March Madness Teams Predictably on the Lead
March Madness is the common term for the NCAA Division I men’s and women’s basketball championship competitions. Male and female single-elimination matches start in March. Teams qualify by winning their conference title or being chosen as at-large entrants. UCLA trailed Michigan State by five points with a minute remaining in regulation. Their season was over. They beat the Spartans in overtime. Then they defeated BYU and ACU. Soon after, Alabama and Michigan collapsed. Less than two weeks after their season seemed to be finished, the Bruins shocked everyone by reaching the Final Four. The First Four has helped teams make waves since 2011. Nine tournaments have had multiple First Four champions since the NCAA expanded to 68 teams. Here’s a look at some of the people that might be the following First Four winners.
Rutgers lost to DePaul, Lafayette, and UMass before beating Lehigh, Merrimack, and NJIT. And you want underdogs who can match or perhaps outperform the opposition in March. Aside from Arizona, Duke, and Illinois, Rutgers has six Quad 1 victories. Four of the victories occurred in February or later.
All four Scarlet Knights minutes leaders are juniors or seniors, proving that experience counts in March. Additionally, Ron Harper Jr made a game-winning 3-pointer against Purdue, a clutch player with NBA ability. They are joined by sophomore Paul Mulcahy and seniors Geo Baker. Rutgers overcame Clemson in the Round of 64 last year but lost to Houston by three points in the Final Four. With NBA skills and experience, they can defeat top-tier clubs.
A month ago, Notre Dame had won five straight and seemed a lock for the NCAA Tournament. The Fighting Irish had lost three of their past six games on Selection Sunday. Their December victory over Kentucky was impressive, but they are now 1-5 versus Quad 1 opponents. Notre Dame was 3-8 versus the top 75 teams on Kenpom.com.
Despite this, some preliminary results are optimistic for Mike Brey’s club. Notre Dame topped the ACC in 3-point shooting and defensive rating. With a 6-10 frame, Nate Laszewski is a great shooter who can get to the basket. Paul Atkinson leads the interior with Blake Wesley. But without Laczewski and Atkinson, it may struggle against a tough Rutgers club.
This is, at its core, what the opening week of the NCAA tournament is all about: 68 teams, 68 opportunities to create lasting memories.
For a number of teams, this will be their one chance to make a run and etch their names into March Madness lore. Who will be this year’s Cinderella? Who will pull off the upset that sends them dancing into the weekend?
We’ll just have to wait and see. But one thing is for sure: it’s going to be a lot of fun finding out.
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