March Madness has already brought surprises to the table
One of the best sporting events of the year has finally arrived. Fans of college basketball have been waiting over 700 days for the next March Madness, as the tournament was cancelled last year due to COVID-19.
What a tournament it’s been so far. Let’s dive right in.
Let’s start off with the best team in the country. Before the tournament, there were many expectations for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. They went undefeated in the regular season, going 26-0 in the process. Needless to say they made it to the round of 16, also known as the Sweet 16.
The Creighton Blue Jays will play in the Sweet 16 after beating the 13th seed Ohio Bobcats 72-58, ending junior standout Jason Preston’s season. This will be Creighton’s first time in the Sweet 16 since 1974. Their leader, Marcus Zegarowski, led the way with 20 points in the second round matchup. A date with juggernaut Gonzaga awaits.
One first round matchup was cancelled due to the pandemic. The game between the Oregon Ducks and the VCU Rams was ruled a no-contest because of COVID-19 protocols on the VCU end. This gave Oregon an automatic win, which saw them advance to the round of 32.
The Iowa Hawkeyes, number two seed in the west, were hoping to give their star player Luka Garza, College Player of the Year favourite, one final shot at a championship. They won their first-round matchup against Grand Canyon Antelopes handily, 86-74, but the second round told a different story. They lost to Oregon by a whopping 15 points, 95-80. It will be interesting to see where Garza lands in the 2021 NBA draft.
The sixth seed in the west region, the USC Trojans, have looked phenomenal so far, and hardly anyone has been talking about them. They beat down the Drake Bulldogs in the first round 72-56 and beat an injured Kansas Jayhawks team 85-51 in the round of 32. We’ll see if they can keep it up. They match up against Oregon in the Sweet 16.
All of the one seeds won their first round matchups rather comfortably. Number one seeds now own a 143-1 record against 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament. That sole win came in 2018, when the UMBC Retrievers defeated the Virginia Cavaliers 74-54.
Not all of the one seeds lasted very long though. The number one seed in the Midwest region, the Illinois Fighting Illini, lost in the second round to the Loyola Chicago Ramblers. Illinois came into this tournament as one of the favourites to win it all. The Ramblers proved they should not be taken lightly, as Cameron Krutwig showed that he is one of the most dominant big men in the country.
The Ramblers will play the Oregon State Beavers, who just beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys and top NBA recruit Cade Cunningham, 80-70. Oregon State was projected to finish last in their conference, the Pac-12. They now find themselves in the Sweet 16.
The Syracuse Orange has always been a fan favourite, but they have not garnered much attention after a slow start to the season. Everything changed for them once the calendar switched to March. They won against the sixth seed San Diego State Aztecs in the first round, and squeezed out a win versus the heavily favoured third seed West Virginia Mountaineers in the round of 32. Next up, a date with the powerhouse second seed, the Houston Cougars in the Sweet 16 of the Midwest region.
Upsets were bound to happen. But who would have expected them to be of this magnitude? This is the first time in NCAA tournament history that four teams seeded 13 or higher have reached the round of 32.
The most shocking upset of the tournament happened early on in the South region in the round of 64. The 15th seed Oral Roberts Golden Eagles defeated the number two seed Ohio State Buckeyes 75-72 in overtime. Kevin Obanor and Max Abmas led the way for Oral Roberts, scoring an outstanding 59 points combined. It’s going to be a long off-season for an Ohio State group that had championship aspirations.
Oral Roberts wasn’t done there. They came into the round of 32 with as much confidence as anyone. They shocked the basketball world once again, defeating the Florida Gators 81-78. They are the second 15th seed to ever make the Sweet 16. Could they be the first 15th seed to ever make the Elite Eight? They will be facing off against the heavily favoured third seed Arkansas Razorbacks.
Number one seed in the South region, the Baylor Bears will take on the fifth seed Villanova Wildcats in the Sweet 16 after both teams won their second-round matchups easily.
One 14th seed made it out of the first round of the tournament this year, and that team was the Abilene Christian Wildcats. It was a complete team effort, as the defence stepped up and no player scored more than 11 points in the victory. Sadly, that’s as far as they would go, as another underdog, the UCLA Bruins, defeated them in the second round. Alabama Crimson Tide and their high-flying offence is next on the agenda for UCLA.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the number four seed in the East region, the Florida State Seminoles. They survived a small scare in the first round against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies, but bounced back in a big way, blowing out the Colorado Buffaloes 71-53. They face the first seed Michigan Wolverines in the Sweet 16 after they beat the LSU Tigers 86-78. Eli Brooks was clutch down the stretch when LSU made it a close game. He poured in 21 points and seven assists.
There you have it, everything to get you up to date and ready for the next round. Buckle up for the Sweet 16, because the madness is just beginning.
Graphic by Rose-Marie Dion