Buzzer beaters, blowouts and heartbreak. It’s difficult to think of better words to describe this year’s March Madness tournament which had moments of exhilarating drama – and a few moments of boredom.
The first round saw the rise of mid-major teams and the fall of many powerhouse programs initially predicted to make it to the late rounds, with most brackets busted after only the first few games. Texas, Baylor, California, Arizona, West Virginia, Purdue and Michigan State were all upset in their opening round matchups, all against teams who should have been easy victories.
The first round also saw the rise of Cinderella stories, the most notable being Stephen F. Austin and Northern Iowa. After defeating West Virginia, Austin looked to be a dark horse favorite to advance all the way to the Sweet Sixteen but was foiled by Notre Dame in a closely fought matchup, losing by one point. Northern Iowa caught the attention of the nation after a half-court buzzer beater to defeat heavily favored Texas in the opening round, but squandered a 14-point lead with 45 seconds left in the game against an obviously overrated Texas A&M team.
The field of teams slowly began to lean towards higher-seeded favorites. The Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC fought their way through the second round with relative ease, taking advantage of lower seeded teams that had wreaked havoc in the opening round of play. Traditional powerhouse teams appeared to set the stage for the Sweet Sixteen, with Kansas, Villanova, North Carolina and Virginia leading the pack going into these much anticipated matchups. Yet, despite the excitement built up prior to these later round heavyweight matchups, the games were blowouts. In complete contrast to the opening round, all four of the original top-seeded teams advanced to the Elite Eight. Any hopes for potential upsets were crushed, with the notable exception of a highly underrated Syracuse squad, which came into the tournament as a 10th seed. Syracuse would also go on to defeat top-ranked Virginia, who had previously made quick work of a veteran Iowa State squad with relative ease. Villanova defeated a top-ranked Kansas team that looked like they had never played in a high-stakes game before, and both Indiana and Wisconsin, the only remaining Big Ten teams, were dispatched by the ACC’s North Carolina and Notre Dame.
With the notable exception of Syracuse, the Final Four matchups were very similar to those predicted before the tournament began, with much anticipation for the Oklahoma vs. Villanova matchup, which two different styles of play clash. Yet once again, fans were disappointed. Villanova crushed Oklahoma, winning with a final score of 95-51 and sealing their place in the championship game against North Carolina, who had defeated an undermanned Syracuse squad, 83-66.
Although Villanova entered the game on a roll, the experienced Tar Heels of North Carolina were certainly favored. In contrast to the previous few rounds, the final game was one of the greatest championship games of all time. After North Carolina’s Marcus Page hit a tying three-pointer as time dwindled, the game looked to be heading to overtime. Villanova ran the court quickly and, with hardly a second on the clock, Kris Jenkins sunk a game-winning three-pointer to seal a victory for the Wildcats and cap a March Madness season like no other.