Credit: USA Today Sports
By Dylan Wittenberg
The 2017 NCAA Tournament rounds of 64 and 32 were some of the most exciting displays of basketball the month of March has ever seen. Great teams fell, and dark horses emerged. With only 16 programs still standing, here are important takeaways from the first weekend and intriguing things to look forward to for the next weekend.
After the Round of 64 promoted no upsets, the question of how exciting the tournament would become came in went as quick as a thud. Number one overall seed Villanova, a Final Four and national championship favorite, fell at the hands of Greg Gard’s Wisconsin Badgers, who are virtually universally considered to be wrongly seeded on the eight line. In the same East region, other title favorite Duke fell to South Carolina, who has quickly emerged as a team that can make a Cinderella run to the Final Four. Xavier shocked many people by upsetting Maryland in the first round, only to turn around, not skip a beat, and take down Florida State, another Final Four contender, in the second round. Two seed Louisville, who some considered to be over seeded, fell at the benefit of the Michigan Wolverines, who continue their great run in March.
NO SHORTAGE OF THE BASIC HIGHER SEED VS LOWER SEED UPSETS
Minnesota, Maryland, SMU, Creighton, Miami, and Dayton all played higher seeds in the first round. They all lost. Middle Tennesse State continued its recent NCAA Tournament first round dominance, completely outplaying Minnesota. Rhode Island, considered by many a dangerous out from the start of the tournament, also left Creighton in the dust. The Rams nearly took down Midwest Region giant Oregon in the second round, falling by 3. SMU barely lost to the USC Trojans by one, while Miami was utterly destroyed by Michigan State. Of all the teams that came out on top in these upset games, only one, Xavier, had the fire power to advance to the Sweet 16.
EXCITING MATCH UPS IN THE SWEET 16
We are looking at some really good games for the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Starting in the East region, the Wisconsin Badgers, high off a victory against number one overall seed Villanova, face off against the Florida Gators, who have been playing hot all of March. The last time Wisconsin took down the number one overall seed in the tournament (2015 Final Four against the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats), they were unable to come back down to Earth and finish off a victory in their next game. We’ll see if they can get the job done this time around.
Both match ups in the Midwest region should be very exciting. First, the Purdue Boilermakers, fresh off two victories against Vermont and Iowa State, take on the high flying Kansas Jayhawks. The Jayhawks are most likely the best team that remains in the tournament after beating Michigan State by 20 in the second round. That said, it will be interesting to see how Kansas match ups against Purdue’s pound the rock game that features two of the best big men in the country in Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas. In the other Midwest regional semifinal , the streaking Michigan Wolverines take on the fast paced Oregon Ducks. The Wolverines, led by Derrick Walton Jr. and Mo Wagner, will probably have more talent divided among themselves on the floor than Ducks. That said, it is hard to count out Dillon Brooks. Oregon showed incredible persistence and fight against Rhode Island in their second round victory. It will be very exciting to see if the Wolverines and the Ducks can keep up their good play.
In the South region, all eyes are on Gonzaga. The Bulldogs have been here before. The Bulldogs have also lost here before. West Virginia looked excellent in its defeat over Notre Dame in the second round, but they were undoubtedly aided by awful play by the Fighting Irish. Mark Few’s best team in Spokane won’t miss the same wide open shots, miss the same wide open passing lanes, and play the same kind of awful defense that Notre Dame did. Gonzaga is on fire. West Virginia doesn’t make mistakes. Should be a good one.
Finally, in the West region, the game to watch is UCLA against Kentucky. The Wildcats are coming off a dog fight against the Wichita State Shockers. UCLA is coming off a fight against the Cincinnati Bearcats. This game features many players that will most likely end up as NBA Lottery picks. Lonzo Ball, a sensation both on and off the court, leads the Bruins up against one of the most talented Kentucky teams of the John Calipari era. From D’Aaron Fox to Malik Monk to Bam Bam Adebayo, the Wildcats are scary good. The winner of this game will have a great shot to not only make the Final Four but win the national championship.