March Gets Mad: NCAA Tournament Underway

By MATT KOVITZ

March is one of the most exciting times to be a sports fan.  The NHL and NBA have teams competing for playoff spots, MLB Spring Training is underway, and the NCAA Men’s basketball Tournament, commonly referred to as “March Madness” kicks off.  The tournament has the top 68 teams in all of Division I basketball squaring off against each other in hopes of winning the championship.  Through two rounds of play, there have been major upsets, buzzer beaters, contenders stepping up and championship favorites going down,

Even though there are over 300 teams that compete at the Division I level for basketball, realistically every year there are only a handful of teams that have a good chance at winning the tournament responsible for the maddness.  This year, the number one team in the country is the Kansas Jayhawks, one of the more dynastic teams in the United States.  This is their 27th consecutive appearance in the Big Dance, and they won the whole tournament in 2008.  Led by forward Perry Ellis, the ‘Hawks will try to make their first Final Four since 2012.  So far, they have cruised past 16 seed Austin Peay and 9 seed Connecticut.  They face Maryland on Thursday, March 24th.  In that same South region, another team to look out for is the Villanova Wildcats.  This is their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2009 and they could be in a good position to claim their first national title since 1985.  Last year’s Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono has continued to play very efficient basketball, and his Wildcats have the chance to match up with the Jayhawks in the Elite Eight.

The West Regional in Anaheim, California features the top four seeds remaining: Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas A&M.  In Philadelphia, the East Regional has many teams that were not expected to remain in the tournament for this long.  Number one seed North Carolina is the exception here, as they play fifth seed Indiana on March 25th.  In the second game, six seed Notre Dame takes on seven seed Wisconsin.  Both teams needed luck on their side to escape their second round games.  Notre Dame battled with Stephen F. Austin and only prevailed thanks to a last second tip in.  Meanwhile, Badgers guard Bronson Koenig hit a buzzer beater three pointer to upset the Xavier Musketeers, 66-63.  North Carolina looks like the favorite to move on from the region and make their first Final Four since 2009, but in single elimination format, anything can happen.

MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 29:  The North Carolina Tar Heels hold up the South Regional trophy after defeating the Oklahoma Sooners during the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional Final at the FedExForum on March 29, 2009 in Memphis, Tennessee. The Tar Heels defeated the Sooners 72-60 to advance to the Final Four.  (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

In the Midwest Regional, the second seed Michigan State Spartans had incredibly lofty expectations placed on them.  There was some debate over why they did not get the number one spot over Oregon, and an opinion that was shared by both fans and analysts was that star shooting guard Denzel Valentine would lead the Spartans into the promised land.  Of course, none of that happened.  In the first round, fifteen seed Middle Tennessee, in their eighth tournament appearance ever, shocked the world and beat the Spartans by nine points.  Their fame didn’t last, as they were beaten by Syracuse two days later.  But the opponent of the Orange is Gonzaga, who upset both Seton Hall and Utah on their way to the Sweet Sixteen.  The other game features Virginia and Iowa State, the winner of which could have a legitimate shot at making the Final Four.

“March Madness” is definitely a condition, caused by all of the shocking upsets, busted brackets, and excellent college basketball games.  The condition will certainly make its presence known over the next two weeks, as fifteen teams will inevitably fail to become the next national champion.