It seems fitting that in the Chinese year of the dog, the NCAA Men’s Tournament would be filled with upsets by underdogs. Sister Jean using divine intervention, sending Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four as an eleven seed. The UMBC Retrievers becoming the first sixteen seed to beat a one seed. Florida State beating one seed Xavier, then four seed Gonzaga. Syracuse somehow going from a play-in game to beating regional favorites Michigan State and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. Buffalo ruining Arizona’s chances at a championship as a thirteen seed.
Needless to say, this tournament has been crazier than usual. As the Final Four approaches, we look back on the storylines that won the tournament and how Michigan, Loyola-Chicago, Villanova, and Kansas made it to San Antonio.
The East Region was an exception to the madness of the bracket. Villanova, widely regarded as the region's favorites, proved they were a one seed and strolled to the Final Four. Winning all of their games by double digits, a place in the semifinals was never really in doubt. Having won the championship in 2016, the Wildcats have been here before. Purdue was a favorable challenger to the Wildcats before star center Isaac Haas hurt his elbow early in the tournament. Marshall was a short lived Cinderella story, beating Wichita State as a thirteen seed before losing to West Virginia.
The Midwest region was a toss-up before the tournament began, but despite the criticism, one seed Kansas managed to overcome two seed Duke. Having been picked to go to only the Sweet Sixteen or, at most, Elite Eight by most experts, Kansas took care of business in close games against Seton Hall, Clemson, and Duke. Syracuse was the surprise of the region, beating Arizona State in the First Four game, then defeating a good TCU team and a region favorite Michigan State squad before losing to Duke. Syracuse and unpredictable tournament runs: you cannot name a more iconic duo.
The West region was blown wide open in the first two rounds, leaving three seed Michigan with a favorable path to the Final Four. Winning a wild game against Houston with a buzzer beater by Jordan Poole, Michigan moved on to destroy Texas A&M and then win a tight game against a hot Florida State team. Florida State was tremendous this year, beating the one seed Xavier and four seed Gonzaga to advance to the Elite Eight. Texas A&M was excellent in the second round, beating a blueblood North Carolina by twenty-one points.
By far the craziest region in years, possibly ever, the South region was the definition of March Madness. Loyola Chicago won the region as an eleven seed and still might not be the best Cinderella story in the region. Loyola, by the power of Sister Jean and a really good basketball team, upset Miami by two points, Tennessee by one point, Nevada by one point, and Kansas State by sixteen. Sister Jean, the team’s chaplain, is 98 years old and the star of the tournament. After pictures came out of her bracket predicting Loyola to upset both Miami and Tennessee, she quickly became a fan favorite.
However, the biggest upset in the history of college basketball was sixteen seed UMBC winning against one seed Virginia. Never in the history of the tournament has a sixteen seed won. Not only did the beat Virginia, they dominated them, making an insane amount of three-pointers against a helpless, top ranked Virginia defense.
Buffalo, Nevada, and Kansas State also had tremendous upsets in the region. Nevada had huge comebacks versus Texas and Cincinnati. Buffalo beat Arizona, a team predicted by many to win the region at first. Kansas State defeated Kentucky in a tight game to make the Elite Eight game a battle between an eight seed and an eleven seed.
While fans from top teams may be disappointed at the upsets this year, March Madness this year was the most entertaining it has ever been. No matter who wins the tournament this year, it will always be remembered for the insane South and West region. UMBC, Loyola, and others proved the tournament deserves to be called March Madness and why no one will ever win Warren Buffet’s perfect bracket challenge.