PHILADELPHIA — Unknowingly, so he says, Michael Carter-Williams slung a Syracuse Final Four hoodie over his head following 76ers practice Tuesday. The rookie guard, a product of the Orange's program, said the sweatshirt just happened to be available to him when he got dressed in the morning.
Sixers coach Brett Brown said he hadn't yet filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket, but added that there were perhaps “a billion reasons (why) I should,” alluding to business mogul Warren Buffett's cash reward for the holder of the perfect bracket.
The NCAA Tournament began Tuesday night, with play-in rounds going down in Dayton, Ohio. What is a television spectacle for most, and the origin of daydreams of financial grandeur for others, represents crunch time for the Sixers' front office.
Following Tuesday's practice at PCOM, Brown seemed to indicate that Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie is at the forefront of their scouting of the NCAA Tournament, with the team's president of basketball operations deciding who goes where and who watches whom, among the casting call of NBA prospects in the field of 68.
“This is often, apart from the luck that is involved with what direction a ping-pong ball falls, after that, this is where franchises can really take a sharp left turn or a right turn,” Brown said. “It's the decisions we will all be making in the next few months (that) will influence dramatically our direction next year. Some of it will be good fortune — which way ping-pong balls fall. Other bits, we have to wear. It's on us.”
Franchise rebuilds take on differing looks. The Sixers' bears the resemblance of one constructed through the draft.
A franchise-record 21-game losing streak, which the Sixers (15-52) will look to snap Wednesday against visiting Chicago (37-30), has put them within two games of Milwaukee, the team with the league's worst record. And control of New Orleans' first-round pick, which is top-five protected, means the Sixers could end up with two highly coveted players in June's draft — taking into consideration the uncertainty of the NBA Draft lottery in the month prior.
How those players perform on this stage, the grandest of all in college basketball, will weigh heavily on the Sixers' direction for those selections.
“There will be a group of people that really dig in and assess prospects, whether it's from an analytic point of view, whether it's from a talent point of view, that will pay attention,” Brown said. “We'll follow Sam's direction on what groups of players are bucketed up with our staff and say, 'You have these 10, and you have these 10,' and we meet and talk and discuss.”
Naturally, all that surrounds the spectacle of March Madness will take a back seat for Brown. He's got the final 29 days of the regular season to develop and cultivate, cull and scheme, with the 15 guys in his locker room.
But it's difficult to turn a blind eye to college basketball, especially at this stage of both the NBA and NCAA seasons.
“For sure. I love this time of year, from all angles,” he said. “I said this recently to somebody. You pay attention to March Madness because it's a fantastic atmosphere, it's one and done, it's great basketball. You start digging in to watch the playoffs happen in the NBA, because it's what you aspire to get to, what you aspire to see. It's a different sport at that stage of playoff basketball.
“You start paying attention to the draft — the workouts, the college workouts that are about to happen with us. It's a really exciting period for us.”