Let the madness begin


Jeff Turner | Wikimedia Commons

Kyle McKee, Sports Editor

March is here, which means two things for Americans. The first being that warmer weather is on the horizon with spring rearing its gorgeous head. The second and more important thing synonymous with March is the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division 1 basketball tournament.

“March Madness” is about to take the center stage of the sports world, with upsets and Cinderella stories captivating the nation while simultaneously busting brackets everywhere.

This year should be no different from years past. Well, actually, more madness might be in store for the world than usual because of the unusual circumstances of this year’s tourney.

Usually the NCAA tournament is split up into four regions of the United States, with games played all over the country, ultimately leading to the location of the Final Four. This has changed because of the current pandemic.

This year’s tournament will still be split into regions, but every game is going to be played in the same location: Indianapolis, Indiana. It’ll be a similar experience for these college players to how the National Basketball Association’s players experienced the bubble in Orlando last year. In fact, the NCAA trademarked the phrase “Battle in the Bubble,” according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.

This situation sets up an interesting dynamic for every team in the “Big Dance,” which ESPN’s college basketball expert Jay Bilas laid out in the ESPN Daily Podcast: “The players in Indianapolis are not allowed to leave their hotels except to go to the arena and play. They’re not allowed to leave the hotel.”

It’s always extremely difficult for teams to survive and advance through the tournament, but this year might turn out to be the most difficult in NCAA history.

That reason has college basketball experts and fans picking their favorites to advance in their brackets, or “going chalk,” as the kids say, and the favorites are the Gonzaga Bulldogs.

The Zags are the top overall seed in the entire tournament, and deservingly so. They dominated the regular season, with an undefeated record of 26-0. In fact, Gonzaga won every game with double digits except one, according to ESPN.

Head coach Mark Few’s squad has proven that they are not only the best team in the sport right now but have the chance to go down as one of the greatest teams of all time.

This year’s Gonzaga squad is the first team to enter the field of 64 with an undefeated record since the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats. The last team to run the table and cut down the nets unscathed of a loss was back in 1974-75 when Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers accomplished the incredible feat.

Now what’s important about that is that the Duke Blue Devils and the Kentucky Wildcats weren’t selected to this year’s tournament and the last time that happened was that 1974-75 season, which just so happens to be the last time a team went undefeated.

That’s enough about the favorites. Let’s get what makes March Madness one of the greatest sporting events in the world: the upsets, the little guys, the Cinderella stories and the MADNESS!

Here are a couple of teams to keep an eye on when filling out a bracket, starting with the Winthrop Eagles.

The twelfth seeded Eagles will face off against the fifth-seeded Villanova Wildcats in the south region. Villanova is entering the tourney despite having dropped three of their last four games, which doesn’t bode well for the Wildcats. On the flip side, Winthrop is entering the tourney with just one loss during the entire season, with a record of 23-1. Look out for the Big South Champions to make some noise this March.

Another team to key in on is the Ohio Bobcats, who will be facing the Virginia Cavaliers in the four v. 13 matchup in the West region.

Despite technically being the defending champions since they won it all back in 2019 and there was no tourney last year because of the pandemic, Virginia, over the past decade has always struggled in the tournament. This may be because of Virginia’s playstyle.

Throughout his tenure as Virginia’s head coach, Tony Bennett has always been committed to a slow-paced style of basketball. They love to slow the game down, completely running through their sets and never really looking to push the pace.

This has proven to be very successful for Virginia in the regular season, but in a setting like the NCAA tournament, where it’s win or go home, this style can actually work to their opponents’ advantage. For instance, a team like Ohio doesn’t have the athletes and size that Virginia does, so Ohio will want to limit the amount of possessions Virginia gets. A slowed down game usually means a closer game because each team doesn’t get as many shots, and as a result, not as many points are scored. This gives the lesser team a better chance to steal the win.

Now, despite all of that, Virginia may, very well, come out and dominate Ohio with their size, strength, and athleticism, but don’t count out the Mid-American Conference champs.

By the time that this article comes out, Winthrop and Ohio may have already been eliminated. Hell, maybe even Gonzaga got bounced, but that’s the beauty with the bracket.

Nobody can predict what’s going to happen, except that madness will ensue, so grab a nice seat on the couch, sit back and get ready for a month-filled rollercoaster of college hoops action.