2013 has been a great year in sports. College basketball seemed like a free-for-all throughout the season as no one team could hold the #1 spot for longer than a few weeks. Indiana, Michigan, Louisville and others were seen as likely frontrunners to lead the pack into the tournament. Most of the well-known contenders made it to the big dance, but even just getting in was not a guarantee.
My home school, Maryland, struggled to find consistency throughout the season. While they had two huge wins over Duke (including one in the conference tournament), a failure to win needed road games and a weak non-conference schedule hurt their chances to go further than the NIT. Kentucky was last year’s champions but Calipari learned that he cannot always just trust in his laurels of young talent. The reality is that he will be back next season, but a 1st-round loss to Robert Morris in the NIT was certainly a shocker. Tennessee missed out to get at least one extra win to match their relatively decent schedule and solid end stretch.
So on to the march to the tournament…
The #1 seeds started off strong but even their seeding was a bit of controversy. Gonzaga was the consensus #1 in the pools at the end of the season, but Louisville took the top spot in the tournament selection. Indiana was able to last long enough to make it to a #1 and Kansas rounded out the top group. A few teams experienced some early tournament scares, but Western Kentucky and Southern made Kansas and Gonzaga fans sweat it to the end of the game. Both 16 seeds looked to be the first to make history over a #1. Then there always has to be a #1 who goes first. While Gonzaga performed well prior to the tournament, they quickly became the team fans shouted overrated at when Wichita State. Louisville ended up being the only survivor, with Kansas and Indiana losing to eventual Final Four teams (Michigan and Syracuse).
Added to the impressive positioning for Louisville was a horrific injury to Kevin Ware in the Elite Eight matchup, breaking his leg in two places. There was an immediate rally by the team to solidify their placement in the Final Four, but a somber feeling overshadowed the win and served to put their victory into perspective. The team has rallied around their strong-willed player and look to finish up with a championship.
One of the big surprises in the seeding was with the misplacement of Ole Miss and Oregon. Both schools won their conference tournaments but ended up as 12 seeds. To prove their worth, they both pulled off their 5-12 upsets (along with fellow Pac-12 school California). Ole Miss ended up falling to La Salle in the round of 32, but Oregon showed a little life with their defeated of semi-overreated Saint Louis. Speaking of La Salle, they pulled off the upset over Big 12 school Kansas State with a slight 63-61 win.
The most significant upset had to be the tournament run by 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast. Only established in 1991, the school was not even on the map until they went from 15-seed “happy-to-be-in-the-tournament” team to Sweet Sixteen surprise. Knocking off Georgetown and San Diego State, the small school quickly became the Cinderella team that everyone wanted to get behind. They also changed the nickname for their basketball program to Dunk City after they impressively were able to play above the rim with lob after lob, some of which became SportsCenter highlights. They may have lost to Florida, but they put up a fight and their coach received the recognition needed to get picked up by USC as their new head coach.
With all of the excitement so far, there are some great match-ups left to experience. Louisville looks to avoid the upset by Wichita State, while Syracuse and Michigan have a battle of the 4-seeds. Prediction for the moment would have to go toward Louisville, especially after their domination of Duke, but the reason it is called March Madness is because it is impossible to know what will happen. Enjoy the end of the college basketball season!