Last Thursday was the beginning of the NCAA Division I College Basketball Tournament. Colloquially, this period from late March to early April is known as March Madness. This massively popular tournament has become a social event, with tens of millions of Americans filling out brackets predicting the outcomes of every game. With 68 teams involved in the tournament, there are over nine quintillion different bracket combinations, and to date there has never officially been a perfect bracket. However, this tournament has proven to be somewhat of an anomaly, with the “madness” happening with less frequency.
The social phenomenon of filling out a bracket has made this tournament widely popular and gives people reasons to cheer for teams and watch games they would otherwise have no care for. For the sport, tournament, and millions of bracket-makers, it is a win-win-win — that is, at least for the latter, until there is an major upset. Which will without doubt happen every year.
Prior to the start of the tournament, the 68 teams that qualified for the tournament are separated by region: South, East, West, and Midwest. This means there are 16 teams per region and each of these teams is ranked, from one through sixteen. In the first round, the 1st seed plays the 16th seed, the 2nd plays the 15th, the 3rd plays the 14th, etc. This year, the highest overall ranked team was Duke, followed by Virginia, North Carolina, and Gonzaga.
Duke, led by 6’7’ freshman Zion Williamson, is a heavy favorite. However, after as most would say luckily, beating UCF in the round of 32 by one point, some would say it does not have what it takes to win the tournament. Basketball is a game of numbers — which team shoots better is more often than not going to win — and in Duke’s case this is concerning because its 3-point shooting is at a shocking 30.2 percent —- ranked 322nd in D1 college basketball. For Duke to fulfill millions of fans’ predictions, the team needs to continue to utilize Zion and hope it does not end up in a shooting contest, in which it is forced to attempt to match a top ranked team behind the arc.
The second-highest ranked team, Virginia, came into the tournament haunted by its performance last March, during which it came in as the No. one seed and lost to the 16th ranked seed, UMBC. This was the first time a 1st seed had lost to a 16th seed. Needless to say, it ruined millions of brackets and has loomed in the minds of Virginia fans and players. Ironically, this year, Virginia found itself down 30-36 to 16th seeded Gardner-Webb at halftime. Fortunately, its offense improved in the second half, leading the team to a 63-56 victory.
The other two number one seeds, Gonzaga and UNC, are still alive and well in the tournament. However they face tough opposition in the Sweet Sixteen as they face 4th seeded Florida State and 5th seeded Auburn, respectively. The survival of all the No. one seeds is shockingly followed by the survival of both all four No. 2 and 3 seeds. This is the first time since 2009 the top three seeds in each region has survived the first two rounds. This “lack of madness” is likely why this year through the first two rounds, there remains one perfect bracket — the furthest a bracket has ever made it on any major website.
Thus far, there have only been eight upsets, upset being defined as anytime a lower-seeded team beats a higher-seeded team, excluding instances during which an 8th seed loses to a 9th seed. The most significant upset, meaning the largest disparity in seeds between teams, to date was between No. four Kansas State and No. thirteen UC Irvine. UC Irvine managed to shock the Wildcats, beating them 70 to 64. Another notable upset was in the matchup between No. five Mississippi State and No. twelve Liberty. And Mississippi State had a comfortable ten point lead with seven minutes left, until Liberty crawled its way back, eventually taking the lead with 1:16 left in the half and not giving it up.
As opposed to other years, some would say it has been a relatively calm March Madness. Last season, a 16 seed beat a one seed, the year before a No. one seed, two No. two seeds, and a No. three seed had all been eliminated at this point.
Looking forward, given survival of all twelve top seeded teams, it really is any team’s tournament to win. However, after the first two rounds, Gonzaga, Michigan and Michigan State have looked the strongest. Gonzaga, the top seeded team in the West, won its first game by a margin of 38 points and its second game by twelve. Michigan has won both its games by nearly 20 points and is the heavy favorite going into the Sweet Sixteen against Texas Tech. Michigan State, a No. two seed and the winner of the Big 10 Tournament, has also looked strong, especially in its round of sixteen game, in which the team won by twenty points.
But then again, perhaps it is foolish to predict a winner, because it after all it is March, and if history has taught us anything, anything can happen.