SALT LAKE CITY — A smile creases the face of Jae Crowder when the topic of March Madness is mentioned.
Like the rest of the world, the Utah Jazz forward is following the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a lot of upsets, which I knew was going to happen,” Crowder said. “I’ve been telling the guys in the locker room that upsets are going to happen because the margin between the higher seeds and the lower seeds is not big like it used to be.
“It’s different now with college basketball,” he added. “The gap between the bad teams and good teams is not that big of a margin.”
Crowder would know a thing or two about the sport. Just six years ago, the Villa Rica, Georgia, native was leading the Marquette Golden Eagles to the Sweet 16 of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
Marquette’s first-round opponent? Brigham Young University.
Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year, went off for 25 points, a career-best 16 rebounds, four assists and four blocks in an 88-68 victory over BYU in Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on March 15, 2012.
“For sure, that definitely helped with the confidence, but the confidence was already there because I was the Big East Player of the Year and I always felt like that was the best conference in college basketball at that time,” Crowder said. “That was a good game to go up against those guys the first game for everybody, not just for myself but for our whole team at that time. That triggered us to get to the Sweet 16.”
Marquette would beat Murray State in the second round before losing to No. 7 Florida in the West Regional Semifinal, 68-58. Crowder then turned pro.
It wasn’t until he was traded to Utah, that Crowder would understand the significance of BYU to the state. After being here for over a month, he now gets it.
“From a distance, you knew it was big but now me being here you see how big both universities, BYU and Utah, is to the community, and obviously when I got here one of my cousins brought up the fact that BYU is a team I played the first March Madness game of my senior year, so it was fun to be a part of,” Crowder said. “Now, it’s fun to see the community behind both universities.”
Crowder says he picked Michigan State to win the national title this year, but admits that it’s a tossup with so many tough schools. He’s also keeping an eye on his alma mater, Marquette, in the National Invitation Tournament. Although the program isn’t a part of this year’s Big Dance, he is confident that they will get back on track.
“What can I say? It’s not a good year for us,” Crowder said of Marquette. “We don’t hang our hats on NIT, but the coach is doing a good job of trying to bring the university back to where it needs to be, and that’s in the tournament and fighting for championships.”