I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I freaking love March Madness! Just like previous years, the F5 key on my keyboard has been worn down to a stub from furious refreshing of my bracket. Also, Louisville, really? First game and you decide to bust my bracket.
Already we’ve seen some Cinderella stories starting to take shape, some dominant wins, some skin of the teeth victories and the odd upset here and there. Let’s recap what we’ve learnt in the tournament thus far.
The blindingly obvious.
Duke are good. I shouldn’t really need to say more than that.
They put a serious beatdown on North Dakota State in the first round and are poised to do the same to UCF. Zion Williamson showcased why he’s the clear-cut number 1 NBA draft pick this year and his teammates weren’t far behind. I seriously think we could be looking at a minimum of 3 Duke players going top 10 in the draft.
Both RJ Barret and Cam Reddish also stepped up against ND State, with RJ grabbing 14 rebounds, and the team clicking as a whole. UCF should present more of a challenge, after all, they did quite handily take down VCU in the first round. However, Duke look fully primed to book their spot in the Sweet 16.
I fully expect Duke to keep it rolling, all the way to the finals.
You know who else is good? The Zags.
This team can score on anyone at will, and against Fairleigh they did. The game ended 87 – 49. I felt sorry for FDU by the end because they ran up against a monster of a team and never stood a chance.
Rui Hachimura was all over the court for Gonzaga, coming away with 8 boards and 21 points, he proved to be the offensive spark that got the team rolling downhill. Much like the snowball, once they got going, the lead kept growing.
The Zags have now booked their place in the Sweet Sixteen with a hard-fought win over Baylor last night. Hachimura wasn’t as dominant but the way this team is put together means everyone gets a chance to shine. Forward Brandon Clarke put up a whopping 36 points while gathering 8 rebounds as the Bulldogs took the lead in the first, and never looked back.
The Zags looked like a very complete team, and I fully expect them to be facing Duke in the final four.
Oh, is this another 1 seed in the yeah, they’re good section? Who’d a thunk it?
Virginia looked solid against Gardner-Webb, after coming back from a fairly sizable deficit the Cavaliers rallied and cut the gap to just 6 before the half. After the halftime break ol’ Virginny rolled the Runnin’ Bulldogs; great name, by the way, racking up 41 points to Gardner-Webb’s 20.
Virginia were able to weather the test of “dear lord not again”, remembering that as the 1 seed they were knocked out by the 16th seeded UMBC last year. This showed great team character and once De’Andre Hunter (23 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist) got rolling the Cavs looked primed for a deep run.
They face 9th seeded Oklahoma in the second round and will be hoping to put together a more consistent first half performance. Given that the Sooners are going to be a less forgiving opponent.
The Oh That Was Unexpected.
Auburn scraped past and by scraped, I mean literally won by 1 point against New Mexico State in the first round. A thoroughly entertaining game for a neutral, but for fans of either team that must have been nail-biting.
Watching Charles ‘Chuck’ Barkley during that game might well be the best thing I’ve seen.
Auburn seem to have bounced back, however, as they stamped their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen with a more convincing win over Kansas State, securing victory with an 89 – 75 win.
Forward Chuma Okeke put in convincing performances in both games, scoring 13 and 12 points respectively. Followed by teammate Jared Harper (guard) who also has a 1-point split between scoring totals of 17 and 18.
If Auburn can keep getting consistent scoring from Harper and Okeke they could well push all the way to the Elite 8.
Someone cough cough me cough cough, had sneakily said on Twitter that UC Irvine could be one to slip through the net.
With a superb strategy and blinding guard play from 3 guards, Max Hazzard, Evan Leonard and Robert Cartwright. All 3 tallied double-digit points and were seriously cooking.
There were times when they had all 3 guards on the floor at the same time, which was a nightmare defensively as the stats show. UC Irvine as a team piled up 9 steals and made them count in the 70 -64 victory.
The Anteaters (I love this team name) now face 12th seeded Oregon in the second round. It’s the Anteaters vs the Ducks, and my money is on the Anteaters.
The “seriously bruh?”
Seriously bruh? How you gonna do my bracket like that?
Louisville got behind against the Minnesota Golden Gophers early and could never recover. You could pretty much tell from the way the team walked in at half time that they’d already lost.
There were some bright spots for Louisville though, guard Christen Cunningham showcased top tier scoring ability with a final tally of 22 points. Though he’s draft eligible this year, so that showing may well turn into another problem for this Cardinals program.
This isn’t to take anything away from the Golden Gophers, they somehow learned to shoot the 3 since the regular season. In season games, they were putting up maybe 4 or 5 shots from beyond the arc per game. Against Louisville, they were practically in double digits by the half and hitting on 40% of them.
Ultimately recently appointed head coach Chris Mack has a lot of work to do, as Louisville’s limitations in both shooting the 3, and defending against it caught up to them. Make no mistake though, this is a program that is going to be back for March Madness next year, this time with a chip on their shoulder.
The 5 seed Badgers fall to the 12 seed Ducks. I can’t say I’m surprised that Wisconsin ultimately flamed out. It just usually happens in the second round.
The Badgers are a shadow of their former selves and have almost become a perennial March Madness whipping boy. As I’ve said before, they show up, give you a smidge of hope, then crash and burn.
This year, however, was especially poor. In their 75 – 54 loss to Oregon, the Badgers had only 2 players break double digits in scoring. In fact, only two players broke double digits in anything being Ethan Happ (F) and Khalil Iverson (G) both with 12 points.
Iverson does look good though and flashed some serious alethic prowess at times. It seems like the Badgers might be on the road to turning it around at long last. They do, however, still have a long way to before we can talk about them as a contender for cutting down the nets.
Cinderella’s not to be.
OK now that’s out of my system, I had a suspicion that Murray might beat Marquette. Did I imagine they would beat the brakes off them? Nope.
Murray State demolished Marquette in an upset 83 – 64 win. Ja Morant put up a triple-double and had a seriously naughty dunk to put a point on the whole show. Fellow teammates Shaq Buchanan (G) and KJ Williams also put in solid efforts with each getting double-digit points totals.
This was just total domination by the Murray State Racers, who shot 3-pointers at a 50% clip on 18 shots.
Sadly, it didn’t last long, as the Racers fell to Florida State in the second round, losing 90 – 62. Morant put up big numbers again, but the team as a whole just looked a little shell-shocked after Florida put up a 50-burger in the first half.