March Madness 2018: The Year of the Upset


Last weekend, the NCAA college basketball tournament kicked off. The most unpredictable sporting event in the world was ready, and upset alert came on early. Throughout the weekend, underdogs destroyed expectations and ruined the hopes of many people aiming for a perfect bracket or a national championship for their team. But, by the end of the Saturday games, not a single perfect bracket remained. And by the end of the second round, only two #1, #2, and #3 seeds, and one #4 seed remained. In the South division, not a single one of their top four seeds remained as the favorites of the region were decimated, and brackets everywhere took massive Ls.

First, it was #6 (South) Miami on a buzzer beater to the #11 (South) Loyola-Chicago Ramblers. Then, #4 (South) Arizona went down to #13 (South) Buffalo. #4 (East) Wichita State were next, falling to #13 (East) Marshall. Then the number one overall seed, Virginia (South), became the first team ever to lose to a #16 seed, blown away by UMBC (South).

In the second round, the upsets continued. Loyola Chicago continued their Cinderella run with another upset and another buzzer beater, taking down #3 (South) Tennessee. #7 (South) Nevada put down #2 (South) Cincinnati right after, and the three-game streak of upsets was completed when #9 (West) Florida State beat #1 (West) Xavier. Then, reigning champions and #2 seed (West) North Carolina were blown away by #7 (West) Texas A&M, and #11 (Midwest) Syracuse displaced #3 (Midwest) Michigan State for a spot in the Sweet 16.

Onto the round of 16, and the stakes were raised. The final four was in sight, and players were geared up for a spot in San Antonio. But #9 (South) Kansas State spoiled the party early, beating #5 (South) Kentucky. The Ramblers won again, beating #7 (South) Nevada, outperforming 90-year old fan Sister Jean’s bracket, which had them out in the Sweet 16. Only one more upset happened in that weekend: #9 (West) Florida State beat #4 (West) Gonzaga. The next day, the Final Four field was set: Loyola Chicago, who made their first Final Four in over 50 years by beating #9 (South) Kansas State, #3 (West) Michigan, who kept their head-turning dance alive after knocking out #9 (West) Florida State, #1 (Midwest) Kansas, needing overtime to overcome #2 (Midwest) Duke, and #1 (East) Villanova, who beat #3 (East) Texas Tech.

Two favorites and #1 seeds, one surprise with a history of overachieving, and the fourth 11-seed to ever make the Final Four remain. But who will book a spot in the championship game?

The first game of the night was Michigan vs. Loyola-Chicago. Michigan had a fast start into the first half, leading as much by eight early in the first period. But Loyola came back, and held a five-point advantage to end the first half. That lead extended to ten, and it looked as if Loyola would be headed to the National Championship game. Bout then Moritz Wagner started showing up. The German senior scored 14 in the second half, finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds, and led Michigan to a comeback, 69-57 win.

In the second game, two top schools faced off for a spot in the final at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Kansas senior Guard Devonte’ Graham scored 23 points on 50% shooting in a leading performance that cemented his reputation as a Naismith Player of the Year candidate and first-round draft pick. But his strong performance, along with backcourt mate Malik Newman’s 21 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists, was not enough to contain Villanova. Jay Wright’s men broke the Final Four record for most made three pointers in a game, draining 13 in the first half (tying the record) and going on to score 18. Six players on the Wildcats finished with double-digit points, highlighted by Eric Paschall’s 24 points on 10-11 shooting, including 4-5 behind the arc. Villanova ended up winning by 16, 95-79.

Villanova were favored by the bookmakers by -6.5, the highest projected margin of victory of any team in a championship since the 2010 Duke Blue Devils, who ended up beating Butler in the final. From the second that Villanova beat Kansas in the semifinal on Saturday night, people in the city of Philadelphia were preparing for the celebrations of their Wildcats bringing home a second national title in three years. And they did not disappoint. The first few minutes after tip-off, it seemed as though Michigan could pose a threat to the ‘Nova, gaining as much as a six-point lead in the first ten minutes and mostly shutting down any perimeter shooting threat that made Jay Wright’s team so scary. But then sixth man Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench, and after dropping 18 points in the first half, Villanova took the lead. And they never looked back. They were beating the John Beilein-led Michigan and looked almost unchallenged for the second half. As the clock expired, the streets of Philadelphia filled with people as Villanova won, 79-62.

After almost one month of basketball, of upsets and favorites, buzzer-beaters and blowouts, Villanova proved their worth as the best college basketball team in the nation. Through hard work, talent, and some insane three-point shots, they cemented their reputation as the best in the country. In a year of shocks, the ending was almost anti-climactic, as the most prepared program in the USA took advantage of a weakened field and triumphed without much struggle.