On March 16, fourth seed Virginia lost to 13th seed Furman, 68-67. This was the first of many bullets in the form of upsets that were shot directly at the heart of the March Madness season, also known as the perfect bracket. One by one the top seeds fell, extinguishing dreams, breaking streaks and diminishing the hopes of coming out richer among your friends and family. I was ranked number one for a while … until No. 3 Gonzaga got trampled by No. 4 UConn in the Elite 8 round. Now, my brother is ranked number one, but the ironic thing is, he had No. 1 Houston winning — who lost in the Sweet 16 to No. 5 Miami.
The moral of the story, this year’s March Madness was just that: absolutely maddening.
None of the top-ranked seeds, the supposed best teams in Division I basketball, have made it to the iconic Final Four. In the first round, Big Ten’s No. 1 Purdue lost to 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), 63-58, stunning many spectators nationwide as the FDU Knights became the second 16-ranked team ever to continue to the second round. This loss probably decreased the chances of Purdue’s favored big man Zach Edey getting National Player of the Year, but only time will tell.
Many, including myself, had No. 2 Arizona reach the Final Four, but Princeton University had another idea entirely. The 15th seed put up a good fight, adding just enough free-throw points to knock off the Wildcats in the first round.
In the East’s second round, No. 2 Marquette couldn’t keep up with No. 7 Michigan State as the Spartans reigned superior, 69-60. Over in the West, the 2022 March Madness Champions Kansas Jayhawks were dethroned by the No. 8 Arkansas Razorbacks in a nail-biting, winner-takes-all, 72-71 game.
As for the Elite 8 games, every team played aggressively and smartly to achieve success and represent their regions for the final four. In the South conference, No. 5 San Diego State versed hard-headed No. 6 Creighton but ultimately muscled out to make their first Final Four appearance after fourth-year Aztec Darrion Trammell went one for two at the free throw line, making the score 57-56 with 1.2 seconds remaining. In the Eastern Conference, the No. 9 Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls soared to new heights after defeating No. 3 Kansas St. Wildcats, 79-76. The No. 5 Miami Hurricanes won against the No. 2 Texas Longhorns in the Midwest championship, 88-81 respectively. And, finally, in the Western Conference, UConn routed Gonzaga, 82-54, as Huskie guard Jordan Hawkins led the scoreboard with 20 points.
This year’s historic games feature three debuts in the Final Four: FAU, San Diego State and Miami. According to CBS Sports, this is the first time since the NCAA began seeding the tournament in 1979 that the players aren’t from traditional college basketball powers (number ones, twos or threes) and are underrated compared to other years. For instance, all of Duke’s starters in last season’s Final Four were ranked better in their recruiting classes than even the most highly touted player of this year’s games. Who is “the most highly touted player,” you may ask? Hawkins of the UConn Huskies. The second-year guard was ranked No. 51 as a Class of 2021 high school prospect in the 247 Sports Composite. More rotation players were unranked as high school prospects than players who were considered top-100 prospects.
“What’s separated them is their work ethic and drive to be successful,” said FAU Owls Head Coach Dusty May, after cutting down the nets in Madison Square Garden on March 25. “It’s extremely rewarding to see a group give as much as these guys have all season, shots, playing time, minutes, everything 100% every day in practice, and then be rewarded because there’s never a guarantee … I couldn’t be prouder.”
The Final Four games will occur on April Fool’s Day, April 1, 2023. Eastern champion FAU and Southern champion San Diego State will face off at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, with tip-off at 6:09 p.m. EST. Many have chosen San Diego State to win this game, with 57.7% in favor. Western Conference champion UConn and Midwestern Conference champion Miami will subsequently follow at 8:49 p.m. EST. According to ESPN Analytics, UConn is winning 76.7% to Miami’s 23.3%, but as we all know from this past month — always expect the unexpected.