Alright folks, it’s time to face the music…If you filled out a 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Bracket, unless you are, in fact, a genius, could have never predicted the Sweet 16 as it stands.
In between working, packing, cleaning and moving, I was finally able to take in some March Madness this Saturday and Sunday. That was, of course, after history was made. So, let’s get down to business in this special edition of Clinger’s Corner.
The tournament kicked off back on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 13 and 14. I already discussed in my previous column the play-in games and the respective victors but, who would’ve known that some would actually make an impact?
Now, we fast forward to Thursday and Friday, a.k.a. when the magic happens…we will wait to take about the “Death Region” (South)! I’ll start with the two regions that I’ve actually fared somewhat well in, the East and Midwest.
In the East, there was just a few minor shakeups but nothing that the history books will touch on. Villanova, West Virginia, Florida, Texas Tech and Purdue all cruised into the field of 32. Alabama (9) bested Virginia Tech (8) by three, Butler (10) blasted Arkansas (7) and the big “upset” was No. 13 Marshall defeating No. 4 Wichita State by six points.
The second round pretty much went as expected. Villanova defeated Alabama, Texas Tech beat Florida and West Virginia annihilated inner-state Marshall. Purdue survived Butler, albeit barely, to keep my Sweet 16 predictions in the East accurate. That’s right, I had all four of them correct people!
Looking ahead, I have West Virginia knocking off ‘Nova and Purdue beating Texas Tech…
There were some surprises in the Midwest Region as well, but, I did come out of here, like in the West, with two of the four teams picked correctly. But, let’s backtrack a bit first.
Kansas began their run on Thursday and are still running, and I picked them to make it to the Final Four. I have the Jayhawks pitted against the Duke Blue Devils in that Final Four matchup and guess what? Duke has had no issues as of yet.
But, that’s where it has all gone bad up to this point.
Clemson and Auburn won their first round contests easily, as many expected, and met up in the field of 32. I had Auburn taking care of business but it would be the Clemson Tigers that would advance, blowing out Auburn by 31 points?!
Michigan State, a team that was predicted to be the champs by many bracket experts, is out of the tournament after the second round. They held on in round one to edge Bucknell by four, but, a win is a win. In that second round, they would clash with the Syracuse Orange. Wait, Syracuse?! The last team selected into the original field of 68?! Yup! They beat Texas Christian by five in round one after playing their way in over Arizona State. ‘Cuse then would beat the Spartans by two points to advance to the Sweet 16 against Duke. Clemson gets to play Kansas in the other matchup, how lucky!
Give me Duke, give me Kansas…
Now for the region in which I’ve done just slightly better than decent…the West.
Let me start by saying that two of the four teams remaining in the West Region are teams that I thought would get to the Sweet 16, No. 4 Gonzaga and No. 3 Michigan. However, I would’ve never predicted the other two, nor did I see some of these games being as close as they were.
After the first round, most brackets, mine included were in tact. Xavier, Florida State, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Houston, Michigan, Texas A&M and North Carolina all advanced. The second round, well, that’s a different story.
Xavier met up with Florida State again. Last year, the Musketeers defeated the ‘Noles by like 25 points in the tourney, this year, it would be Florida State advancing to the Sweet 16 after defeating Xavier; 75-70. That’s a 9-1 upset. Gonzaga defeated Ohio State, no big news there.
In the bottom portion of the bracket, No. 3 Michigan beat No. 6 Houston on a buzzer-beater…survive and advance. The game that furthered the bust that is my bracket is the No. 7 A&M versus No. 2 UNC game. The Aggies stymied the returning champion Tar Heels by 21 points; 86-65. Just so everyone is aware, I had UNC playing Duke in the Championship game.
I say, hmm…Gonzaga versus Texas A&M in the Elite Eight.
The South Region will forever be remember in the most notorious way imaginable.
I remember once the field of 64 was set, I said to Russ Kent, Editor of the Galion Inquirer, “looks like this won’t be the year that a 16-seed knocks off a 1-seed.”
Well ladies and gentlemen, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers did just that and did so emphatically. In the first round, the Retrievers were paired up with the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, the Virginia Cavaliers. Many thought this game to be an easy win for the Cavs, a team that dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference and much of their opposition throughout the regular season. Well, UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to ever knock off a No.1 and it was to the tune of 74-54! What?! A 20-point victory?! The Retrievers made it to just their second tourney ever in 2018. They were a 15-seed back in 2008 and were destoyed by the No. 2 seed Georgetown Hoyas; 66-47.
UMBC’s run would be ended though in the second round as the No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats won a snore-fest; 50-43. So, the ‘Cats move on, yadda yadda. For UMBC, they have earned their place in the history books, and to me, that’s more exciting than anything…Congratulations to a team that nearly nobody has ever heard of until now!
No. 5 Kentucky faced a No. 13 seed in Buffalo. Buffalo? Yeah, they earned their way into the second round but also contributing to my bracket-busting after they upset the No. 4 seeded Arizona Wildcats; 89-68. For your information, I had Arizona playing Cincinnati in the Elite 8 and then losing to North Carolina in the Final Four so, thanks a lot Buffalo.
Anyways, Kentucky smashed the Bulls; 95-75 to advance as the highest remaining seed in the South…further busted bracket segue alert!
The No. 2 seeded Cincy Bearcats would play the No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack in the second round. Now, this was a game and put true definition to the term “March Madness”. In a wild finish, the ‘Pack upended Cincy; 75-73. Cincinnati blew a 22-point lead in this one and Nevada committed just two turnovers…for the entire game! To say that Nashville was unkind to the city of Cincinnati (the Bearcats and Xavier) is an understatement. Also, the State of Ohio saw all three of their remaining teams removed from the tourney. Who is next for Nevada? Loyola Chicago…wait, who?!
The No. 11 seed Ramblers have done just that so far this March. In round number one, they knocked off No. 6 Miami by two points; 64-62. Round two saw them facing the No. 3 seeded Tennessee Volunteers. Another narrow victory, this time 63-62 saw Loyola Chicago advancing to the Sweet 16 with a shot at the Elite Eight…again, bracket busted!
I am going to go ahead and say that it will be Kentucky and Nevada surviving and if Kentucky doesn’t make the Final Four, mark this season a failure for the ‘Cats.
RECAP AND FUN FACTS
In the East, I originally had ‘Nova against Purdue in the Elite 8 and now I am amending that. I say West Virginia against Purdue and the Mountaineers punching their ticket to the Final Four.
The Midwest will see No. 1 Kansas against No. 2 Duke with the Blue Devils marching on to the Final Four, that stays true to my original prediction.
Over in the West, Gonzaga and A&M will play for the opportunity to “march” on with the ‘Zags playing in the Final Four. If you’ve been paying attention, that is nowhere in the same vacinity as what my original bracket, now marked with BUSTED in black Sharpie, states.
Last, but certainly not least, in the South it will be Kentucky and Nevada. I would love to see Nevada continue on and, if they play like they did against Cincinnate, they will. However, based on their track record, I say that the Wildcats will meet Gonzaga in the Final Four.
Aside from all of the tidbits of information listed above, here are a dozen facts from this year’s tournament so far mixed in with some related fun as well…enjoy!
1. The South Region is the first region in the history of “March Madness” to not advance a single one of its top-four seeds to the Sweet 16.
2. The Ramblers from Loyola Chicago, making their first tournament appearance in 33 years, are the only team in the nation that has had nobody foul out of a game this season.
3. The Wolf Pack of Nevada have worn 12 different sets this season; white, navy, black, blue, pink, gray, turquoise and camouflage all making an appearance.
4. With 843 career victories, West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins has the most wins of any coach in Division I history who has not won a national championship.
5. In four games combined, the Nevada Wolf Pack and the Loyola Chicago Ramblers have defeated their opponents by a total of nine points.
6. Kentucky is making its 43rd Sweet 16 appearance, which is first all-time ahead of No. 2 North Carolina with 33. Kansas is making its 31st, Duke its 30th. Syracuse will be playing in their 23rd, Villanova and K-State in their 17th. Michigan is entering their 14th. It will be Kansas State’s first since 2010. Villanova, Duke and Syracuse are back after not making it last season (‘Nova won the title in ‘16). Michigan, Kansas and Kentucky made the Sweet 16 last season.
7. Also returning to the Sweet 16 from a season ago are Purdue, West Virginia and Gonzaga. Florida, Wisconsin, Baylor, South Carolina, Xavier, Arizona, UCLA, Butler, Oregon and North Carolina rounded out last year’s field with Carolina winning the title over Gonzaga.
8. Of the teams listed as missing the field in this season’s Sweet 16, four of them didn’t even qualify for the field of 68; Wisconsin, Baylor, South Carolina and Oregon. Both the Gamecocks and the Ducks made it all the way to the Final Four before being bounced.
9. Of the teams remaining in 2018, nine of the 16 teams have never won an NCAA Tournament Championship. Those nine teams are: Kansas State- making first Sweet 16 since 2010; Clemson- first since 1997; Texas A&M- first since 2016; Texas Tech- first since 2005; Florida State- first since 2001; Nevada- first since 2004; Purdue; West Virginia and Gonzaga.
10. The seven teams that have won tourney titles are: Loyola Chicago (1963)- making first Sweet 16 since 1985, longest drought in the field; Syracuse (2003)- first since 2016; Michigan (1989); Villanova (1985, 2016)- first since 2016; Kansas (1952, 1988, 2008)- made Elite Eight last season; Duke (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015)- first since 2016 and Kentucky (1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998 and 2012)- made Elite Eight last season.
11. Since the tourney began in 1939, there have been eight schools that have won at least back-to-back titles. With North Carolina eliminated, it won’t happen this year. Teams that have repeated as champs in NCAA Tournament history are: Oklahoma A&M, Kentucky, San Francisco; Cincinnati, UCLA, UCLA- again, winning seven in a row, Duke and Florida.
12. UCLA holds the record for titles won with 11 total and Kentucky sits in second with eight. Coach K and Duke are fourth all-tme with five, Kansas is tied for fifth with three. Villanova is tied for ninth with quite a few schools with two championships. Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and ‘Nova all have a chance of expanding these numbers in 2018.
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