It’s Pure Madness—2019’s Expectations of March Madness

Gigi Duncan '20

College basketball has proved to be one of the country’s most-watched and excitable sporting events of the year, with millions of people tuning into all the upsets, triumphs and heartaches that occur during this tournament. Whether it be the 16-seed UMBC Golden Retrievers upsetting the 1-seed Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the tournament, Loyola Chicago’s incredible run to the Final Four with the lovable Sister Jean, or Villanova bench-player Donte DiVincenzo’s stunning 31 points in the championship game, March Madness has always lured its viewers from the opening tip to the final seconds of the championship game. When going into the 2018-2019 March Madness season, one must speculate upon the various teams and possible newcomers entering the competition.

        One of the most talented teams in the college basketball world so far this year would be found in the Michigan Wolverines, who as of late January is ranked #5 in the country with a 20-2 record as they have only lost to Wisconsin and Iowa. Although John Beilein’s team faced the departures of three of their top four scorers from last season in seniors Duncan Robinson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Moritz “Mo” Wagner, the Wolverines have bounced back in manner that no one expected following their loss in the national championship game to Villanova. With one of the top defenses in the country, supported by an extremely efficient offense in star players Ignas Brazdeikis (15.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game), Charles Matthew (13.1 points per game) and Jordan Poole (12.6 points per game) among others, Michigan has defeated college basketball-powerhouses North Carolina and subsequently, Villanova [1].

        In a rematch of last year’s championship game at the newly-renovated Finneran Pavilion in Philadelphia, many had picked the then ranked #8 Wildcats to defeat the #18 ranked Wolverines at home. To the dismay of those that chose Villanova, Michigan defeated the Wildcats badly; in fact, stating that Michigan annihilated Villanova throughout this revenge-themed game would be an understatement. The Wolverines handed the defending national champions their first loss of the season with a final score of 73-46, as Michigan out hustled the Wildcats in almost every aspect of the game: field goal percentage, points in the paint, three-pointers, etc. Following this disastrous upset, Villanova coach Jay Wright simply stated that his team was not “as organized as we want to be. We’re trying to figure out a lineup early in the season. We didn’t have the cohesiveness to play a good team like that” [2]. Although an inconsistency in scoring lies among Michigan’s bench players (all are averaging under 10 points per game) there are still plenty of more games to be played before March and many can agree that games like the Villanova win assures Michigan’s probable dominance in advancing in this year’s tournament.

        Even with their embarrassing loss to Michigan, Villanova still proves to be a threatening team going into the tournament as well. The Wildcats have won the championship two of the last three years, including last year’s 79-62 win against Michigan where Wildcat Donte DiVincenzo scored an impressive 31 points. Villanova—a team known for consisting of highly-experienced veterans each season—lost DiVincenzo and its other top scorers in Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman and Naismith Player of the Year Jalen Brunson to the NBA Draft. The Wildcats started off their rocky season with two sets of back-to-back losses, causing many to count the defending national champions out of the race early; however, Villanova has bounced back in a nine-game winning-streak as of late January being ranked #14. Although this team is primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores, five-year veterans Phil Booth (18.7 points per game) and Eric Paschall (16.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game) have continued to improve and carry this young team into Big East Conference-play [3]. Stephanie Oliver ’21 asserted that Villanova can win this year again because “they showed everyone that they were strong enough to win last year… they will only get better as time goes on.” Regardless of this team’s earlier mistakes in the season, Villanova continues to improve and will be a worthy contender in this year’s tournament.

        Other probable teams to be successful in March Madness include regulars Tennessee, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas, Louisville, Wisconsin and Duke among others. Most notably, Duke’s newest freshmen core consisting of Zion Williamson (21.7 points and 9.2 rebounds per game), R.J. Barrett (23.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game), Cameron Reddish (12.8 points per game) and Tre Jones (8.0 points per game) will most likely advance the popular Blue Devils very far in the tournament [4]. Michael Duncan ‘20 argues that “teams like Michigan, Duke, Marquette, Kansas and Gonzaga will do well in the tournament because of how well they’re playing now.” Other less-known teams that have a chance to make the tournament include Buffalo, Murray State and Furman.

        Based on the season so far, fans of college basketball can look forward to this year’s tournament as it will most likely consist of underdog-upsets, buzzer-beaters, and emotional and excitable games. Although last year’s tournament proved to rouse fans from all teams on the spectrum, each tournament seems to always outdo its predecessor.