The 2018 NCAA Tournament has certainly justified the nickname “March Madness.” As one might expect, there are only 54 brackets (out of 19 million) entered into ncaa.com’s tournament challenge that correctly chose this Final Four. This tournament has been exceptionally unpredictable thanks to the historical upset by University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) over top-seeded University of Virginia. Other notable upsets that busted many brackets included 9-seeded Florida State taking down 1-seeded Xavier and 11-seeded Syracuse defeating 3-seeded Michigan State in the second round.
This weekend, the Kansas Jayhawks (1), Villanova Wildcats (1), Michigan Wolverines (3), and Loyola-IL Ramblers (11) will travel to San Antonio for the much-anticipated Final Four. Each team has a different story and has taken very different paths to make it to San Antonio, but all share the common goal of cutting down the nets on April 2.
A major component of this Final Four to look out for is how the star players handle the spotlight. The Kansas Jayhawks have been led by the stellar play of guard Devonte’ Graham all season; the senior is averaging over 17 points and seven assists per game and has shown up with big performances in the tournament thus far. Similarly, Villanova has been following the lead of its veteran guard Jalen Brunson, who is averaging over 19 points per game. Both of these leaders are finalists for the Naismith Award (awarded to the best college basketball player of the year) and will each have a strong impact on how their respective teams finish the tournament.
The surprise team of the tournament has obviously been the Loyola-Illinois Ramblers out of the Missouri Valley Conference. This squad is the fourth 11-seed ever to advance this far. The highest seed to ever win March Madness was Villanova as an 8-seed back in 1985, but Loyola is looking to change that. While Villanova and Kansas have the star power that will attract NBA scouts, Loyola has proven that depth, balance of scoring and grit can win in March Madness as well. Winning their first three games in the tournament by a cumulative margin of 4 points, the Ramblers shocked the nation with clutch play after clutch play. Although the Ramblers have won over the hearts of so many viewers, the odds are against them see this historic run to the finish line.
Finally, the Michigan Wolverines seem to have managed to stay under the radar through its pursuit to punch its ticket to San Antonio. Michigan benefitted from three upsets within its region which allowed them to reach the final four without facing the first, second or fourth seeds of its region. Despite an unexpectedly clear path to San Antonio, the Wolverines are a legitimate threat to take home the crown. By defeating Purdue and claiming its second consecutive Big 10 Tournament Title, Michigan proved it can play with any team in the nation.
After a great deal of thought, I believe we will be watching the Villanova Wildcats and Jay Wright cut down the nets for the second time in three years. I believe they have a perfect blend of NBA-caliber talent that can takeover games down the stretch and hard-working role-players that will provide depth and alternative scoring options. Additionally, and in my opinion most importantly, many players on Villanova’s roster have been to the dance and came out on top. The experience of Brunson, Mikal Bridges (junior), Phil Booth (junior), Eric Paschall (junior) along with the calming presence of Jay Wright is all I need to see to feel confident that the Wildcats will bring home the hardware once again.
DISCLAIMER: All of this was written by someone who picked the University of Virginia to win it all and sits last in two bracket pools.
Contact Matt Gentile at [email protected]