PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- March Madness is here, and the progression to crown the 2017 NCAA men's basketball champion begins this week.
Like most Major League teams, the Rays have an interest in who cuts down the nets at the end of the tournament. Count Kevin Kiermaier among the most interested.
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Kiermaier, who hails from Fort Wayne, Ind., fashions himself as "Tampa's most dedicated Purdue fan." When the Rays drafted the Gold Glove center fielder in 2010 after he spent two All-American years at junior college, he had signed a letter of intent to transfer to play baseball for the Boilermakers. His older brother, Dan, studied turf management at Purdue and is now a member of the Chicago Cubs grounds crew. So his ties run deep.
But his allegiance doesn't affect his judgment when taking a cold, hard look at his sheet for this year's tournament.
"Every March Madness, I sit here and root for the upsets so much, but I have a tough time picking them in my brackets, personally," Kiermaier said. "I get a few in there every year, but it's hard for me to take that 13 over a 4 or a 15 over a 2. But at the same time, I want to see them happen."
However, being the knowledgeable basketball fan that he is, he knows the field and thinks he knows where an upset or two might occur.
"This year my dark horses in the tournament, some of the upsets I have, Xavier beating Maryland -- I'm pretty confident in that one," he said. "That's an 11 beating a 6. My other one is Middle Tennessee State beating Minnesota. I have them winning that one. I hate going against the Big 10, though."
And Purdue? The Boilermakers are a No. 4 seed in the Midwest, and they'll play No. 13 seed Vermont in the first round.
"I've got my Boilers winning in the first round," Kiermaier said. "Then I have them losing against Iowa State."
As for who will play in the championship game, Kiermaier sounded certain when he said: "I really think Duke and Kansas are going to make runs."
"I think Duke has a relatively easy path to get to the Final Four, and I watched Kansas all year, so it's tough to go against Frank Mason and what Bill Self can do for them," he said. "So I have Kansas beating Duke in the national championship game."