What is the best way to describe the first two rounds of this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament? Paraphrase Nevada’s Twitter after their second-round win over Cincinnati.
After that, take your bracket and, if you haven’t already, rip it up, make a paper airplane, burn it or just get rid of it.
Because if you still have any faith in your bracket, you are one of three things: a liar, dumb or incredibly lucky, because a sane basketball fan did not see this coming.
Now comes the next question, where does this tournament go from here? Because we have had a bit of everything.
There was the most surprising event of all, No. 16 UMBC not only beating, but destroying No.1 Virginia. The sheer amount of statistics that put the historic victory into context is staggering. Top seeded teams were 135-0 against 16 seeds. Virginia allowed an average of 53 points per game, the same amount the Retrievers scored in the second half as the Cavilers became desperate.
It was historic in every sense of the word and surreal to watch. It was the magic of the tournament wrapped up into one game.
And that magic is all over the tournament. It is in Nevada, tuning back a pair of double-digit deficits into victories.
It’s in the Big Ten teams remaining. It’s Purdue without star player Isaac Haas, out with a fractured elbow and still beating perennial underdog Butler. It’s Michigan on the back of Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater against Houston.
Kentucky, Villanova, West Virginia, Duke and Clemson have it in convincing fashion on their trips to the Sweet 16. Texas A&M have it too after dismantling defending champions North Carolina.
Syracuse needed some magic to win three games in five days.
And then there is Loyola-Chicago, with not one but two late game winners in their first two games. Though they have the backing of Sister Jean, their 98-year old chaplain, so it may be something other than magic.
How can it get better?
Well, the Elite Eight will have at least one team seeded seven or higher as No. 7 Nevada faces off against No. 11 Loyola Thursday. That game has firework potential all over it.
A Kansas-Duke game is a potential matchup this weekend, but the Midwest No. 1 has struggled at times, including trailing Penn by double digits in the opening round. Duke’s zone defense still gives opponents fits, and the Blue Devils can score at the other end too.
Villanova looks like the best team standing, with an efficient offense and big-time defense. Purdue’s injury trouble coupled with Texas Tech not looking very convincing gives them a seemingly clear path to San Antonio.
As for the wild West region, who really knows? The top two seeds are done, and Michigan and Gonzaga have been inconsistent at times this season.
This may be the most wide-open field in years, and so much is unknown. With that, I guess the only thing left to do is predict the rest of the tournament, with the same accuracy I have had so far.
Terrible Fantasy Advice: Tournament Challenge Special
Sweet 16 winners: Kentucky, Nevada, Gonzaga, Michigan, Villanova, Texas Tech, Kansas, Duke
Notes: Sister Jean has Loyola losing, so that’s reason enough for me. Purdue can’t overcome injuries twice; one and two seeds roll.
Elite Eight winners: Kentucky, Gonzaga, Villanova, Duke
Notes: The road for Kentucky is too easy. I have a personal lack of faith in the Big Ten. ‘Nova and Duke are just too good. At the end of the day, the big-name programs show up.
Final Four winners: Gonzaga, Villanova
Notes: Kentucky’s youth catches up to them in the big show. ‘Nova’s offense overcomes Duke.
National Champion: Villanova
Notes: They are the best team left, and one of the best teams heading into the tournament. The semifinal with Duke is the hardest game of the tournament for them; the final is a cakewalk.