The NCAA Division-1 National Basketball Tournament is a yearly college basketball competition, often referred to as March Madness. The tournament originally started in 1939 and was an 8-team elimination tournament to determine the best college basketball team in the nation. Since then it has become a mammoth 68-team event and one of the most watched sporting events of the year, sometimes drawing more viewers than the NBA Finals.
With The Sweet Sixteen round fast approaching, teams are now daring to dream about getting their hands on the coveted Naismith Trophy.
Alabama came into the tournament as the number 1 seed, with a 29-5 record. The Crimson Tide have cruised to victory in their first two games, winning 96-75 and 73-51 respectively.
This Alabama team are extremely athletic and dynamic on both ends of the floor, ranking in the top 15 in the country in both defensive and offensive efficiency.
They also take the 4th most 3-point shots per-game in the country so, when those shots are falling, the game can get out of sight fast.
But recently, the team has been mired in off-court controversy.
Star player and NBA draft prospect Brandon Miller has been linked with the fatal shooting of Jamea Harris on January 15th. Miller was present at the scene of the crime and the gun was in the backseat of his car minutes before the trigger was pulled.
Two of Miller’s former teammates have been arrested and charged with murder in the aftermath. But Miller has, to date, faced no discipline from his college or been charged by the police. The 6″9 small forward described the situation as “heartbreaking” but made no further comment.
This decision to allow Miller to continue to play has led some to question the morality in the decision making at these schools. This is the first time in Alabama’s history they have been the number 1 seed going into March Madness.
Would Miller still be on the team if Alabama weren’t about to push for the first National Championship in their history?
This season the Final Four will be played in the NRG Stadium in Houston, perhaps that incentive has lit a fire in this Houston team’s belly.
The Cougars have the best record (31-3) in the tournament and, just like with Alabama, have dispatched their first two matchups easily.
This team were pipped to the 1-seed after suffering a tough loss to Alabama in their building earlier in the season. More fuel to the fire.
Despite disappointment, Houston don’t plan on letting the overall seeding effect them and are intent on remaining humble.
Impactful guard Marcus Sasser, spoke to a group of reporters and echoed his coach’s statements of pride about being the top seed in the Midwest Region:
They say there’s only four of them, so you know it’s not easy to be picked the number 1 seed. So, I feel like were in a good position.
Sasser has been recovering from a groin injury and will be raring to go after missing March Madness last year, announcing a season-ending toe injury in December 2021.
Cougar fans will be desperate for him to power through that pain barrier as the shifty guard is a huge cog in their system. He played restricted minutes in the first matchup, only managing 14 minutes and 5 points.
But with a full return in the second game Sasser led an energetic, defensive brand of basketball that attack you for the duration of the game. He also showed his ability offensively with 22 points in a 17-point victory.
They face a dangerous Miami team in The Sweet Sixteen and their destiny is in their own hands now.
Kansas are the defending champions, with a 27-7 record. But, the Jayhawks have fallen short early in the tournament, losing by 1 point to the 8-seed Arkansas Razorbacks.
Beforehand the task looked like a tough one for a number of reasons.
Firstly, they lost a lot of their offensive threat from last year to the NBA.
Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun were the teams leading scorers in the 2021/2022 season, before being selected in the NBA draft.
Which, of course, is the nature of college hoops but it makes it much more difficult to go all the way when almost 40% of the teams points are gone.
Secondly, they were in a stacked West Region with a lot of in form teams, particularly in their side of the bracket. Scott Van Pelt remarked on SportsCenter:
That’s a loaded West Region, analytically, I mean there’s more top 20 KenPom teams in that side of the bracket than anywhere else.
And lastly, they come into the tournament off the back of a huge health scare. Not the health of a player, as you would usually expect, but for the health of their head coach, Bill Self.
Self was rushed to hospital on March 8th with symptoms of chest tightness and balance concerns. After an examination it was decided that the head coach would need surgery to rectify the issue, just 8 days before his team was scheduled to play.
Dr. Mark Wiley said this after the procedure:
Coach Self underwent a standard heart catheterization and had two stents placed for the treatment of blocked arteries. Coach Self responded well to the procedure and is expected to make a full recovery,
Coach Self was back for the team’s first game of the tournament, where they blew out 16th seed Howard Bison.
But with all this uncertainty whirling around him and his team, he couldn’t lead them to the promised land, falling to a heart-breaking 72-71 defeat.
Purdue have an interesting first matchup against Fairleigh Dickinson University.
The shortest team in division 1.
What’s so interesting about that? You ask.
Purdue’s 7″4 Zach Edey is the answer. The Center has been on a mission this season, averaging 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds with a whopping 40.3 PER.
The big man has seriously staked his claim on National Player of the Year with his dominance in the painted area. And, of course, with size like that his presence is not only felt offensively.
Edey also averages 2.1 blocks per game and this is where FDU are going to have to be clever in order for their smaller guards to evade the swatter.
Although Edey had a massive game vs. FDU, with 21 points and 15 rebounds, Purdue just didn’t have enough fire-power to stop an extremely well-rounded performance from the Knights.
The Boilermakers went out with a whimper, scoring only 58 points in the defeat.
This came as somewhat of a shock, as Matt Painter is one of the best offensive coaches in college basketball.
His system aims to wear out and confuse opponents with a lot of motion and ball sharing, hoping that this will leave somebody open. This also allows Edey to be predominantly in the painted area, with the offense moving around him.
Purdue’s best chance to win it all was to rely heavily on a team performance. They were unable to produce the symbiotic performance they needed in the first game and it ultimately proved to be their downfall.
FDU went on to lose to the Florida Atlantic Owls by 8 points in the second round, capping off what will have been an exciting season. It’s not often the 16th seed knocks off the top dog in a region.
So, in conclusion, two out and two remain.
Can the remaining 1-seeds go all the way to the championship? Or are there more upsets in store? You can never tell with this crazy tournament!