It's hard for Chargers fans to watch March Madness without thinking about Antonio Gates.
Before he became the San Diego Chargers all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and TD catches, the tight end helped make Kent State 2002's Cinderella team when he led the Golden Flash to the Elite Eight.
While his teammates may not have been a part of March Madness like he was, many have a strong rooting interest in the annual tournament. Overall, 27 Chargers alma mater's will hit the court this season.
So, who has the best chance of going all the way?
- Virginia - Dontrelle Inman is entering his third year with the Chargers, and his Cavaliers have won at least 25 games each year over that span. Top ranked Virginia boasts a suffocating defense many believe may lead them to a national title.
- Utah –Tenny Palepoi is a big man up front for the Bolts, so it is only fitting that his alma mater relies on a dominant big man up front in 7-0 Jakob Poeltl, who is averaging 17.6 ppg and 9.0 rpg.
- Fresno State – While San Diego fans were disappointed the Aztecs did not make the tournament, Kenny Wiggins and Isaiah Burse were pleased to see their Bulldogs capture the Mountain West title to earn an automatic bid.
- West Virginia –Dreamius Smith is the lone Mountaineer on the Bolts roster. While West Virginia has flown under the radar for most of the season, they are one of the top rebounding teams in the nation.
- Kentucky – Stevie Johnson's Wildcats look to ride point guard Tyler Ulis to their third straight final four appearance as the sophomore sensation is averaging 17.2 points, 7.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
- Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish have a big presence in the locker room in Manti Te'o, Chris Watt and Trevor Robinson, and boast the ACC's top offense. Many believe point guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Zach Auguste can guide Notre Dame to a deep tournament run.
- Wisconsin – Melvin Gordon's alma mater lost Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker after the dynamic pair guided the Badgers to two straight Final Four appearances. Wisconsin's top weapon is junior forward Nigel Hayes, who is averaging 16.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 3.0 apg.
- Tulsa- It will be a hard path for CFL import Dexter McCoil's Golden Hurricane, who must defeat Michigan in a play-in game for the right to face Notre Dame.
- Kansas – Special Teams Captain Darrell Stuckey's Jayhawks are not only the favorites to win the region, but many expect them to cut down the nets in Houston as the eventual national champions.
- Miami – More Chargers will be rooting for the Hurricanes than any other team as Travis Benjamin, Denzel Perryman, Orlando Franklin and Asante Cleveland all attended Miami. The Hurricanes are led by senior guard Sheldon McClellan, who is averaging 15.7 ppg and 3.2 rpg.
- California –The Golden Bears have strong support in the form of Keenan Allen, Brandon Mebane and Steve Williams. Those three Bolts hope Cal's talented trio of Jaylen Brown, Ivan Raeb and Tyrone Wallace can make noise in a loaded region.
- Vanderbilt –Fresh off inking a three-year deal with the Chargers, Casey Hayward will root hard for his Commodore's to defeat Wichita State in a play-in game in order to face a tough Arizona squad.
- Buffalo – Branden Oliver faced long odds as an undrafted free agent out of Buffalo. Now, his alma mater looks to draw inspiration from one of their most successful products as the Bulls face off against third seeded Miami.
- Oregon – Few expected Oregon to be a top seed, but Kellen Clemens' Ducks hope to ride senior forward Chris Boucher to a national title.
- Oklahoma – Chuka Ndulue and the rest of the Sooners are pinning their hopes on Buddy Hield, who was second in the nation averaging 25.0 ppg.
- Texas A&M – While Josh Lambo was the NFL's top rookie kicker last season, his Aggies rely on experience in a trio of senior guards (Jalen Jones, Danuel House and Alex Caruso).
- Texas – Adrian Phillips and Michael Huey hope head coach Shaka Smart can work his tournament magic with the Longhorns in his first season as Texas' head coach.
- Cincinnati – The Bolts boast a pair of Bearcats in Mike Windt and Tyreek Burwell, but Cincinnati faces a tough test having to beat a talented Saint Joseph squad for the right to mostly likely play Oregon.
Several Bolts hope to see their alma maters cut down the nets as champions at the end of March Madness.