Although the mainstream media and NCAA publicity machine refuse to recognize it, March Madness started March 2 – not with Div. 1 invitations earlier this week. In fact, the NCAA Div. 3 Basketball champions will be awarded March 18. Before then, The No. 2 St. Thomas women (31-0) face fourth-ranked Tufts (29-2) March 17 at 5 p.m. The Jumbos only losses this season were to Amherst by 36-35 and 41-37 margins. No. 7/10 Christopher Newport challenges top-ranked Purple and White (31-0) March 17 in Grand Rapids, MI., following the first game.

Some questions have already been answered.

Thomas More will not repeat as national champions. The Saints were knocked off by Hope, 74-67, in the second round. The loss ended Thomas More’s win streak at 94 games. CNU topped the Flying Dutch 74-67 in the Sweet 16. Defense rules. All four teams vying for the title finished in the NCAA top 50 for fewest points allowed.

Best of the best

Both the Jumbos and Tommies have experienced stars familiar with the limelight. Michela North posted her third career 20-point, 10-rebound performance in the NCAA Tournament last weekend when she finished with game highs of 20 points and 15 rebounds, as Tufts beat Washington 57-43 in Washington’s house. St. Thomas is led by reigning All-American and West Region Player-of-the-Year Kaitlin Langer.

She added 18 points against Whitman in a 65-48 slugfest.

Amherst routed UMass-Dartmouth 73-33 to advance. The Purple and White pulled away to a 22-2 lead after the first quarter. UMass shot only 26 percent from the field. Amherst leads Division III in scoring defense by allowing just 40.2 ppg, and is among the leaders in scoring margin (21 ppg).

The Captains are not likely to walk onto the court in awe as UMass did. CNU handled previously undefeated Ohio Northern 76-66 in the Elite 8. The Captains bench added 46 points in the victory, with Anitra Thomas and Micah Maloney scoring 13 of those points each.

An unranked team will play for the 2017 Division III Men’s Basketball Championship.

Top-ranked Whitman (31-0) takes on No. 3 Babson (29-2) in Salem, Va., on March 17 at 5 p.m. Williams College (23-8) faces Augustana (23-8) in the nightcap. The championship game will be televised on CBS Sports Network on March 18 at 6:07 p.m.