A superfan’s extensive recap of March Madness

March Madness is known for its mayhem and unpredictability, but the first round of the 2017 tournament proved to be an exception. All teams seeded one through four advanced for the fifth time ever, and the first time in the last ten years. The 5/12 matchup is always a hot bed for upset picks, and although Princeton and UNC-Wilmington put up solid fights, only Middle Tennessee succeeded in pulling off the upset, beating 5-seed Minnesota handily. However, this was a big year for 6/11 upsets. The University of Rhode Island, Xavier, and USC all won their games, over Creighton, Maryland, and SMU, respectively. With their win, USC continued the trend that a team that played in the First Four has won at least one game in every tournament since the First Four was introduced in 2011. However, the only other “upsets” in the first round occurred when heavily under-seeded Wichita State beat Dayton in their 7/10 matchup, and when 9-seed Michigan State beat 8-seed Miami. It is worth noting that Wichita State was favored by oddsmakers in their game, and a 9-seed beating an 8-seed isn’t really considered an upset. The six seeds were the only higher seed to lose more than one game, as they lost three, with only Cincinnati pulling off a win.

In the second game of the round of 32, No. 8 Wisconsin took down overall No. 1 Villanova on Saturday. The Badgers looked at home against the favorite, and scored the winning basket off of a beautiful move by Nigel Hayes. No. 7 Michigan opened up Sunday with an upset of No. 2 Louisville, but despite close games the rest of the day, the higher seeds won all their games. However, there was one exception. No. 7 South Carolina thoroughly outplayed No. 2 Duke to win their second game in the tournament for the first time since 1973. However, the bracket was still top heavy. The four teams left in the South region were the top four seeds, while the West and Midwest regions still had three of their top four seeds. However, with losses by Villanova and Duke, the East region was blown wide open. Surprisingly, the ACC, which sent nine teams to March Madness, only had one team, UNC, advance past the first weekend.

The Sweet Sixteen opened with a series of close games, with No. 3 Oregon beating No. 7 Michigan and No. 1 Gonzaga beating No. 4 West Virginia. No. 1 Kansas looked like the best team in the country as the Jayhawks destroyed No. 4 Purdue, and No. 11 Xavier pulled off a thrilling comeback to upset No. 2 Arizona. The second day of the Sweet Sixteen featured No. 1 UNC and No. 7 South Carolina easily defeating their opponents. No. 2 Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox set a freshman tournament scoring record with his 39 points to lead the Wildcats over No. 3 UCLA, which left only one game to be decided. The No. 4 Florida Gators lead by 12 with 5:24 to go, until an unlikely comeback highlighted by a running three pointer at the buzzer by No. 8 Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter. As overtime went on, the Badgers took the lead, and were up two with just seconds on the game clock. However, Wisconsin could only watch as Florida’s Chris Chiozza hit a running three pointer of his own at the buzzer to give Florida the win, and landed the Gators in the final spot of the Elite Eight.

The Elite Eight opened with Xavier trying to reach the Final Four. Unfortunately, standing in their way was Gonzaga. Led by Nigel Williams-Goss, the Bulldogs routed Xavier to head to their first Final Four ever. Before this game, Gonzaga and Xavier were tied for the most NCAA Tournament wins all-time without a Final Four appearance with 29 wins each. After looking like possibly the best team in the country as they eviscerated Purdue, Kansas looked bad against Oregon. Outside of National Player of the Year Frank Mason III, the Jayhawks struggled to find any offensive rhythm. Mason was their only consistent source of offense while Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey exploded for 27 points on 9-13 shooting, including 6-10 from three. Jordan Bell recorded eight blocks for Oregon, and shut down Kansas’s interior scoring as Oregon advanced to their first Final Four since 1939. The next day, in an SEC matchup, Florida went into the locker room at halftime with a seven point lead over South Carolina. However, South Carolina came back, and after the ten minute mark neither team could get more than a two point advantage. However, with just over two minutes left, South Carolina finally broke through, building a five point lead. The Gamecocks were able to hold off the Gators for the rest of the game, and eventually won by seven. This was South Carolina’s first ever Final Four, a great accomplishment for a school that hadn’t even made the field since 2004. Next, the North Carolina Tar Heels faced off against the Kentucky Wildcats in a rematch of one of the best regular season games this year. This Elite Eight matchup had high expectations, and it didn’t disappoint. North Carolina help a solid five point lead for most of the first half, with Kentucky doing their best to stay within striking distance with freshman stars Fox and Malik Monk in foul trouble. In the second half, UK quickly tied the game up. The Wildcats took the lead on a 14-2 run, but with 3:22 left, UNC regained a one point lead, which they rapidly expanded to a seven point lead with 54 seconds left. Two clutch threes by Fox and Monk in the span of nine seconds brought UK within one point. UNC answered as Jackson hit a tough layup to bring the lead to three. Monk got the ball at the top of the key, and hit a heavily contested three to tie the game up with ten seconds left. North Carolina didn’t call a timeout, and sophomore Luke Maye got free from his defender. He caught a pass and stepped out to near the three point line, and fired the shot of his life. It went in with 0.3 on the clock, sealing the game for North Carolina. Maye had walked onto the team his freshman year, and with that shot transformed into a UNC legend.

Gonzaga faced South Carolina in the first game of the Final Four in Phoenix. Neither team had ever made the Final Four before. Gonzaga led for most of the game, but true to character South Carolina stuck around through grit and hard work. In the second half, South Carolina turned a series of defensive stops into points and made a 16-0 run to get a two point lead with seven minutes left. However, Gonzaga struck right back with a three to regain the lead. They never gave the lead up again. South Carolina had a chance down three with the ball, but Gonzaga fouled with 3.6 seconds left, sending South Carolina to the line to shoot two free throws. To win, the Gamecocks would have to make the first, miss the second, and get the rebound. They executed the first two steps, but Gonzaga got the rebound and held on to the ball for the win. In similar fashion, Oregon also lost to UNC because of a missed rebound. Their game went back and forth throughout the first half, but North Carolina got the lead at the half and held in through the second half. Oregon made a late comeback, getting within one with six seconds to go. They fouled Kennedy Meeks, who missed both of his free throws, but UNC pulled down the rebound and passed out to Joel Berry II. Oregon fouled Berry, who also missed both of his free throws. However, Meeks boxed out Jordan Bell and pulled down his 14th rebound of the game. He passed the ball out, and UNC was able to run out the clock for the win, setting up a UNC-Gonzaga championship game. It would be UNC’s second championship game in a row, and Gonzaga’s first ever. A true blue blood against one of the best mid-major programs.

The stage was set. On Monday night, Gonzaga and North Carolina tipped off to determine the 2017 NCAA Champion. Gonzaga looked good in the first half, building up a five-point lead within the first ten minutes. However, UNC cut the lead to three by halftime. The teams went back and forth in the second half. Poor play by both sides and bad officiating prevented either team from finding an offensive flow. There was a long stretch in which neither team scored a field goal; all points came from free throws. With 1:55 left in the game, Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss made a jumper to give the Bulldogs a 65-63 lead. These would be the last points Gonzaga would score. After Isaiah Hicks hit a jump shot that put the Tar Heels up three with 27 seconds remaining, Williams-Goss took the ball to the middle of the lane and tried to get a shot over North Carolina center Jodie Meeks. Meeks blocked the shot, and Joel Berry II passed to a leaking Justin Jackson for an exclamation point dunk. Gonzaga failed to score, and Berry hit one free throw with seven seconds left to bring the score to 71-65, the final score. Just one year after a buzzer beater three by Kris Jenkins put Villanova over UNC for the championship, the Tar Heels now stood at the top of the college basketball world.

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