The Madness of March

Sean Gorman This year, March Madness was filled with, well, Madness. With upsets throughout the entire tournament, from Wisconsin taking down Villanova in a thriller to South Carolina’s completely unprecedented run to the Final Four (55.9% of people on ESPN Tournament Challenge had them losing to Marquette in the first round!), March 2017 was quintessential Madness. Every year, people fill out brackets with the hope that this year will be their year, that they’ll win their bracket pool or be the first person to ever get a perfect bracket. After filling out their brackets, many think it is inevitable that their bracket will be perfect, believing they have picked all the right upsets and know exactly what will happen in the Big Dance. The only problem is, March Madness is called March Madness for a reason, and it does not care about how you feel about your bracket. As a new student at Latin in September, it quickly became clear to me that Latin has a strong sports culture.  Students are both hard-playing athletes and loyal fans.  So when March Madness began, it came as no surprise that 22 freshman joined together in a March Madness bracket contest.  The timing for college basketball fans at Latin could not have been better since March Madness overlapped with Project Week and Spring Break.  (Many thanks to those who plan the Latin school calendar each year. Don’t ever change it!)  It also did not matter where in the world Latin students were in March – whether overseas exploring the history and geology of Iceland, at Spring Training in Arizona studying baseball stats (or maybe just watching baseball), or home in Chicago – they were following March Madness! In the freshman March Madness contest, the winner (James Nappo ‘20) played it safe by picking all the favorites and was rewarded by thwarting everyone who spent time carefully picking winners in each of the 63 games. Jack Hallinan ’20 expressed the universal frustration best: “I made my bracket in Iceland. But the coldest part was losing to an auto-pick bracket.” Brrrr. Without fail, teams stun people across the nation by getting hot in March, and make a run into college basketball’s most coveted event, the Final Four. This year it was South Carolina, last year, it was the 10th seeded Syracuse, a few years back 7th seeded UCONN won the whole thing, and many other Cinderella’s preceded them. So … let’s go over the five biggest upsets of the tournament. 5.     USC over SMU: While on paper this 6-11 matchup might not look like much of an upset, it was a big one. SMU was a team in top form finishing 30-4 on the season, 17-1 in conference play, and were the AAC regular season and conference tournament champions. USC, on the other hand, was a team who barely made it in off the bubble, one of the last four in, and stumbled to the conclusion of the regular season, losing five of their last eight games, their only wins coming against an atrocious Washington team, which they beat twice in that span, and a perennially bad Washington State team. However, USC had come back against Providence a few days earlier to win 75-71 in the First Four, and were able to do it again against SMU, winning 66-65 after being down eight at the end of the first half. 4.     Michigan over Louisville: This, in my opinion, was the best game of the tournament. Partly because I’m a Michigan fan (Go Blue!), and because Louisville and Michigan are two high quality teams fighting to the death in a rematch of the 2013 National Championship. This was not a big upset, but more a game where two of the hottest (and best) teams in the nation battled it out for forty wondrous minutes on the hardwood. While Louisville played a great game that showed how deserving of a two seed they really were, Michigan played better. This game capped off the feel-good story that Michigan had lived out in March. After having to abort takeoff and skidding off the runway due to high winds from the airport near Ann Arbor the day before the Big Ten Tournament in DC, they showed up in DC shaken but determined, and rattled off four wins in four days, taking down Illinois by 20 in their practice jerseys, beating the number 1 seeded Purdue 74-70 in an OT thriller, taking down a Minnesota team who had won 9 of their last 10 by a score of 84-77, and finally beating Wisconsin 71-56 in an emotional game for the Wolverines. Derrick Walton Jr. led the way the whole tournament, and a well-knit Michigan squad seemed ready to do some damage on the rest of the field. In the first round of the tournament, they beat Oklahoma State 92-91 in a dramatic game, where Derrick Walton Jr. put up a double-double, and, finally, came from behind eight at the half to beat Louisville 73-69 in a game that came down to the very end, with Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson putting up big numbers as Michigan’s big men to lead the Wolverines to victory. Both teams played outstanding, showing heart and skill the entire game, which is why this was my favorite game of the tournament. 3.     Xavier’s run to the Elite Eight: Xavier, at the beginning of the year was seen as a lock to make the tournament, yet, due to the injury of Edmond Sumner, Xavier slipped, and lost six of their last seven regular season games, their only win coming at DePaul. Yet, after winning over DePaul again, beating Butler, and narrowly losing to Creighton in the Big East tournament, they seemed to regain their footing and were a team that seemed ready to make a run, which they did. After beating a struggling Maryland team and absolutely dismantling the third seeded Florida State, Xavier was put to the biggest test they had received all tournament, Arizona. Arizona won a top heavy Pac 12 and did not seem to be looking back, with star players Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier leading the way. Yet, in a closely contested game, Xavier came out on top 73-71, and waltzed into the Elite Eight only to be destroyed by Gonzaga. Despite that, it was a magical tournament run for the Musketeers, and one they won’t soon forget. 2.     Wisconsin over Villanova: This matchup was definitely one to remember. With the defending champions playing a very good and very underrated Wisconsin team, this matchup was bound to be a thriller, and a thriller it was! Villanova was off their game for much of it while Wisconsin was on theirs, making it a nailbiter throughout. In the end, Wisconsin won 65-62 due to the heroics of senior Nigel Hayes, and moved on only to lose to Florida in OT off of one of the luckiest shots I have ever seen. While that game was a heartbreaker for all Wisconsin fans, the win over Villanova made the tournament a good one for the Badgers, and a victory over the then defending national champions makes this the 2nd best upset of the tournament.  1.     South Carolina’s run to the Final Four: That would be one word to describe South Carolina’s Final Four appearance. They had to beat four teams to get there, and none of those teams were easy. In the first round, they beat Marquette, which most people, myself included, didn’t even have happening. While a close game for most of its tenure, South Carolina ran away with it in the end. Moving on to the second round, South Carolina notched, in my opinion, it’s most impressive win of the tournament, over 2nd seeded Duke, winning 88-81. They reeled off 65 points in the second half to beat a Duke team that had won the ACC, the best basketball conference in the nation, and anything looked possible for them at this point. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Gamecocks dismantled the 3rd seeded Baylor Bears and moved on to the Elite Eight to take on conference foe Florida, who they had already played twice this season, winning one and losing one. With fourteen lead changes and ten ties, the game was just as close as expected, but South Carolina came out of the battle victorious, winning 77-70, and were moving on to college basketball’s biggest stage, the Final Four. While South Carolina lost to Gonzaga in the Final Four by a score of 77-73, they came out of the tournament reaching the program’s first ever Final Four appearance, and did so in dramatic fashion. Overall, the tournament was filled with games that will not be soon forgotten, like local fan favorite Northwestern’s first ever NCAA tournament game (which was won in the most bizarre way possible), Luke Maye’s buzzer beater to sink Kentucky and move North Carolina into the Final Four, or the National Championship, where the refs acted like they were paid for every foul call they made. In the end, this year’s tournament was one to remember, and hopefully precedes another great year of college basketball. Every year, my bracket has blown up in my face by the first weekend, and that is one of the reasons that I, and many others, cannot turn away from this three-week long basketball celebration. Jason Rickett ’20, a huge college basketball fan whose bracket was busted when Louisville lost to Michigan, summed up the excitement best: “Honestly that’s what makes March Madness so fun.  Even though I’d love to win the pool, it’s nearly as exciting to watch it all fall apart.”]]>