March Madness “Filled with Chalk”

The first two rounds of March Madness have concluded and… well…  there wasn’t all that much madness. Despite number one overall seed, Duke, being challenged until the last seconds of the second round, and a few 12’s seeds doing what they do, the bracket ended up being relatively balanced. As a college basketball fan would say, this year’s tournament has been filled with chalk.  

Thus far, California’s only team (UC Irvine) (13) represented well by upsetting the short-handed Wildcats of Kansas State (4). Unfortunately, UCI fell to the Oregon Ducks (12), who not only shut down Ethan Happ in round 1, but silenced sharp shooter Max Hazzard and prevailed behind the consistent play from Senior Payton Pritchard and Freshman Kenny Wooten.

12 seeds Liberty and Murray State (also known as Morant State) were able to beat out overseeded Mississippi State and Marquette.  A few other low seeds came just short of a victory, including New Mexico State. The Aggies controversially passed up a contested layup, which would have tied the game, and later airballed a three at the buzzer. Yale (14) and Vermont (13) nearly gutted out major upsets too, but are now on the couch, watching as the big fish they failed to fry advance deeper into the tournament.

Looking back on last year’s tourney, a seven, two nines, and two eleven seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. This year a whopping one cinderella has advanced to that spot, the Oregon Ducks, who figure to have a defensive battle for the ages against the one seed Virginia Cavaliers. As low of a seed as they may be (12), they don’t fit the bill of a cinderella. Not only are the Ducks winners of their last 10 games, but they sport a defense that contains the country’s best shot blocker in Kenny Wooten, which offers them a legitimate chance of knocking off Virginia.

Speaking of one seeds, all four of them are still standing, but not all is well. Duke had a scare vs. UCF, led by Tacko Fall (15 points, 6 Rebounds) and Aubrey Dawkins (32 points). The Blue Devils trailed for the majority of the final 3:10, and had a mere 21.6% chance of prevailing with two minutes remaining before Dawkins mishandled an easy transition lob to possibly extend the Knights lead to six. Duke then escaped with an RJ Barrett winning layup and an Aubrey Dawkins missed last-second tip in.  

A pair of two seeds also had huge threats to their championship hopes. Tennessee, the 2 seed in the South Region, once led the Iowa Hawkeyes by 25, before squandering their lead and narrowly escaping in overtime. The Wildcats of Kentucky nearly lost as well, as Wofford was neck and neck with them throughout the entirety of the game. Despite a solid performance from Nathan Hoover (19 points on 6/9 from the field), Fletcher Magee, who set the NCAA record for most three point field goals in a career, shot a dismal 0-12 from behind the arc and missed countless big shots, leading to a 6 point loss to Kentucky.  

Also of note, all one, two, three and nearly four seeds have advanced to the sweet sixteen.  Statistics website FiveThirtyEight gives the one seeds a collective 61% of winning it all, with Duke having the highest odds at 20%. Although there is little potential for huge upsets in the rounds of 16 and 8, it does in fact feature very good matchups.

One intriguing clash is Texas Tech (3) versus Michigan (2) in Anaheim.  According to Kenpom, this faceoff will feature the two best defenses in the country. Texas Tech absolutely stifled offensive powerhouse Buffalo(6) in round two. They are led by eventual lottery pick Jarrett Culver, who is averaging 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game and will be the second sophomore drafted following Ja Morant. Michigan will counter with their freshman standout Iggy Brazdeikis and versatile guard Zavier Simpson, who nearly snatched himself a triple double in a second round victory over the Florida Gators. Simpson is only 6’ 0”, but may just be the Defensive Player of the Year. Simpson is a pest who can poke a ball free at any time, as well as the ability to take on a big man in the low post.

 Another exciting matchup is the Purdue Boilermakers against the Tennessee Volunteers. A matchup that appears to have an abundance of scoring, the Boilermakers will heavily rely on point guard Carson Edwards to be their source of offense. If he can repeat his 42 point performance against Villanova in round two, Purdue will have a good chance to knock off the Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield led Tennessee and destroy many brackets featuring the Volunteers in at least the Final Four.

Perhaps the most intriguing player matchup is Big Ten Player of the Year, Cassius Winston and the Michigan State Spartans against LSU star point guard Tremont Waters who led the Tigers to a second round defeat over Maryland with a game-winning layup.   

My picks for the sweet sixteen are the following:

Duke > Virginia Tech

Michigan State > LSU

Florida State > Gonzaga

Michigan > Texas Tech

Virginia > Oregon

Tennessee > Purdue

North Carolina > Auburn

Houston > Kentucky

Elite eight:

Duke > Michigan State

Michigan > Florida State

Tennessee > Virginia

North Carolina > Houston