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The Madness of March

Updated: Mar 26

Shows percentage of people who follow men and women's March Madness

The madness of March brings people together like no other time of the year. It is perhaps the one singular event during the year that fans of various sports put their differences aside to crack a cold one, have multiple devices set up to watch all the games, and enjoy time together watching the best basketball teams go at it with only one coming out on top. That being mentioned, bracket challenges between family and friends competing for money can still get very competitive and watching March Madness never fails to have some sort of drama and entertainment. If you have never watched before I encourage you too because this event does not get the attention it deserves, as the graph illustrates only about 14 percent of the 7,000 people interviewed follow the men's tournament. Even with a small sample size, it is clear more people need to get involved in watching this great sport. Constantly checking my bracket to make sure my picks are going to be correct is something I have obsessed over for the past decade and will continue to do. I intend to offer you with an overview of the many categories of teams and how they will perform in the tournament, so take it as you will from someone who has been following the NCAA Tournament since I was four years old.

The Favorites

Starting off with the favorites is always an ideal place to base your bracket off of. Typically when making a bracket, you want to consider the teams who will be in your final four or win the entire thing because in competitive bracket challenges you get more points for picking the correct teams in later rounds. For reference, you get 32 points for picking the champion correctly but only one point apiece for every first round game, so sweating over the first round games is unnecessary. Looking at UConn, they are a favorite to win the tournament for a reason, having won last year and bringing back all their talent it is the obvious choice, however, it is extremely difficult to go back to back seeing as only two teams in history have ever done it. UConn has also beat three other teams already in the tournament who are all higher than seven seeds, everyone knows that they are the best team in the country including coach Danny Hurley who was not shy about it.

“We’ve been the best team in college basketball. Obviously March Madness is next week, who knows what goes on there, but we’ve clearly been the best program in the country this year." --Danny Hurley

One of the teams they beat is another one of my favorites to win the entire tournament.

A perennial power of college basketball, North Carolina is back at it again this year finishing the year at number five in the AP Poll and coming into the tournament as a one seed. While I have always been hesitant to trust number one seeds in the tournament, behind the star power of guard R.J Davis and an ACC regular season title that included sweeping Duke it is easy to pick a team who has the most final four appearances in tournament history. North Carolina also endured a tough schedule this year that saw them beat five other NCAA Tournament teams including Tennessee who slotted in as the highest number two seed right behind the Tar Heels.

The last favorite I have in this tournament rides solely on the prowess of their coach and his reputation for taking teams far in the tournament. Led by arguably the best coach in college basketball Kelvin Sampson, the Houston Cougars have a great shot to make another deep run in March. However, one thing to be concerned about when picking Houston is the amount of injuries they have with one of their starters tearing his achilles earlier in the year and just recently defensive specialist Jojo Tugler went down to a right foot injury just before the Big 12 Tournament started. Even with all of these circumstances bearing down on Houston they are still very capable. The weakest two seed of the field Marquette also lies in the region and our dealing with injury problems themselves giving Houston a clear shot to the Final Four in Phoenix.

The Contenders

While there are clear cut favorites, these teams rarely end up winning the whole tournament and these teams waiting in the wings without all the attention on them tend to have a better chance. This begins with an Iowa State team that finished the year number four in the AP Poll and has been on a tear down the stretch. Typically it is a smart decision to ride the momentum of teams that play their best basketball in March and that is certainly the case for Iowa State. Fresh off a rout of Houston to win the Big 12 tournament title, many people including myself are buying into the hype and even have them getting past UConn to make their way into the final four. Another team primed to make a run and looking for a bounceback after an early exit last year as a one seed are the Wildcats of Arizona. While they did lose early in the Pac-12 Tournament, Arizona is a safe pick because they rank in the top-15 in the country in both offensive and defensive efficiency metrics and also play one of the nation’s fastest tempos making them extremely difficult to play against. Boasting three non conference wins against the likes of Duke, Wisconsin, and Alabama, Arizona is an experienced and battle tested team in big games which is critical experience for the pressure that a win or go home game in March provides.

A team flying under the radar that is always good in March are the Creighton Blue Jays. Equipped with one of the best head coaches in the country along with three returning starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team, Creighton is poised to sneak out of the first few rounds and perhaps meet an unproven team in the Elite Eight seeing as Purdue is an unreliable team to trust in the tournament. Three players on the Creighton squad average over 17 points per game and they shoot the ball from three at a higher clip than any other team you will find in the tournament. If you want to differentiate from other people’s picks and give yourself a good chance to win your bracket pool, roll with the Blue Jays to make it to the Final Four in what is the weakest region of the Field of 64.

Dark Horses

With all of the upsets and madness that comes with March, I always feel that it is important to highlight and have a few teams that fly under the radar who could make a run. This year two potential dark horse candidates both lie in the Southeastern Conference and share a similar trait of both being able to shoot the ball very well from deep. Starting with the Gators, a team who ended the year six and three in their final nine games there is a lot of potential especially with the matchups drawn. If they can get past Colorado in the first round, there is a very good chance they can upset a very injury riddled Marquette team and be in the drivers seat to at least the Elite Eight. Florida does all of the things you look for in a team in March to make a run, they reside in the top ten in the country in scoring offense as well as rebounding which is critical because creating extra possessions gives any team a better chance to win.

However, while Florida could certainly make a run, the team that sticks out the most this year is Alabama. Yes, I know what anyone who watches basketball is thinking, they do not play defense, and while this is true and 100 points has been dropped on them three times this season, their is still reason for hope. The secret to making a run in March is being able to outscore the other team from the three point line and Alabama does this better than anyone in the country.  On average, they score the 2nd most points of any team in the nation and attempt over 30 three-pointers a game making almost 40 percent of them. Alabama is a very risky pick, if they do not shoot their minds out then it could be a quick exit, but March is full of surprises and if there is a sleeper team who could make a Final Four run this year it is most certainly Alabama.

Cinderella Stories

Picking a Cinderella team every year is what makes watching the games meaningful and enjoyable. From Loyola Chicago making it to the Final Four a few years back to St. Peters making the Elite Eight in 2022, their is always at least one surprise team that shocks the world and becomes “America’s” team. A few teams with this potential this year starts off with the Lobos of New Mexico who come into the tournament as a favorite over the six seed Clemson and hotter than any other team in the big dance. As a conference champion who closed the season winning five of their final six games and beating fellow tournament team San Diego State in the conference championship, there is reason to believe for Lobos fans. Clemson has struggled as of late and there is no better time to expose them and ride the momentum behind them past Clemson and a banged up Baylor team in the second round. While it is highly unlikely that they go all the way, New Mexico could easily be a second weekend team playing for something bigger than themselves and with a chip on their shoulder with a lot to prove. The leader on this team Jaelen House is the son of former NBA player Eddie House and has always been around basketball. Between him and Jamal Mashburn Jr., New Mexico has one of the best backcourts in the country which is a intriguing factor in a tournament that relies on guard play and not turning the ball over which the Lobos do very well.

Another Cinderella team lies in the WAC, Grand Canyon has turned into a powerhouse in this conference with three NCAA tournament appearances in the last four years. On paper, the schedule is very weak with only one quad one win over San Diego State. However, it is hard to find a better story than this Grand Canyon team. Led by Will Wade who has been the subject of many allegations and was fired at LSU, he has paved the way back to the big stage for himself and his Antelopes. One of the most inspiring stories in the country makes it easy to root for this team, leading scorer Tyon Grant-Foster has been through multiple heart surgeries and was at risk of never playing again but now has the chance to shock the world against a difficult Saint Mary’s team on Friday. After being away from the game for almost two years he did not lose hope on playing the sport he loved again.

"God gives his strongest battles to his toughest soldiers, so it was something I felt I would overcome." --Tyon Grant-Foster

While there is very little chance of winning your bracket pool or even having a perfect bracket after the first round, hanging on a thread of who wins every game is what keeps the entertainment in watching the games alive. Many basketball fans of different teams share a common theme and motto. “We don’t sleep until April.” Throughout the first few rounds of the tournament the games will not conclude until midnight or later and when they do it is a mad scrambling to check your brackets and see what picks you got right and which ones you didn’t.

By the time this article is published the first round will have started, but if you would like to fill out a bracket for fun or competitively against others check out ESPN to get started.

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