By Mark Lizano, March 30, 2021
The NCAA tournament, better known as March Madness, represents the climax of the college basketball season. It consists of 68 Division I U.S. teams who play in one-game elimination tournaments in a span of three weeks to determine a champion. Although CPP basketball is in Division II and cannot compete in this tournament, students and fans can participate in the tradition of filling out their brackets and predicting a winner.
Last year marked the first time since 1939 that March Madness was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following health and safety precautions, the entire tournament is being played in the state of Indiana this year with student-athletes quarantined in hotels and tested daily.
Every March, both die-hard fans of the sport and casual fans alike, fill out their bracket in hopes of predicting each round’s winners. An NCAA tournament bracket is separated into four regions, where fans choose who they think will advance as the Final Four teams. According to the NCAA, the odds of choosing a perfect bracket is about 9.2 quintillion to one.
As the men’s tournament plays down to the Final Four, here are some teams and players to focus on.
Every year there is a predominant favorite to win the NCAA tournament. This year, that team is the University of Gonzaga Bulldogs from the state of Washington, who boast arguably three of the top 15 players in the sport. Gonzaga is attempting go undefeated, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 1976 by Indiana who went 32-0 that year, when the tournament only consisted of 32 teams.
Reaching the Final Four is considered a massive achievement. In 2017, Gonzaga fell just shy to the University of North Carolina in the championship game, but this year, they have looked dominant so far in advancing to the Sweet 16, which leaves them only four games away from a championship.
With such balanced scoring between a playmaker like shooting guard Jalen Suggs, small forward Corey Kispert who is shooting 45.8% from three, and power forward/center Drew Timme who is shooting 65.5 from the field, this team presents a matchup nightmare for anyone they play. They’ve hardly even been challenged the entire year beating teams like Kansas, Iowa and Virginia in the process.
According to CBS reporter Chip Patterson, “the ‘Cinderella’ team or story in college basketball is the most iconic fairy tale reference in all of sports.”
Cinderella refers to a team not expected to advance far in the tournament. Teams are seeded one to 16: one’s representing the best teams and 16’s representing the worst. There are four teams for every seed line making a total of 64 teams. Although the field initially starts with 68 teams, those last few teams in compete in what is called the first four to bring the field down to 64. To be considered a “Cinderella,” a team usually must be a double-digit seed.
This year, UCLA is that “Cinderella” team by achieving something only one other team has ever done. As an 11 seed, they managed to go from the First Four where they had to play an extra game, to winning four straight and making the Elite 8. In 2011, Virginia Commonwealth University went from the First Four to the Final Four.
What makes the UCLA run even more notable is that many of the star players are from Southern California. Small forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. is from Camarillo, California, and shooting guards Johnny Juzang and Jules Bernard are from Los Angeles. This run is truly unprecedented given the fact that UCLA lost their best player small forward Chris Smith to a torn ACL halfway through the season.
The “Future Pros”
Many fans also watch to see who the next wave of professional stars will be. NBA stars like Golden State Warriors point guard, Steph Curry, used the NCAA tournament as a springboard to the next level.
“That was Steph Curry’s coming out party,” former Davidson teammate Jason Richards said in an NCAA article. “That put him on the map because everyone watches the NCAA tournament, he took the nation by storm and ran with it,” Richards said.
This year, those NBA hopefuls include Gonzaga’s freshman shooting guard Jalen Suggs, a second team All-American who averages 14.1 points a game; the University of Southern California’s freshman power forward and center Evan Mobley, the Pac-12 player of the year, averaging 16.5 points per game; and the University of Arkansas’ freshman shooting guard Moses Moody who won the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year award, averaging 17.1 points per game.
Suggs’ game mirrors former NBA player Brandon Roy. Mobley’s skillset is fairly similar to former NBA champion Chris Bosh, and Moody has game that resembles former Arkansas star Joe Johnson.
This year’s tournament is special to many fans and players alike due to a year of hardships and difficulties. Teams have had to endure the scare of COVID-19 and play in mostly empty buildings due to safety protocols. So far, the tournament has lived up to its impossible standard of entertainment it provides every year, making 2021’s March Madness worth the two-year wait.
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