Sports

‘Nova wins 3rd championship after incredible tournament

March does not have any grandiose holidays like December, November and July do, but for some sports fans, March is the most exciting month of them all.

This year’s NCAA Tournament, known to many as March Madness, was exceptionally brilliant. Madness descended over the sports world, and, for just a quick minute, everyone forgot that NCAA basketball is embroiled in its largest scandal to date.

Solicitation of bribes, honest services fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bribery conspiracy and Travel Act conspiracy are the litany of federal crimes alleged to have been committed by several coaches and programs throughout the sport.

The University of Louisville, Oklahoma State University and University of Southern California are a handful of the schools named in the indictment. Before the tournament had even begun, some speculated these three schools were indirectly punished by the NCAA by not being admitted to the tournament.

Louisville, with a record of 20-13, and Oklahoma State at 19-14, were truly bubble teams to make the tournament, but USC was not. With a 23-11 record and a ranking percentage index — which the selection committee usually favors strongly in its decision-making — of 34, the Trojans made history by becoming the highest ranked team in the RPI to not be selected for
the tournament.

Naturally, some conspiracy theorists believed the NCAA was punishing the school for USC’s alleged crimes by denying them a selection. These are simply theories, but the sign of maddening things to come in March had been foreshadowed.

The first weekend of the 68-field tournament had its share of regular upsets; 13th seeded Marshall University over fourth seed Wichita State University, eleventh seed Syracuse University over 6th seed Texas Christian University, 10th seed Butler University over seventh seed Arkansas University, but all paled in comparison to what transpired in the South regional bracket.

Loyola University of Chicago, Buffalo University, Kansas State University and University of Maryland, Baltimore County all advanced to the second round after upsetting their lower-seeded opponents. None of these upsets were more miraculous, however, than UMBC’s upset win over the University of Virginia.

Not only was Virginia the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16th-seeded team in NCAA tournament history — the previous similarly ranked teams were a combined 0-135 — Virginia was the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament, thus considered the best team in college basketball.

The ultimate Cinderella story did not last long, however, as Kansas State would knock out UMBC, advancing to play fifth seed University of Kentucky in the next round. Eleventh seed Loyola Chicago, partaking in the tournament for the first time since 1985, also advanced to play seventh seed Nevada University, who knocked out the second-seeded team in the region, University of Cincinnati.

History had been made again.

For the first time in tournament history, a regional bracket did not have at least one of the top four-seeded teams competing in the second weekend, nicknamed the Sweet 16.

Kansas State, down its best player Dean Wade due to injury, managed to upset Kentucky with suffocating defense and advance to the next round, the Elite 8. The team would go on to play the tournament’s new Cinderella team, Loyola Chicago, who upset seventh seed Nevada in the Ramblers’ third consecutive thriller finish, 69-68, behind the divine intervention of the school’s now famous 98-year-old basketball chaplain,
Sister Jean.

Tournament history kept on being made as this was the first time an Elite 8 matchup consisted of a No. 9 seed versing a No. 11 seed. The Loyola Ramblers would continue rambling into the Final 4, after claiming their fourth upset victory, 78-62, this time against Kansas State.

The Ramblers would be joined in the Final 4 by some of college basketball’s premier programs: University of Michigan, Kansas University and Villanova
University.

Villanova, the tournament’s second overall seed, cruised into the tournament’s final weekend, dominating its opponents by an average scoring margin of 18.25. At this juncture, Villanova had securely become the heavy favorite to claim the title.

Beating Kansas 95-79 while draining a record-setting total of 3-point shots in a Final 4 game by halftime, Villanova advanced to their second NCAA Nationals Championship Game in the last three years. The team would meet Michigan, after the Wolverines completed a comeback victory against the Ramblers, where Moritz Wagner had himself a game.

Wagner set a new career game-high with 15 rebounds, to which he added 24 points, becoming only the third player in national semifinal history with 20 points and 15 rebounds, joining Larry Bird and Hakeem Olajuwon. The Wolverines would advance to Championship Monday as the nation’s hottest team, but its biggest underdog since 2010.

Villanova was the better team, and it showed. The Wildcats jumped out to a slow start, as the Wolverines took an early 7-
point lead.

That was until sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo was inserted into the game off the bench.

Afterward, the Wildcats never looked back.

DiVincenzo would bag a total of 31 points, scoring 18 by halftime. After Nova had distanced itself during the second half, he would douse the Wolverines’ hopes with timely shot after timely shot every time Michigan made a small run to get within striking distance.

Following Nova’s dominating 79-62 victory, DiVincenzo was named MVP. After the game, he was asked if he might possibly become a starter come next season. “Hopefully,” the guard replied. “Might have to talk to Coach
about that.”

April 16, 2018

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Salvatore Gagliardi


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