Another spring brings another three weeks of the best tournament in the United States. March Madness is back but despite the name, this year’s first two rounds have been anything but mad. Fourteen of the sixteen teams left are top four seeds, with only fifth seed Auburn and twelfth seed Oregon bucking the trend. The tournament may be top heavy, but the action has remained constant with names like Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, and Ja Morant taking the stage and the spotlight.
The ACC, Big Ten, and SEC have dominated this tournament in dramatic fashion, sending twelve of the Sweet Sixteen teams and multiple teams from every region to boot. No major upsets mean that it will be a battle of the giants in the next few rounds, hopefully giving us the best basketball possible. Even if there is a lack of Cinderellas besides Oregon, if you can even count them as one, it makes for exciting basketball.
In the East, Duke is clearly the favorite to dominate the region, although a near slip up against UCF could provide teams like Michigan State the blueprint to finally defeat the modern day Fab Five. Zion, R.J. and Cam Reddish have filled the highlight reels with incredible dunks, drives, blocks, threes, you name it. It is incredible to watch Zion play as it seems so effortless, yet powerful. Minnesota won their first NCAA tournament game since 2013 against Louisville in a game, providing Pitino with some much needed breathing room and possibly giving the program some momentum.
Out West, Ja Morant and Murray State styled on Marquette in the first round, solidifying him as the second overall pick in the NBA draft for many experts, while putting the first tournament triple-double since Draymond Green did it in 2012. Gonzaga and Florida State rolled to a Sweet Sixteen head to head that should be one of the best games this year. Michigan and Texas Tech will battle on the other side in a defensive slugfest that likely favors the Big Ten veteran Wolverines. Gonzaga should be the favorites to make it to the Final Four here, but don’t be surprised to see any of the four make it in a dominant fashion.
Down South, Virginia survived another first half scare against the now infamous 16th seed and Oregon remains the lone outsider in the tournament. Despite losing star freshman Bol Bol early in the year, Oregon has turned the ship around and is one of the scariest teams in the tournament. Purdue and Tennessee both held on against tough opponents, with Tennessee barely surviving what would have been the ultimate 25 point choke against the Hawkeyes in overtime. This region is perhaps the most open, as any of these four teams could make a realistic case to be in the Final Four.
Lastly, the Midwest had one of the best games of the tournament between New Mexico State and Auburn in the first round but ended up playing out exactly as predicted, with UNC looking like the best overall in the region. Auburn is extremely hot and seems to be the team no one wants to play while Kentucky looked very beatable against Wofford. Betting odds would be on the Tar Heels, but in a tournament that has lacked chaos, Auburn just might be the answer.
Chalk has ruled so far, but with four rounds to go, anything could happen by the time a champion is crowned in Minneapolis. Will Duke and Zion dominant their way to another championship to the dismay of all Americans, or will Oregon find the glass slipper this year? No matter who wins, let’s just hope for a more competitive second half.