By Patrick Grudberg ‘24
March Madness is finally here! If you’re reading this, Thursday’s first round games have already begun, and Friday’s might have already started. As much as I would’ve loved to give some advice on filling out your bracket, that time has already passed. You’ve submitted your brackets, and it’s time to watch some games. To get you ready for all the action these upcoming three weeks or so, here are some historical trends, first round upsets, and bold predictions for this year’s tournament.
It’s called March Madness for a reason; there are very few years when all the 1 and 2 seeds advance far in the tournament. 2008 was the only time in recent history that all four 1 seeds made the Final Four. Since 2010, the Final Four has included at least one team seeded 5 or higher (see last year’s 11 seed UCLA or the 7 seeded 2014 champions UConn).
Something to note here: Only twice in the 24 tournaments have all four 2 seeds made it to the Sweet Sixteen. That means one of Duke, Kentucky, Auburn and Villanova are susceptible to an unlikely upset. Here is my first bold prediction: Duke will lose in the second round to 7 seed Michigan State. Yes, in Coach K’s final season, the Blue Devils will crash out of the tournament in dramatic fashion to a familiar rival in Tom Izzo’s Spartans. This season, Duke, in a very weak ACC, carries ugly losses at home to Miami and Virginia. They also lost hilariously (for neutral viewers) in Coach K’s final home game versus UNC. As much as Duke fans want to believe Krzyzewski will leave the game as a champion, that will not be the case.
The other trend worth noting is that a double-digit seed has made the Sweet Sixteen thirty-one times in the last of thirty-six tournaments. And don’t be surprised if more than one punch their ticket to that second weekend. So who could that team be this season? A few of the 11 seeds stick out to me. First, Virginia Tech – the Hokies just won the ACC tournament to secure their place in the tournament, knocking off aforementioned Duke. They’ve got a favorable matchup versus the 6 seed Texas, who has been very inconsistent this season (beating Kansas but losing to Iowa State and Kansas State). The Hokies would most likely face Purdue in the second round, certainly a tough matchup. It might be counterintuitive, but it’s worth riding Virginia Tech’s hot streak to the Sweet Sixteen.
Before I continue, we must bring attention to the first round matchup between Providence and South Dakota State. Providence, by most metrics, is considered one of the luckiest teams in recent history. In games decided by less than ten points, the Friars are 18-2. No matter how good a team is, it is nearly impossible to win every single close game. So should I zag and say that gaining experience in close games matters? No! It’s Providence, that school forty-five minutes down the road from us. South Dakota State will defeat the Friars in a close one.
Now, we all remember the legend of Oral Roberts last season. The 15 seed that shocked the world by beating Ohio State in overtime. Max Abmas, that electric guard with unlimited range, and those blue and gold uniforms. Fifteen over two upsets do not happen often. Other than Oral Roberts, it has only happened eight other times since 1985. But this year, there might be another chance. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. First, they didn’t even win their conference tournament. They won the Atlantic Sun because Bellarmine, the conference tournament champions, are ineligible as they are still transitioning from Division 2 (a very antiquated, stupid rule). Thus, we’re left with Jacksonville State, who isn’t even from Jacksonville, Florida (they’re from Alabama). So why should we even consider them? They shoot threes very well, fifth in the country as a team at 38.8%. You know who also shot great from three? Oral Roberts. I won’t completely endorse this pick (fellow staff writer Logan Gooley brought it to my attention), but if you’re feeling crazy, take Jacksonville State over their in-state rivals in Auburn.
To wrap things up, my final four picks (as of Monday night, because I will most certainly change my mind by Thursday) are Gonzaga, Arizona, Kentucky and Iowa. Out of those four, my national championship pick is Gonzaga. Yes, they came up short in the championship game last season vs Baylor. But, the Zags don’t have the burden of being undefeated this year; they come in with less expectations, despite being the number one overall seed again. Some might dismiss them, claiming that they always come up just short. But I’m sticking with Chet Holmgren, Drew Timme, and the Bulldogs of Gonzaga to defeat the Arizona Wildcats in the championship game.
Photo courtesy of NCAA