Many of us in the northeastern part of the United States look forward to March for a number of reasons. Just this past week, St. Patrickʼs Day gave plenty of people dressed in green and sipping a Guinness a free pass to be Irish, even if only for a day…brilliant! The first day of Spring was yesterday which tends to brighten the moods of everyone around campus as the colder temperatures of winter hibernate until next year. Last but not least, Easter Sunday gives many college kids the chance to go home, see their families, and have a decent meal that doesnʼt include Ramen or Easy Mac in any way. However, for many of us, March is a great month for a different reason. The NCAA basketball tournament began on the 17th and has given sports fans all over the country something to obsess about and all the reason in the world to stay inside in front of their TVs with their brackets handy while spring arrives to little fanfare. With no NHL playoffs on the horizon due to the season ending lockout, the steroid cloud hanging over baseball putting a damper on the excitement of spring training, and the Sixers struggling towards the end of a season that will most likely not see them in the NBA playoffs, March Madness as it is accurately called, is the most exciting event in sports right now.
Sitting down and filling out the tournament bracket whether it is for fun or to try to win some cash from friends, is an experience many look forward to every year around this time. Even people who follow college basketball closely all year long find themselves crumbling up their brackets and shooting them at the nearest trash can after the upsets that seem to occur every year in the first round of the tournament ruin their chances of putting a little extra cash in their wallets. You can watch ESPN and listen to the advice and predictions of analysts such as Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps, Jay Bilas, or Andy Katz, but it is unlikely that their brackets are fairing too well after a few very surprising upsets thus far. Youʼll never see it on TV, but many of these college basketball experts have just as much red pen on their brackets as you or I do. All of the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds have moved on in their respective regions, but not always in blowout fashion as youʼd expect.
There were plenty of close games as many of the underdogs hoped that they would be fitted for the “Cinderella” slipper this year and march on further in the tournament than anyone expected. Delaware State put up a good fight against the Blue Devils of Duke, but just couldnʼt hit enough big shots to be the first No. 16 seed to topple a No. 1. There were a few teams that shocked everyone except maybe themselves with first round upsets.
The biggest so far perhaps coming in the Syracuse regional, the No. 14 Bison of Bucknell knocking off the heavily favored No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas had a shot to win it at the buzzer when Senior Wayne Simien gathered in a full court pass at the foul line that had to remind you of Christian Laettnerʼs buzzer beater against Kentucky in the Spectrum, but his shot fell short, glancing off the front rim.
A talented Jayhawk squad could just not overcome its late season struggles and bowed out to a team it should have beaten. In another upset that ruined the brackets of many, No. 4 Syracuse was beaten by No. 13 Vermont in the Austin regional. Many experts and fans alike had the Orange in their final four after getting past a tough Vermont squad, but the Catamounts stunned them 60 – 57 in overtime.
As it happens in almost every year since the tournament has expanded to 64 teams, a No. 12 knocked off a No. 5 yet again when UW-Milwaukee beat the Crimson Tide of Alabama in the Chicago regional. Hot shooting early allowed the Panthers of UWM to win by ten and add to the good fortune that a No. 12 seed seems to bring. The only other notable upset in the first round would be No. 6 LSU losing to No. 11 UAB, a team that many experts thought didnʼt belong in the tournament getting an at large bid. But the Blazers of Alabama Birmingham beat the Tigers of Louisiana State by 14 and proved to us all that they did indeed belong in the field of 64.
Villanova was the only local team to march on in the first round, beating a tough New Mexico team that stayed close down the stretch. No. 5 Villanova will face No. 4 Florida in the second round, providing one of the most interesting match ups thus far in the tournament.
The second round is set up for many intriguing games now that the upset laden first round is complete. With a few teams moving on that nobody expected, it is still up in the air as to who will be this yearʼs Cinderella that shocks more than one unsuspecting team on its way to the ball in St. Louis beginning April 2. Keep that red pen and a trash can handy; if the first round was any indication, your bracket could be getting ugly very soon.