It’s that time of year again. Brackets are busted, fans are left heartbroken, and basketball followers are thoroughly entertained. March Madness never fails to toy with our hearts, as legacy teams like Michigan State lose in the first round, or Northern Iowa blows a 12-point lead with 30 seconds left in the game. On the women’s side, all eyes are on Breanna Stewart and whether she can finish her momentous college career with another championship.
The sporadic nature of “March Madness” might fit the men’s bracket, as there were 13 first-round upsets, including wins by both a 14 and a 15 seed.
But in the women’s tournament, there were only eight upsets, and the highest seed to go through was 12-seeded South Dakota State. The UConn Huskies entered the tournament undefeated for the second time in the past three years, and they are looking to win their fourth straight tournament. A win this year would be their sixth national championship since 2009. Connecticut, South Carolina, Baylor, and Notre Dame experienced a combined total of three losses during the regular season, so look for those teams to make a push to the Final Four. History tends to repeat itself, so my guess is that the Huskies will beat Notre Dame in the finals for the third straight year.
Here is a recap of three standout games during the round of 32: Sixth-seeded Notre Dame advanced to the Sweet 16 over 14-seeded Stephen F. Austin State University when Rex Pflueger tipped in a basket with less than two seconds to go, scoring for the first time since March 3;
Northern Iowa, an 11 seed, completely choked against the third seeded Texas A&M Aggies, blowing a 12-point lead with less than 40 seconds left in the game, eventually losing in overtime. Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig scored his twentieth point with a step back triple as the game clock expired, toppling two-seeded Xavier.
The most intriguing game to watch for in the Sweet 16 is the tenth-seeded Syracuse Orange versus eleventh-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs. Gonzaga has played its way to a second straight Sweet 16 appearance, and Syracuse’s place in this tournament was hotly debated. The Orange went 19–13 in the season, splitting their conference games 9–9, losing their last three. They were chosen over Southern Methodist University (SMU), who went 25–5 in the regular season, but left out of the tournament. This was controversial, as Cincinnati and Connecticut, who both earned nine seeds, finished below SMU in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), but made the tournament. It is fair to say that the Bulldogs, led by big man Domantas Sabonis, following a dominant win over Utah, will beat the Orange in this one, advancing to their second straight Elite Eight.
Thus far, the ACC has been the strongest conference in the tournament. Atlantic teams such as Syracuse, UNC, Duke, Miami, Virginia, and Notre Dame are all in the Sweet 16. On the other hand, the Big Ten has been the most disappointing conference, despite having three teams still alive. This was highlighted in Michigan State’s loss to fifteenth-seeded Middle Tennessee State University (who?), one of the most surprising upsets in recent history. In addition, Purdue, and Iowa, once considered a favorite to win it all, have failed to get past the round of 32. The Big 12 has performed well, despite Baylor’s shocking loss to twelfth-seeded Yale in the first round. Conference heavyweights Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa State are all still in the chase for the coveted championship.
So far, the most impressive player has been Oklahoma’s shooting guard Buddy Hield, who scored 21 of Oklahoma’s final 26 points against VCU. Hield is an absolute scoring machine, and it seems likely he will lead Oklahoma to a Final Four appearance.
Kansas should also advance to the Final Four because they are more talented than any team currently, and play with such a degree of passion. Additionally, Notre Dame has a good chance of halting Wisconsin’s run and beating UNC, as they have been shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor in the tournament. In the Midwest Region, it is going to be tough to get past Virginia, as the Cavaliers are too talented for a team like Gonzaga or Syracuse to outscore. The fourth-ranked Iowa State Cyclones, playing behind senior forward Georges Niang, have the most potential to beat the Cavs’, but the upset is unlikely.