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March Madness: In Case You Missed It

John Orzechowski, Head Writer

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The NCAA Tournament has come and gone, ending with a lopsided final game between an insanely good Villanova team and a Michigan team that looked like it belonged on the lower half of the seedings in the first round. The true Madness of March lay in the earlier rounds, even leaking into the final four. Let’s take a look at nine pretty big topics from this year’s tournament leading up to the last three games in San Antonio.

Scandals: Prior to the Tournament, the NCAA was riddled in controversy surrounding teams like Arizona and Michigan State. In short, a bunch of top prospects like Arizona’s Deandre Ayton and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges were involved in shady business deals that involved money exchanging hands, which is a no- no in college recruiting. College players, along with young NBA players like Markelle Fultz of the 76ers and the Suns’ Josh Jackson, received payments to commit to specific schools. As the tournament began, these controversies proved to be a dark cloud over the big dance, but its magic persisted.

Loyola- Chicago and Sister Jean: The country fell in love with a ninety- eight year old nun from the eleven seed Loyola- Chicago Ramblers. Sister Jean Dolores- Schmidt captured the hearts of every college basketball fan, and had everyone whose team had been eliminated pulling for the Ramblers as the ultimate Cinderella story.

Prior to the Elite Eight, LCU won their first three games by a total of four points, edging #6 Miami by two in the first round, #3 Tennessee by one in the second, and #7 Nevada by one in the Sweet Sixteen. In the Elite Eight, they stomped all over #9 Kansas State in a sixteen point blowout, before falling to Michigan in the final four. Even so, their formidable offense and dangerous defense provided the viewers with the pleasure of watching an insanely talented ball team every time they took the court.

UMBC: on the night of March 16th, the University of Maryland Baltimore Country Retrievers made history. Jairus Lyles and his team became the first 16 seed to ever move on to the second round. Not only did they pull off an upset on the #1 Virginia Cavaliers, they blew them out 74-54. The Retrievers, in their ugly yellow Under Armour jerseys, managed to stun the nation. They went up against one of the most dangerous defenses in NCAAM history, a team that didn’t allow 70 points in a game all season, and dropped 74. Even as they busted every bracket that was left perfect after a wild first round, they were a great story that ended in a seven point loss to Kansas State the next round.

The one and done era is over with, and coach Jay Wright, his junior superstars Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, and the Villanova Wildcats proved that this year.”

NBA Lottery picks (and a serious lack thereof in the final four): College Basketball is great, but for the players that the people of the US really care about, it’s a means to an end. The biggest names in the tournament will, more than likely, not be participating the next year because they’re probably going to be in the NBA. Let’s talk about the NBA lottery: the first fourteen picks in the draft. In Sports Illustrated’s latest mock draft, created the day after Villanova’s victory, one player in the first fourteen picks participated in the final four. However, thirteen of the fourteen participated in the tournament, with the one exception being a player from Europe.

There’s more to a championship team than good players, and while that seems like a given, it wasn’t always. Teams like the early 2010s Kentucky Wildcats and the Duke Blue Devils from 2014-2016 were loaded with talent across those couple years, but all of that talent went to the league after one year. The one and done era is over with, and coach Jay Wright, his junior superstars Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, and the Villanova Wildcats proved that this year.

Upsets Galore: Nobody had a perfect bracket after the first round. Teams like Buffalo and Syracuse in the first round, and Texas A&M and Florida State in the second round pulled off upsets that led to a wild tournament where most of the games were totally up in the air. In the end, teams with title expectations like Michigan State, Arizona, Xavier and Virginia all fell to teams with lower rankings than them, and those four fell in the first two rounds. It was a crazy tournament that provided thrills for everyone watching, even as the lower seeded teams ruined brackets across the nation.

Insanely good freshmen: Even with the older talents of Brunson and Bridges cutting down the nets, the early storylines of the tournament were dominated by freshmen stars. Deandre Ayton led the Arizona Wildcats to a four seed, and is the likely number one pick in this year’s NBA draft. Jaren Jackson of Michigan State was the best player in the Big 10, better than his teammate Miles Bridges. Trae Young was the only reason the Oklaholma Sooners made the tournament; his numbers in the regular season dragged his poor Sooners to a ten seed. These players are all going to the NBA this summer, and were huge reasons why their teams were in the tournament.

Jalen Brunson, Villanova and the three ball: Villanova was the best team in the tournament, without a doubt. Jay Wright is an elite coach, with comparisons being made to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari. Their roster had depth, and their star point guard Jalen Brunson has played with NBA talent for the last few years. They played dominant basketball throughout the tournament, winning every game by double-digits and setting the record for the most three-pointers made in a game against #1 Kansas in the Final Four. Their sixth man, Donte DiVincenzo, dropped 31 in the win against Michigan. Villanova played like champions the entire tournament, and it paid off in the end. Congratulations to the Wildcats, their incredible season, and their well deserved championship..

Moe Wagner, Michigan and pink shoes: On the other side of the bracket, Michigan didn’t look nearly as dangerous as ‘Nova, but still looked like a good team. Led by German big man Moritz Wagner, the Wolverines went on a run of a lot of skill and a little luck. Wagner played like the unicorn he is throughout the tournament: he’s a raw prospect version of the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. He shot 40% from the three during the regular season and can bring down double-digit rebounds every night. There isn’t much to say on their final performance, but the luck that their pink shoes supplied seemed to have run out. John Beilein is a great coach, and if Wagner stays for next year (which he probably won’t), expect another deep March run in 2019.

Montana (obviously): The Grizzlies punched their first ticket to March Madness since 2013, when they lost to Syracuse in the first round. They were granted a 14 seed, as their winning of the Big Sky Conference meant that they got in; but this wasn’t very impressive due to the nature of the schools in their conference. They started off Michigan’s title game run by playing a great first half, and scoring two points in the first ten minutes of the second. Led by Junior Michael Oguine, the Griz represented our Big Sky in the tournament for a night before they were eliminated.

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