March Madness Review: Where Were You When It Happened?
Before this NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, 1-seeds were 132-0 against 16-seeds, those teams’ first round opponents. Only 16 of those 132 wins were by single digits, and only seven of those wins happened in the past 27 years.
Then, on March 16, 2018, the record became 135-1 when 16-seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a team from the America East Conference that previously lost to the University of Albany by 44 points, upset 1-seed University of Virginia, a team that won the Atlantic Coast Conference by four games, 74-54. This was a Virginia team with the highest adjusted defensive efficiency at the time of the tournament, and yet a mid-major school put up 74 points on them, the most points the Cavaliers gave up all season. This wasn’t a close upset either, UMBC dominated. It was such a blowout that the UMBC website crashed during the game due to all of the traffic. So, how did a mid-major team with a starting point guard who measures 5’8” and 140 pounds (that’s my height and weight), beat the top seed in the tournament so easily?
On a podcast posted on sports website The Ringer, the win was described as follows:
UMBC kept the game close in the first half. By the end of the first half, the game was tied at 21.
At the start of the second half, UMBC started hitting deep three-point shots. The Retrievers (yes, the mascot is a dog) started the second half on a 17-3 run, with three of their five field goals coming from three.
Virginia started to play scared after they got down. Virginia changed their defense from packline to press up on UMBC’s three-point shooters, which allowed UMBC to drive for layups and more open threes. This could have been avoided if Virginia’s sixth-man, De’Andre Hunter, was healthy for the game, as he was pivotal during the regular season at stopping penetration.
UMBC kept scoring, so Virginia’s offense devolved to chucking up desperate threes to try to come back, which didn’t work, leading to a 20-point loss.
One third of the people in my bracket pool had Virginia winning the entire tournament, and everyone except for two had the Cavaliers in at least the Final Four. Needless to say, we were all not happy. (For comparison, my bracket pool’s champion picks were as follows: Five Virginia; three Duke; three Villanova; one Michigan State; one North Carolina; and one Texas A&M [for some reason])
Speaking of the South Region, this was definitely the craziest region in the tournament. The South regional champion and that region’s representative in the Final Four is 11-seed Loyola University Chicago, out of the Missouri Valley Conference. This is the same conference that Wichita State University used to be a member of, and that team had some success in the tournament as a mid-major as well. Loyola made the postseason tournament for the first time since 1985, and went on to upset 6-seed University of Miami, 3-seed University of Tennessee, and 7-seed University of Nevada to reach the Elite Eight. Those three wins all came by a combined four points. This region also featured early tournament exits from two future NBA Lottery picks. 4-seed University of Arizona and 7’1”, 250 lbs freshman Deandre Ayton lost to 13-seed University of Buffalo 89-68, and 10-seed University of Texas; while 6’11”, 225 lbs freshman Mohamed Bamba lost to 7-seed Nevada 87-83 in overtime. Both Nevada’s and Buffalo’s strategies revolved around limiting the effectiveness of those two stars and both teams succeeded in doing so. This region had so many upsets, the Sweet Sixteen matchups featured a 9-seed against a 5-seed, and a 7-seed against an 11-seed. 11-seed Loyola came out on top of the Elite Eight, beating 9-seed Kansas State by 16 points to advance to the team’s first Final Four since 1963, when they won the National Championship.
The West Region featured similar upsets, although not to the extent of the South Region. 1-seed Xavier University, statistically the weakest out of the 1-seeds, was upset in the Round of 32 by 9-seed Florida State University, 75-70. Florida State would go on to upset 4-seed and my Final Four pick Gonzaga University 75-60 to advance to the Elite Eight. 6-seed and popular dark horse candidate University of Houston held on to beat 11-seed San Diego State University 67-65, before losing on a buzzer beater 64-63 to 3-seed University of Michigan’s Jordan Poole, reminiscent of Trey Burke’s buzzer-beater in 2013. Michigan would then put on a clinch against 7-seed Texas A&M, who upset 2-seed and last year’s champions University of North Carolina, beating the Aggies 99-72. Michigan would then go on to beat Florida State in the Elite Eight 58-54 to represent the West Region in the Final Four, where the Wolverines will face Loyola Chicago.
The East Region was probably the chalkiest out of all four regions. The only major upset, except for 9-seed University of Alabama over 8-seed Virginia Tech University, which may not even be considered an upset, was 13-seed Marshall University over 4-seed Wichita State University. This upset was certainly predictable from a statistics standpoint. I predicted Wichita State to win this game and lose to 5-seed University of West Virginia in the Round of 32, in part because I didn’t think Marshall was good enough to overtake them. Wichita State was an unbalanced team (ranked fourth in adjusted offense and 110th in adjusted defense at the start of the tournament), so they were ripe for an upset, but it happened sooner than I expected. Marshall would lose to West Virginia in the next round. The Final Four representative from this region will comprise of a top seed, the winner of 1-seed Villanova University and 3-seed Texas Tech University, who upset 2-seed Purdue University 78-65 after Purdue lost starting center (7’2”, 290 lb.) Isaac Haas to a fractured elbow.
The Midwest Region, the de facto “region of death” because of how top-heavy it was, only featured one team that pulled off an impressive run. 11-seed Syracuse University, one of the eight First Four teams and the last team selected for the NCAA Tournament managed to win three games to reach the Sweet 16. The Orange beat 11-seed Arizona State University 60-56 to make the tournament, 6-seed Texas Christian University 57-52 in the Round of 64, and 3-seed Michigan State 55-53 in the Round of 32. These low-scoring games epitomized the type of basketball Syracuse played throughout the year, as a user on Reddit so eloquently put it: Syracuse basketball is like the Monstars taking their opponents’ talent but throwing it in the trash can instead of using it themselves.
Syracuse wins ugly games and it’s disappointing that Syracuse lost the game in which the Orange scored the most points in any of their games, losing to 2-seed Duke 69-65. Duke lost to 1-seed University of Kansas 85-81 who will go onto the Final Four, with Kansas beating 16-seed and Ivy League representative University of Pennsylvania 76-60 in a game in which Penn lead 21-11 at one point, 8-seed Seton Hall University 83-79, and 5-seed Clemson University 80-76.
A few words on the NCAA Tournament this year. Up to this season, since 2009, the Missouri Valley Conference has sent more teams to the Final Four than the Pac-12. Let that sink in. The only team from the Pac-12 to make the Final Four was 3-seed University of Oregon in 2017. The Missouri Valley Conference has sent Wichita State in 2013 and Loyola Chicago this season. The Pac-12 is a multi-bid league, and a mid-major conference has had more success in the post-season.
Speaking of the Pac-12, the conference had a down year as they only sent three teams to the postseason tournament this year. Those teams were 4-seed Arizona, and play-in teams Arizona State and UCLA. I mentioned already that Arizona lost to Buffalo and Arizona State lost to Syracuse but UCLA also lost their play-in game to St. Bonaventure University. The Pac-12 went winless in the tournament this season, and every team lost to a team from Upstate New York. To go along with that record, the Pac-12 earned a revenue deficit of $1 billion. Maybe that will teach the conference to stop scheduling such easy out-of-conference games.
For my predictions for the Final Four, I am really torn. I think Michigan will beat Loyola; the Wolverines looked great throughout the tournament and will definitely be the toughest team that Loyola has faced so far, so I’m picking Michigan to go to the championship game. As for the other side of the bracket, I think the Final Four matchup will be Villanova against Duke, with Duke coming out on top. It’s difficult for a team that relies on the three-point shot as much as Villanova does to find success, and I think Duke will give Villanova their one bad game of the tournament. Duke will then beat Michigan in the championship game with their newly minted zone defense. Then again, the championship game could be Loyola against Texas Tech and no one would be surprised.