Road to March Madness: This year’s NCAA Tournament had shocking storylines
This year’s college basketball postseason definitely earned its nickname. The “madness” of this year’s competition was in rare company. From the miraculous Cinderella run by No. 15 St. Peter’s into the sweet 16 to No. 1 Baylor and No. 2 Auburn’s early exits, this year’s results busted most brackets open in just the first weekend. Here are some of the best storylines from the Big Dance.
The most tantalizing and unexpected story this year started when a small commuter school in New Jersey took on one of the most storied college basketball programs in history in Kentucky. I live a half hour away from the Peacock’s Yanitelli Recreational Life Center in Jersey City, and I had never heard of St. Peter’s until they played Kentucky in the first round of this year’s tournament. The nation watched as the huge underdog defeated Kentucky, a popular favorite to win the tournament and a program that outspent St. Peter’s this year by over 16 million dollars.
The Peacocks went on to face Murray State, a team that featured one of the quickest and most potent offenses in the nation. St. Peter’s handled them comfortably after a 17-point effort by senior forward KC Ndefo. At this point, St. Peter’s had become the third 15-seed in history to reach the Sweet 16, in company with Oral Roberts and Florida Gulf Coast. If St. Peter’s had lost here, it still would have been one of the most historic runs in the history of the tournament. However, the Peacocks continued dancing, beating another Final Four favorite in No. 3 Purdue 67-64. The Peacocks fell to No. 8 North Carolina in the Elite Eight, but not before shocking the basketball world and inspiring thousands.
Coach K runs into a familiar foe in his final season
Duke’s Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski is the greatest college basketball coach of all time. His 47-year career features 13 ACC championships, five national championships and two Olympic gold medals. While those that hate Duke — in other words, everyone besides Duke fans — tried to diminish his accomplishments at points in his career, his resume speaks for itself. Coach K’s farewell tour was far from underwhelming. No. 2 Duke advanced all the way to the Final Four, with notable wins against No. 3 Texas Tech and No 4. Arkansas.
In what ended up becoming the final game of his illustrious career, Duke faced North Carolina. Both teams are “blue bloods,” an elite class of college basketball programs, and bitter rivals. Despite the 81-77 defeat at the hands of the Tar Heels, Coach K was a class act until the end.
“I’ve said my entire career that I wanted my seasons to end where my teams were either crying tears of joy or tears of sorrow. Because then you know they gave everything,” Krzyzewski said after the loss.
Coach K will be missed and forever immortalized in the annals of college basketball lore.
Brackets busted earlier than usual as favorites drop early
This year, none of the three teams with the highest odds to win the tournament (Gonzaga, Kentucky and Arizona) made it past the Elite Eight, compared to two out of three last year. The unpredictability of this year’s tournament was truly historic. Most years, the March Madness blues begin around late March, when most favorites drop from the dance. This year though, barring unusual selections, only those rooting for top-seeded Villanova and Kansas to win still had a horse in the race by the end of the month. Kentucky’s loss at the hands of No. 15 St. Peter’s was by far the most notable, but was far from the only surprise. No. 11 Michigan, a team I deemed a “massive disappointment” in my February column and that many pundits believe should not have made the tournament, knocked off No. 3 Tennessee. No. 10 Miami, the team that defeated our beloved Trojans in the first round, beat No. 2 Auburn in the round of 32 in a blowout. Despite the absurdity of March Madness this year, it ended on a relatively predictable note. No. 8 seed North Carolina narrowly lost in the championship to No. 1 Kansas, a top five favorite to win the title.
It was a wild ride. On Selection Sunday, 68 teams and their respective fans stood against each other, embarking on a quest to etch their names in history. Now, after all the heartbreak, misfortunate, euphoria and fervor, Kansas stands alone at the summit of the basketball world. Until next year, my friends, 342 days to go.
Ethan Horowitz is a sophomore writing about USC men’s basketball and the NCAA Tournament. His column “Road to March Madness,” runs every other Wednesday.