March Madness was Wild

John Orzechowski, Head Writer

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March Madness has concluded. On Monday night, it ended in a nail biting Virginia overtime win against Texas Tech in Minneapolis. Fueled by Kyle Guy and Deandre Hunter, the Cavaliers won an 85-77 battle versus Jarrett Culver and Davide Moretti’s Red Raiders. The biggest storyline of the tournament, in many people’s eyes, was Virginia. It wasn’t Zion’s dominance, or Ja’s explosiveness. It was Virginia’s redemption season. One year after becoming the first ever one seed to be upset by a sixteen seed, we waited to see what they would do this year.

In the first game, they were matched up with another 16 seed. They were down 14 with six minutes left in the first half. It looked like history would repeat itself. But the Cavs didn’t panic this year. They started the second half on a 25-5 run led by Hunter, Guy, and Mamadi Diakite.

The next game was a breeze past Oklahoma, 63-51. Diakite led them in points and rebounds to finally achieve the easy tournament win that we knew they could get.

In the Sweet Sixteen, they outlasted Oregon for a four point win, 49-53. It was a messy game that made a lot of people panic. But once again, not Virginia. Ty Jerome hit a go-ahead 3 and led the team in points to get them to their second elite 8 in four years.

However, Virginia’s nail-biters weren’t done. In fact, they were just getting started. In the elite 8 against Purdue, Carsen Edwards dropped 42 for the Boilermakers. As time expired, Diakite hit a buzzer beater tip-in to force the game to overtime at 70 apiece. From there, Guy, Hunter and Diakite all made their free throws to win 80-75 in OT.

In the final four, Virginia choked a ten point lead with five and a half minutes left. It was 62-60 Auburn with one second left, when the Tiger’s Samir Doughty fouled Kyle Guy, who sank three free throws to secure a last second win.

We already talked about the final. It was a back and forth battle that culminated in only the 8th overtime in 80 years.

Coach Tony Bennett’s redemption tour was complete.

In my preview, I ranked the ten best players in the tournament. I’m going to revise that list, including their performance throughout the tournament.

#10: Carsen Edwards, Purdue: Carsen Edwards was probably the best offensive player in the tournament. Averaging a little under 35 points per game in his four games, including 42 against the defending champ Villanova Wildcats and 42 in an ultimately losing effort against Virginia in the elite 8.

#9:Xavier Tillman, Michigan State: Tillman averaged 8.4 rebounds, 13.6 points, and a little less than 2 blocks per game in his five games in the tournament. An all around strong performance except for the Texas Tech game in the final four. Had he shown up, we might be talking about Michigan State as national champions right now.

#8: Coby White, UNC: UNC’s effort was a disappointment. Many people predicted them to be in the final four, but they couldn’t get past Auburn in the sweet 16. Credit to Auburn. They exceeded expectations. But Coby White had a great tournament individually. He averaged 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and two steals throughout the three games he played. He’s going to the NBA and is a likely late lottery pick.

#7: Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga: Gonzaga fell to Texas Tech in the elite 8 after three easy victories. Rui Hachimura was a huge reason why. He averaged 17 points and 6 rebounds throughout the tournament, with his best game coming in the first round with 21 points and 8 rebounds.

#6: RJ Barrett, Duke: Duke reached the elite 8, but their season was considered a disappointment by many after they lost to Michigan State. RJ, however, remained consistent, as did his teammate Zion Williamson. Averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, Barrett was a continuously unstoppable force up until the end.

#5: Ja Morant, Murray State: The earliest exit on this list, Morant and the Murray State Racers were kicked out of the tournament in the second round by Florida State. But don’t ignore the fact that his 12 seed Racers blew out Markus Howard’s 5 seed Marquette Golden Eagles by 19 in the first round. Morant also had the first tournament triple-double that game since Draymond Green in 2012. Pretty good company.

#4: Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: Averaging 18.5 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal throughout 6 games, Culver’s impressive statline led Texas Tech to their first ever final four and their first ever national championship game, including running past Cassius Winston’s Spartans (see below) and Rui Hachimura’s Gonzaga Bulldogs. He’s a projected top five pick in the NBA lottery due to his impressive performance.

#3: Deandre Hunter, Virginia: The Cavalier’s title hopes rested on Hunter’s shoulders, and he delivered. Averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds throughout the tournament, the 6’7” guard redeemed his school after their crushing loss to UMBC last year in the first round.

#2: Cassius Winston, Michigan State: Cassius Winston averaged 16.4 points and 6.6 assists through the tournament that ended in a final four loss to Texas Tech. He led the way against the 1 seed Duke Blue Devils, with a 20 point 10 assist double double.

#1: Zion Williamson, Duke: Obviously. Zion is the best basketball prospect since Lebron James. Yes, his exit from the dance was earlier than he would have liked. But we can’t ignore his stats. 26 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 1.5 steals through his four games. He’s an animal.

The Biggest Surprise: Just because we’ve already talked about Texas Tech a lot already, we’ll talk about Auburn. After barely sliding past New Mexico State in the first round, the 5 seed beat 4 seed Kansas in the second round, 1 seed UNC in the sweet 16, and 2 seed Kentucky in the elite 8, and were a last second foul away from a national championship appearance after losing to Virginia in the final four. After being led by Bruce Brown and Jared Harper on the offensive end and Chuma Okeke on the defensive end, the Tigers busted everyone’s bracket but were one of the best teams in the league.

The Biggest Disappointment: Most teams performed about how fans expected them to. Not many were more than a game out from where we predicted them to end up. So my biggest disappointment isn’t in a team, and it isn’t even this kid’s fault. I just wanted to see more of Ja Morant. He’s just so dynamic, and we barely saw him during the regular season because Murray State was never on ESPN. He’s got the second pick in the draft basically guaranteed, and the Phoenix Suns need a point guard. Expect Morant, paired with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, to get Phoenix into the spotlight for the first time since Steve Nash.

1 Hot Take for Next Year: Michigan State is going to be the best team in the country in the 2019-2020 season. Cassius is expected back, Xavier Tillman is expected back, guard Joshua Langford is expected back, and big man Nick Ward is expected back. In college basketball, experience makes a difference even more than star power. Just ask last year’s Villanova team. I think this team is loaded with talent, and more importantly, they aren’t all freshmen. They’ve also got one of the best coaches ever. Eastern Lansing is going to be a basketball powerhouse.