Wow! In my lifetime, and maybe even longer than that, I don’t think we’ve had a NCAA Tournament with so many upsets and surprises within the first four days. The nickname for the NCAA basketball tournament “March Madness” has lived up to its name. For example in the South region, the highest seed remaining is #5 Kentucky Wildcats, who many thought would not be in the tournament at this point. More than anything though, at least for me, it was nice to see so many competitive games with lots of drama at the end. For some reason, a lot of these games have been very competitive when in years past there haven’t been as many upsets. It is nice to see the parity in college basketball. Yes, I know that it’s one game and every team has a chance to pull something spectacular because of the “win or you’re out” format. But the unpredictability is very exciting! With that being said, here are my surprises and not so surprising results or outcomes from this fascinating tournament thus far.
#16 UMBC Beating #1 Virginia: How can I not begin with the most shocking result of the tournament? The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, which many people including myself had never heard of before this tournament, upset #1 ranked Virginia in dramatic and dominating fashion on Friday Night. The game was tied at 21 at halftime leaving many people to believe Virginia would put the clamps on the UMBC offense and make enough shots to win. However, this was not the case. UMBC shot 68% and scored 51 points in the second half to pull away and eventually blow out Virginia. This game made history as it was the first time in NCAA tournament history which a #16 seed beat a #1 seed. I know UMBC lost a hard fought second round game against Kansas State, but this team will always be remembered for making history. As for Virginia, a spectacular regular season didn’t translate to the postseason, which is a big surprise. Virginia will have a long offseason to try and figure out how this happened.
West Virginia Advancing Comfortably: This was not surprising to me. The West Virginia Mountaineers are a very interesting team to watch. They press for use a full court pressure on defense for the entire game, which means they start guarding all the way at the other team’s basket. This puts a lot of pressure on teams and forces teams into a lot of turnovers for easy buckets and transition three pointers. West Virginia, or “Press Virginia”, beat two teams comfortably by double digits. However, the two teams that they played were very dangerous because of the way they shoot the three point shot. In the first round, they held Murray State, a school with some NCAA tournament experience and success, to only 30% shooting from three. The next game, the Mountaineers played Marshall, who shot their way into upsetting #4 Wichita State 80-75. Marshall shot over 40% from three over the course of the game, but when the game was still competitive West Virginia shut down their offense. This WVU team can go far because of their defense and their guard play, led by Jevon Carter.
Arizona Falling to Buffalo in the First Round: Including myself, nobody saw this result coming. I’ll repeat, nobody thought Arizona would lose to Buffalo in the first round. I thought that Arizona would continue their hot streak into the NCAA tournament. I also thought they rallied around their coach with all the recruiting scandals happening. However, there are a couple of factors that people didn’t take into account. One, the Pac-12 conference was awful this year. That was on full display in the first two days of the tournament, as every Pac 12 team in the tournament including Arizona lost first round. That is embarrassing for a power conference. Also, this is just a guess, but I don’t think star center DeAndre Ayton was fully committed to this game. This isn’t a dig at Ayton, who had an incredible one year at Arizona and should be a top 3 pick in this years NBA Draft. However, I think Ayton might have checked out mentally after the Pac 12 tournament since he knew he was going to the draft already. It’s the only explanation I have for him not dominating inside against Buffalo.
Duke Dominates First Two Opponents: This again was not a surprise to me at all. Duke in my opinion has one of the better rosters this year. That is because they have the young talent in Marvin Bagley, Duvall and Carter Jr. However also, they have some veteran leadership led by guard Grayson Allen. Bagley, in my opinion, is the best big man left in this tournament. He could dominate the paint in the rest of the college games he plays. This team just has a really good mix of players. They have two guys in Bagley and Carter Jr. who can dominate the paint. However, in Trent Jr. and Allen, they also have two guys who can shoot the ball with range. Let’s not forget about Duvall, the freshman point guard who is really good at distributing the ball and getting the Duke offense going. If this team keeps up their hot shooting, they can win the tournament. Heck, I hope they do. I predicted the Blue Devils to win the tournament.
Loyola Chicago Ramblers Rambles to the Sweet 16: Loyola Chicago, which hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament in 33 years, won its opening two rounds in the tournament, upsetting Miami and Tennessee in the process. In both games, the Ramblers used a formula that worked both times: play hard defense and take good shots on offense. This formula didn’t exactly win them these games. However, what this formula did do was give themselves a chance to win at the end. In both games, they kept the game close and gave themselves a chance to win. On Thursday, it was Donte Ingram hitting a straight away three from just beyond the top of the key, shocking Miami after they had failed to close out the game. In the Tennessee game, they kept it close and this time it was Clayton Custer, who made a tough fadeaway shot with 3.6 seconds left to give the Ramblers the win. Loyola has an interesting game against #7 Nevada up next, in which they will have to try their best to stop (?) Nevada’s three point makes. If they do that, they give themselves a really good shot to reach the Elite Eight.