The Madness of March

The Madness of March

RAJAN NANAVATI


There's a reason why they call it "March Madness." Anyone who filled out a bracket prediction for the 2018 NCAA Tournament can certainly attest to that.

On the first day of the tournament, we saw a team that many people picked to reach the Final Four, with a player who will be an early selection in the 2018 NBA Draft, lose their opening game in the tournament (Arizona) to an unheralded program from upstate New York (Buffalo).

We saw a little-known Catholic school from the Windy City (Loyola-Chicago) upset two name-brand programs (Miami and Tennessee) to reach the Sweet 16. We saw a once-hallowed program being relegated to a play-in game (Syracuse), only to pull off the upset of their own in their first game, and beat a team that many people picked to win the National Championship (Michigan State), and advance to the Sweet 16 as well. We saw a #1 seed (Xavier) and two #2 seeds (Cincinnati and North Carolina) fail to make it out of the opening weekend. We saw an opening weekend where one region will have none of the top four seeds advance to the Sweet 16 (the South region).

And in the "maddest" upset of them all, we saw a #1 seed lose to a #16 seed in the opening round of the NCAA tournament -- when little known University of Maryland Baltimore County defeated the University of Virginia, who was the #1 seed in the entire tournament -- for the first time in tournament history.

That's an unfathomable amount of college basketball storylines to digest, let alone over the span of four days. But according to college basketball fans, it's those storylines that makes this sport and this time of the year so incredible.

Almost nobody outside of the state of Illinois could have even named the mascot for Loyola-Chicago (the Ramblers), let alone tell you anything about its basketball program. Yet Loyola won a school-record 30 games this year, and allow the fifth-lowest total points per game (62) to opponents this year; uncoincidentally, the Hurricanes and the Volunteers both scored only 62 points in their losses to the Ramblers.

Syracuse is still coached by Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, and is on pace to allow the lowest average points per game by opponents in close to six decades. Even though they're an 11-seed in this tournament, don't forget that this is the same program that has a 7-1 record as a double-digit seed in the history of this tournament, and went to the 2016 Final Four as a 10-seed. 

When it comes to college basketball in the state of Nevada, everyone usually thinks of UNLV. But the University of Nevada, led by former NBA player and head coach Eric Musselman, beat Shaka Smart's University of Texas team, and followed that up by beating Bob Huggins' University of Cincinnati team. They're one of the most dynamic teams in the tournament, and they don't turn over the ball to the opponents.

Sure, many of the "big name" programs are still alive. Villanova becomes the new favorite to win the tournament. Kansas, Duke, and Gonzaga are still very much in the mix. Michigan is lurking as a dangerous contender, and you never, ever want to count out John Calipari and the University of Kentucky.

But given everything we saw in the opening two rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the one thing we can definitely count on is more madness to come.

 

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