Kyron Cartwright, Alpha Diallo, Rodney Bullock
Tournament outlook: While the Friars have made five straight NCAA tournaments, they’ve only managed one win in that time–a last-second victory over the University of Southern California in 2016. This year, the Friars face off against Texas A&M in the first round on Friday in Charlotte, and if they win that, they’ll likely have to face a tough UNC team in what is basically a home game for the Tar Heels. Not an ideal situation for PC.

EAST BRACKET:

(1) Villanova University
Catholic affiliation: Order of St. Augustine (Augustinian)
Nickname: Wildcats
Conference: Big East
Star players: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo
Tournament outlook: Villanova is the odds-on favorite to win the tournament.To put it bluntly: They are a very, very good team, and barring some sort of crazy, history-making upset, they should have no problem handling the winner of the LIU Brooklyn/Radford play-in game. The Wildcats are coming fresh off a Big East Tournament win over Providence College. Villanova won the national championship in 2016.

(11) St. Bonaventure University
Catholic affiliation: Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans)
Nickname: Bonnies
Conference: Atlantic 10
Star players: Jaylen Adams, Matt Mobley, LaDarien Griffin
Tournament outlook: The Bonnies have been sent to Dayton to play UCLA in the First Four, and boy, are they are not thrilled about this. If they can take down the Bruins, they’ll be up against the University of Florida for the actual first round. One of St. Bonaventure’s star players, Courtney Stockard, was injured in the A10 quarterfinals and did not play in the semis. Hopefully he’ll be back.

MIDWEST BRACKET:

(8) Seton Hall University
Catholic affiliation: Archdiocese of Newark
Nickname: Pirates
Conference: Big East
Star players: Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell, Khadeen Carrington
Tournament outlook: The Pirates will play NC State in the first round, and then will be up against 1-seed Kansas in the second round. Seton Hall is playing in its third-straight NCAA tournament, but has lost in the first round each year. They last won a tournament game in 2004, but led by its four seniors, Seton Hall could make some noise this year.

(15) Iona College
Catholic affiliation: Congregation of Christian Brothers
Nickname: Gaels
Conference: Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)
Star players: Rickey McGill, E.J. Crawford, Roland Griffin
Tournament outlook: Iona opens its tournament against Duke. Fun fact about Duke: they’re kind of notorious for blowing it in the first round to teams they should have no problem handling. While a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed, eight 15 seeds have taken down 2 seeds. Who knows–maybe the Gaels will be the ones to play spoiler this year.

Honorable mentions (schools that aren’t Catholic, but we wish they were):

Texas A&M
Catholic affiliation: None, but daily Mass at the school regularly draws crowds of about 175 people and an estimated 25% of its 45,000 students are Catholic–making its Catholic student population one of the largest in the country.
Nickname: Aggies
Conference: Southeastern Conference (SEC)

Butler University
Catholic affiliation: None, but they’re the only non-Catholic member of the Big East conference, so perhaps they’re on their way to conversion.
Nickname: Bulldogs
Conference: Big East

 

*Christine Rousselle is a DC Correspondent for CNA.