Utter Madness. It's Wild and Wonderful.
We've become accustomed to stunning upsets and last-second heroics in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
That's why they call it March Madness.
It's wild. It's unpredictable. Thrilling. Emotional. At times, controversial. But this year has to be the wildest and maddest in recent memory.
For the first time in men’s and women’s NCAA tournament history, the men's Final Four will not feature any No. 1, 2 or 3 seeds. If you picked No. 9 Florida Atlantic, No. 4 UConn, No. 5 San Diego State, and No. 5 Miami as the Final Four in your NCAA Tournament Bracket, take a bow. You may have been the only person in the world to do so. Hell, if you got two out of the four you were very prescient. Shining Moments: Let's be clear. In our current unsavory, disquieting world of NIL money, the transfer portal, conference realignment and media rights speculation, March Madness is a refreshing reminder of why we love sports in the first place. The onslaught of incredible finishes and amazing upsets has left us all excited, exhilarated, and emotionally exhausted. For the last four days I've been walking into our master bedroom--where my wife has been watching cable news or PBS while I overdose on basketball--to tell her, "what an amazing game! You won't believe how this one ended."
Hard to pick one favorite, but FDU-Purdue, FAU-Kansas State, and Gonzaga-UCLA certainly stand out. And then there was the gratifying fall from grace of renegade No. 1s Alabama and Houston, proving, once again, that there is a God. The overall No. 1 seed Alabama, with a star player who delivered the gun used for a murder of a young mother at 1:40 am and a coach with no moral compass, lost to No. 5 San Diego State. The player in question, Brandon Miller, shot 3 of 19 from the field. Another player on the team has been charged with capital murder. And Houston, coached by serial cheater Kelvin Sampson--I don't know how in the world is he still coaching--was upset by no. 5 Miami. Sampson's violations at Oklahoma and Indiana were so severe he was given the equivalent of a death penalty by the normally toothless NCAA, only to be hired by win-at-any-cost Houston as soon as his "show cause" sentence was completed. Earlier, another No. 1 seed, Kansas, coached by Bill Self, a man who was caught on tape promising money to recruits three years ago (back when that was illegal), was upset in the second round by No. 8 Arkansas. Delicious. For the first time in over 40 years, there were no No. 1 seeds in the Elite Eight. Given the appalling behavior of the coaches and some of the players on those teams, that was something to be celebrated. Players of the Tournament: Although his team didn't make it to the Final Four, losing a heart-breaker to FAU in the Elite Eight, my vote for the Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tourney goes to Kansas State guard Markquis Nowell.
The 5-8 human dynamo scored 97 points and dished out 54 assists in K State's four tournament games, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot and making some of the most dazzling passes I've seen in a long time. He had an NCAA Tourney record 19 assists in the Wildcats' OT win over Michigan State, and added 30 points and 12 assists in a losing effort vs. FAU. I know his height (or lack thereof) will be an issue, but in my mind there's no question he can play in the NBA.
The top woman's performer, of course, has been the incomparable Caitlin Clark, simply the best player in college basketball. Last night she overcame double teams, zones, box-and-ones and presses to post a 40-point triple double in Iowa's Elite Eight victory over Louisville.
Consider this stat line: 41 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists. It may well have been the greatest performance in NCAA tournament history. She made every type of shot and pass imaginable.
Clark's level of greatness doesn't come along very often. Powerless Five: Interesting to note the conferences represented in the men's Elite Eight this year:
Gonzaga (WCC) UConn (Big East) FAU (Conference USA) Kansas State (Big 12) Miami (ACC) Texas (Big 12) Creighton (Big East) San Diego State (Mountain West)
Nary a Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC team in the group. And the final four now includes teams from Conference USA, Mountain West, ACC and the Big East.
So maybe NIL dollars, TV rights fees and insane coaching salaries aren't all that important. Maybe there are still times when good old-fashioned hard work, effort, heart, sacrifice and great coaching rule the day.
Bruins' Sick Bay: The Pac-12 may well have had a representative in the Elite Eight, if not the Final Four, had UCLA been a full strength. Coach Mick Cronin's club was without its two best defensive players, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Adem Bona. Even with one of the two, I think the Bruins would've beaten Gonzaga and advanced.
Aztecs Ascend: The most logical candidate for Pac-12 expansion to help compensate for the departure of USC and UCLA has always been San Diego State. Good school. Good football program. Good basketball program. Provides a presence in Southern California. With the Aztecs now reaching the Final Four, what was previously a "no brainer "now becomes a "must" for Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff. But he may have company in pursuing the Aztecs. Don't be surprised if the Big 12, perhaps the strongest basketball conference in the country right now, makes a strong push to bring in San Diego State.
Several months ago the Big 12 leap-frogged the Pac-12, whose media rights deal was expiring sooner, to land an impressive deal with ESPN and Fox worth $31.7M per school. The Pac-12 has been playing catchup ever since, and, so far, has been unable to negotiate a similar deal.
Will the Big 12 outflank the Pac-12 once again and entice the Aztecs to come aboard?