The immensely popular NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is underway, and as is the case every year, many highly-seeded teams were upset during the first two rounds. This year, the opening weekend of games featured an unprecedented two games where No. 14 seeds beat No. 3 seeds, as Georgia State and University of Alabama at Birmingham stunned Baylor and Iowa State, respectively.
There were plenty of storylines from opening weekend, but with the Sweet 16 now set, the focus is on the games that will take place this weekend.
“The first round was crazy with all of the upsets and close games,” said senior Justin Gianelli. “It shows that the seeds really don’t matter. Dayton barely made the tournament and they came within a few minutes of the Sweet 16.”
In the Midwest region, the Sweet 16 matchups are Kentucky vs. West Virginia and Notre Dame vs. Wichita State. Kentucky is considered the favorite to win it all this year, as they are undefeated at 36-0. Their roster consists of eight or nine future professionals and their size and length in particular are simply too much for most teams to handle. The other Midwest matchup pits a senior-laden Fighting Irish unit against a Shockers team that was undefeated last season going into the tournament. The Shockers returned to the tournament with most of last year’s 35-1 squad, led by the superb backcourt duo of Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. The Irish, meanwhile, are trying to get to their first Final Four since 1977, and this team’s senior leadership certainly will give them a chance to do so.
In the East, No. 1 seed Villanova and No. 2 seed Virginia both lost on opening weekend, and as such this region appears to be the most wide-open. The matchups are North Carolina State vs. Louisville and Oklahoma vs. Michigan State. N.C. State looked very good in their upset of Villanova, while the Cardinals and Sooners have both enjoyed stellar seasons.
The favorite in the region to advance to the Final Four though, is certainly Michigan State, a distinction they have earned over the past few weeks. The Spartans nearly won the Big Ten Championship 10 days ago and looked dangerous this past weekend in their upset of Virginia. Tom Izzo continues to demonstrate that he is arguably the best March Madness specific coach ever, and in a recurring theme for the past decade, no team wants to play the Spartans at this time of year.
The West region will feature Wisconsin vs. North Carolina and Xavier vs. Arizona. Wisconsin beat Arizona in the Elite Eight last season with the Wildcats as a No. 1 seed and the Badgers as the No. 2. This year, the seeds are reversed and Arizona is hoping to get revenge on Wisconsin.
The fourth and final region, the South, has Duke vs. Utah and University of California, Los Angeles vs. Gonzaga. UCLA is the highest remaining seed at No. 11 in the Sweet 16, and frankly are still alive because of a goaltending call that went in their favor in the first round. Duke, led by Jahlil Okafor, is the favorite to advance, though they could be tested by a senior-laden Gonzaga team.
“This will be a terrific Final Four year, especially with the national intrigue of undefeated Kentucky,” Gianelli said. “I think Gonzaga will play Kentucky in the final and it will be a close game, but I have UK winning it all.”