March Madness starts to heat up

March and April are two of the best months of the year for sports fans at the University of San Diego. Not only is there a week off of school for spring break, but the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, affectionately known as March Madness, also gets underway. The tournament has a nickname that could not be more fitting for this year’s tournament. That word is madness.

When the tournament started, Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, and Gonzaga were the No. 1 seeds in each of the regions. Every year, millions of people submit their brackets with the hope that they could call themselves champions when that final buzzer goes off.

The first round came and went, and there seemed to be only one big upset. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders, the 12 seed in the South Region, faced off against the five seed Minnesota Golden Gophers. Usually, the five-twelve matchup always has upsets, but this one should not have shocked many people.

Last year, in the first round, the Blue Raiders knocked off a perennial championship contender, the Michigan State Spartans. Just like last year, the Blue Raiders came out on top 81-72.

Next, we had the No. 11 Xavier Musketeers, who faced off against the No. 6 Maryland Terrapins. Xavier was a team who hit a rough patch before the tournament started. It lost its leading scorer Edmond Sumner to an ACL tear in January, then after that, the team started to fall.

Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett is one of the stories of the tournament. Photo courtesy of Xavier Men’s Basketball/Instagram

The first round match-up came up against dynamic junior point guard Melo Trimble and the Maryland Terrapins. They imposed their will on Maryland and won the game 85-76. After the first round, the avalanche of upsets started to pick up speed.

Villanova faced off against a Wisconsin Badgers squad who has been to two Final Fours and three Sweet Sixteens since 2014. On Wisconsin’s final possession,  senior forward Nigel Hayes gave his defender a head fake, and, sure enough, he scored the final basket with just over five seconds left.

Sunday, there was another potential champion go down, as the Duke Blue Devils were tripped up by the South Carolina Gamecocks. Duke was favored all over the country to be crowned national champions. South Carolina was a team that many people discredited, given their regular season record in the often overlooked Southeastern Conference.

People may have thought that before the game. They were almost certainly not thinking that after. In the second half, the Gamecocks took the game over, winning 88-81. The annual field of 68 teams has been whittled down to 16. Gonzaga, North Carolina, and Kansas are the one seeds still standing.

The lowest seeded team still remaining is the No. 11 Xavier Musketeers, who will be the only double-digit seed to appear in the 2017 Sweet Sixteen.

This year’s tournament has been unpredictable. We have our underdogs and favorites. This is what makes March Madness so special. Every single year, we see small schools beat some of the top dogs in college basketball.

Senior Alex Cameron said he watched the first four days of March Madness fairly intently. Like many, he felt the elation when a team he was pulling for won, while also dealing with the lows that come with each upset.

“I didn’t think Louisville was that good, and that was sort of validated when they lost in the second round,” Cameron said. “But, at the same time, I thought Duke was really good, and they also lost in the second round. The tournament is a great reminder that none of us really know anything.”

D.J. Wilson and the Michigan Wolverines busted brackets across the country by beating the No. 2 seed Louisville Cardinals. Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report/Twitter

USD communication professor David Sullivan is the department’s resident sports fan. Like many of us, his bracket has not gone according to plan. Sullivan also revealed that he thinks the UCLA Bruins will defeat the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the national championship game.

“My bracket’s in shambles,” Sullivan said. “[The biggest upset] has to be Wisconsin beating Villanova because the latter was the overall top seed. The likelihood of dramatic finishes, the potential for the big upset, and the probability of one or two great personal stories emerging are enduring features of the tournament.”

If the tournament had a seven game series like the NBA Finals, a lot of these lower-ranked teams probably would not stand a chance. But, with one game, anybody can beat anybody on any given day.

Now, it is the same predicament: trying to predict a champion. This year especially it seems that will be even more challenging.

Written by Jake Ellis, Contributor