Tomorrow, the maddest month of the year truly kicks into high gear when the first four games of the NCAA Tournament get underway. While it’s highly unlikely that anyone reading this article missed the reveal of the tournament bracket (if you did, here’s the bracket in all its glory), you might have missed some of the moments in conference tournament play this past weekend that shaped the bracket we have before us.
Or maybe you missed some of the biggest complaints surrounding this year’s committee-crafted bracket.
Either way, we’re here to help you out. Here are five things you might have missed but really need to know before the NCAA Tournament gets underway and the madness takes over.
1. Duke Does It Again
After struggling down the regular-season stretch and costing themselves a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, the deck appeared to be stacked against the Blue Devils. What were their chances of winning four games in four days — a feat never accomplished in the ACC’s illustrious history.
‘The ACC in 2017 is one of the best and deepest conferences in college basketball history,’ they said.
‘The Blue Devils’ relatively weak and unproven frontcourt will be their unravelling,’ they said.
‘Hah,’ the now 20-time ACC Tournament champs said, as they took down Clemson, No. 10 Louisville, No. 6 UNC and No. 22 Notre Dame in order in four straight games.
So, how’d they do it?
While Luke Kennard was his usual stellar self in the tournament (20 ppg in tournament run), it was freshman standout Jayson Tatum who emerged as the hero for the Blue Devils. Tatum averaged 23 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game in the tournament to help the Blue Devils make ACC Tournament history. Tatum will be a key cog in the Duke machine if the Blue Devils are to continue their magical run in the NCAA Tournament.
The ACC Tournament win also gave the Blue Devils a real shot a top seed, although the committee ended up giving them a No. 2 seed and giving the No. 1 to UNC. Duke will open the tournament against 15-seeded Troy on Friday in the East region.
2. Michigan Soars To Big Ten Title
The Michigan Wolverines experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows in their epic run through the Big Ten tournament.
It started inauspiciously, to say the very least, after the team’s plane, destined for Washington, D.C. and their first Big Ten Tournament game, skidded off the runway during takeoff in Detroit.
Luckily, everybody emerged from the scary incident unscathed and the Wolverines got on a plane the next morning for their matchup with Illinois.
They went on to win that game 75-55 and then bested Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon to win their first Big Ten Tournament championship since 1998.
The Wolverines were led by senior guard Derrick Walton Jr., who, understandably, was actually one of the Michigan players in favor of forfeiting their matchup with Illinois after the plane crash. (Walton needed stitches in his knee as a result of an injury sustained in the crash.)
Walton averaged 20.5 points per game and 6.3 assists per game in the tournament, including stellar 29 and 22-point efforts against Minnesota and Wisconsin, respectively, in the team’s final two tournament games.
After a wild week, the Wolverines won’t tip off in the NCAA Tournament until Friday, when they face the Oklahoma State Cowboys. That will give them a welcome break from the exhausting emotional roller coaster of the past week.
All things considered, it’s hard not to root for the Wolverines at this point. Heck, even fictitious Wolverines are jumping on the bandwagon.
3. ‘Bracket Of Death’ Approaching
From now on, the day after Selection Sunday will be known as ‘Misstep Monday,’ because everybody’s favorite Monday morning activity is to go through the numerous missteps and mistakes that the NCAA’s selection committee made when they put together this year’s bracket.
Most pundits seemed relatively content with many of the committee’s decisions. But many have taken umbrage with the South region — the perceived Bracket of Death.
Wichita State, a team that went 30-4 and ranked eighth in the KenPom rankings, inexplicably received a No. 10 seed from the committee, which creates all sorts of imbalance within the South region.
Now, a potential No. 10 seed vs. No. 2 seed matchup (and epic rematch) would be Wichita State vs. Kentucky in the round of 32, which is unfair for both parties involved.
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And then there’s the poor Dayton Flyers, who you’d think would be favorites as a No. 7 seed taking on a No. 10 seed, but not this year.
They’re 6.5-point underdogs against the Shockers, and most will likely be picking Wichita State to pull the upset over Archie Miller’s club.
Those Miller boys just can’t catch a break when it comes to Wichita State.
Elsewhere in the South, you’ve got one of the best offenses in college basketball in No. 3 seed UCLA, a No. 4-seeded Butler team that’s dispatched No. 1 overall seed Villanova twice, John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats at No. 2, and the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels, many analysts’ preseason favorite to win it all.
Whoever makes it out of this conference alive will undoubtedly deserve their Final Four berth.
4. Gonzaga Gets No. 1 Seed
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the top dogs in the West region, and they’re No. 1 in KenPom’s rankings. But can they turn that into the program’s first Final Four berth ever?
Pundits disagree. Some, believe Gonzaga’s a product of their weak conference and aren’t really that good. Others, like CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander, believe they’re one of the best teams in the nation.
Unlike many teams, merely making the tournament and getting a No. 1 seed doesn’t constitute a successful year for the Zags. They’ll need a deep tournament run to back up their 32-1 regular-season record and lofty status as KenPom.com’s No. 1 squad.
5. Northwestern Wildcats Clinch First Ever Tournament Berth
This has been a topic of much discussion throughout the year, but as the title says… in case you missed it: The Northwestern Wildcats are dancing for the first time in their 78-year history.
And the crowd went wild.
Northwestern received the No. 8 seed — stunningly the same seeding as the Wisconsin team that beat them by 28 points in the Big Ten tournament — and will face off against the Vanderbilt Commodores in their first ever NCAA Tournament game.
The Commodores are a tough draw for the Wildcats, as they’re considered to be one of the more dangerous of the lower-seeded teams and will be a tough out if Northwestern’s going to keep their dream season alive.
Either way, it’s been a heck of a ride for a long-forlorn program. However things shake out in the NCAA Tournament, this year’s been a resounding success.