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The Wood Word

Mid-March Madness Review

Mid-March Madness Review
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East Region
The first region on the docket happens to be the one many fans believe to be the most difficult. Much of this opinion is spearheaded by the presence of UConn (1), the tournament’s overall first seed. The Huskies are defending last year’s national title starkly, making quick work of Stetson (16) and Northwestern (9). UConn plays extraordinarily well as a unit but are led by center Donovan Clingan and guard Tristen Newton, both of whom combined for 33 points each through the first two rounds.

Many thought that Auburn (4) was underseeded and was destined to meet the Huskies in the Sweet Sixteen, but it was foiled early by Yale (13). Yale couldn’t carry that momentum into the next round, however, as they were demolished by San Diego State (5). The Aztecs are coming off of a national championship loss to UConn and will be hungry to get its revenge in a rematch of last year’s title game.

On the opposing side of the region’s bracket, Iowa State (2) has quietly had a solid tournament. The Cyclones dispatched South Dakota State (15) before handing the Pac-12 conference its first loss by beating Washington State (7). Iowa State meets Illinois (3) in the Sweet Sixteen. The Fighting Illini survived an early scare against Morehead State (14) in the first round, but built more confidence with a dominant win over fan-favorite Duquesne (11). Standout guard Terrance Shannon Jr. led the Illini in scoring and will need another great performance to upset his Big Ten rivals.

Though Duquesne exited the madness earlier than it would have liked, the team’s upset over BYU (6) was historic, being the Dukes’ first since 1969 and second in program history.

South Region
The tournament’s South region was a hotspot for upset predictions and it delivered. Houston (1) advanced through the first round without issue, and Marquette (2) survived a first half scare from Western Kentucky (15), but the drama really began when Kentucky (3) faltered against Oakland (14). Oakland’s Jack Gohlke dropped 32 points on the Wildcats, with 30 of them coming from three-pointers. However, Gohlke cooled off in Oakland’s Round of 32 matchup against North Carolina State (11), who had previously upset Texas Tech (6). Star big man DJ Burns proved to be too much for the Golden Grizzlies and helped NC State advance to the Sweet Sixteen, where the Wolfpack will take on Marquette, who defeated Colorado (10) in another close game.

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James Madison (12) defeated Big Ten tournament runner-up Wisconsin (5), giving many believers hope that their Cinderella pick might go far. However, that hope was quelled by blue-blood Duke (4) in the Round of 32. The Blue Devils secured a date with Houston on Friday, who edged out a tense win over Texas A&M on Sunday. The Cougars boasted a 12-point lead with under two minutes left to play, but fell into foul trouble which let the Aggies back in the game. Andersson Garcia sunk a buzzer-beating three to send the game into overtime, but the south’s No. 1 seed proved their status with a 100-95 victory.

West Region
North Carolina (1) headlines as the West region’s first seed. Though the Tar Heels are only the fourth overall seed in the tournament, UNC did not have any trouble in the first two rounds. It easily knocked off Wagner (16) before defeating the Izzo-led Michigan State Spartans (9) handily, despite the efforts of MSU’s Tyson Walker, who scored 24 points. The Tar Heels meet Alabama (4) in the Sweet Sixteen, who defeated Charleston (13) 109-96 in the tournament’s highest scoring game so far. Then, off the back of guard Mark Sears, the Crimson Tide ended Grand Canyon’s (12) Cinderella run in the Round of 32. Tyon Grant-Foster and the Antelopes had previously defeated Saint Mary’s (12) by outpacing the defensive-minded Gaels.

On the other side, Arizona (2) needed a strong second half to defeat Long Beach State (15) in the first round. It then held off Dayton (7) in the Round of 32; the Flyers were unable to recreate its late game magic that propelled it past Nevada (10) in the previous game. They will play Clemson (6) in the Sweet Sixteen. The Tigers staved off popular upset pick New Mexico (11) before earning its own upset over Baylor (3) with a narrow eight-point victory. Clemson will need to win its third game in a row as the betting underdog, and can further spoil many brackets by defeating Arizona. The Tigers will once again look to their leading tournament scorer Chase Hunter to push forwards to the Elite Eight.

Midwest Region
Purdue (1) leads the Midwest region as its first seed, and the Boilermakers have done everything in its power to make people forget about the loss to a 16-seed in last year’s tournament. History did not repeat itself, as Purdue defeated Grambling State (16) before obliterating Utah State (8) by nearly 40 points. Purdue boasts arguably the best college basketball player in the country, Zach Edey. Edey will need to prove that he can ball out in March when Purdue takes on Sweet Sixteen stalwart Gonzaga (5). Gonzaga dominated McNeese State (12), who many had predicted to be their Cinderella team of the tournament. It followed that win up by smacking Kansas (4), beating the Jayhawks by 21 points. The Jayhawks only narrowly made the Round of 32 after a controversial foul call denied Samford (13) any chance of an upset.

The opposite side of the region has been one of the tournament’s more entertaining. Oregon’s (11) upset over South Carolina (6) and Creighton’s (3) drubbing of Akron (14) set up one of March’s best games so far. With the game tied with zero seconds left, Oregon was unable to sink a buzzer-beating layup. A single overtime period was not enough to separate the two, bringing in the tournament’s first double-overtime. Creighton found a second burst of energy and dominated Oregon, giving the tournament’s most competitive game a misleading final scoreline of 86-73. Though Oregon did not find victory, Jermaine Couisnard had a phenomenal tournament, combining for 72 points through two games.

This hard-fought victory sets Creighton up for a date with Tennessee (2). The Volunteers quelled any chance of another magical run by Saint Peter’s (15) before beating Texas (7) in a battle of orange-and-white color schemes. Leading scorer Dalton Knecht sank four free-throws in the final 10 seconds to end the Longhorns chances of making the Sweet Sixteen.

How mad will the rest of March be?
The 2024 NCAA Tournament has been very chalky, with only one double-digit seed making the Sweet Sixteen (NC State) and the next lowest being sixth-seed Clemson. The lack of Cinderella stories will be made up for with high-octane games between powerhouse schools. A rematch of last year’s national championship, a rivalry game between Big Ten teams, and the Pac-12’s last dance are just a few of the confirmed games that await in the Sweet Sixteen, much less later on in the tournament. So, who will reign supreme, and who will fall at the upcoming hurdles?

Predictions (Sweet Sixteen)
UConn (1) def. San Diego State (5)
Iowa State (2) def. Illinois (3)
Duke (4) def. Houston (1)
NC State (11) def. Marquette (2)
UNC (1) def. Alabama (4)
Arizona (2) def. Clemson (6)
Purdue (1) def. Gonzaga (5)
Creighton (3) def. Tennessee (2)

Elite Eight
UConn (1) def. Iowa State (2)
Duke (4) def. NC State (11)
Arizona (2) def. UNC (1)
Purdue (1) def. Creighton (3)

Final Four
UConn (1) def. Arizona (2)
Duke (4) def. Purdue (1)

In a tournament where the analytically superior team has won most matchups, the No.1 overall seed will become the first team to win back-to-back tournaments since 2007-08. UConn will prove many predictors correct and be crowned national champions for the 2024 NCAA men’s tournament.

All stats are from ESPN as of March 25

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About the Contributor
Jack Biggs
Jack Biggs, Assistant Sport Editor
Jack Biggs is a sophomore Multimedia Communications major with a focus in Sports Media and is an Assistant Sports Editor for the Wood Word. Biggs also DJs for 91.7 VMFM and is a member of Marywood's tennis and esports teams. Outside of school, Biggs spends hours watching his favorite sports teams lose in classic Pittsburgh fashion.
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