By Conor Harrington,
Sports Business Writer
Ahh, March–the best month of the sports year. From spring training in the MLB, to the postseason pushes in the NHL and NBA, to European soccer hitting its stride, it’s a jam-packed month. But nothing this month compares to the greatest three weeks of all: March Madness.
The Selection Committee released the 68-team field Sunday night, selecting the Villanova Wildcats, Kansas Jayhawks, Gonzaga Bulldogs, and North Carolina Tar Heels as the 1 seeds in the East, Midwest, West, and South regions respectively. Our Pirates were selected as the 9 seed in the South, playing 8 seed and SEC Conference Tournament runners-up Arkansas in the round of 64 in Greenville, South Carolina. A win against the Razorbacks would likely result in a match-up with the Tar Heels in the round of 32. Seton Hall is not the only New Jersey team in the tournament this year, as the Princeton Tigers won the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, and were given the 12 seed in the West regional, set matching up against the five seed and ACC runners-up Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
This bracket was not without controversy. Notable snubs include the Syracuse Orange, a team featuring wins against Duke, Florida State, Virginia, and Wake Forest, all teams in the tournament; and Illinois State, a team that finished with 27 wins. As for teams in the tournament, Vanderbilt became the first 15-loss team to qualify for an at-large bid, being given a nine seed in the West region. The Big 10 schools also seemed to have been severely mis-ranked. Wisconsin, the runner-up in both the regular season and conference tournament, was given an eight seed in the East, while Minnesota, finishing fourth in the regular season and a semi-finalist in the conference tournament, was given a five seed in the South. Slumping Maryland was given a six seed in the West, and surging Michigan earned a seven seed in the Midwest. 30 win Wichita State should also have gripes with their seeding, as they were slotted into the 10 spot in the South.
There are a slew of teams looking to go on Cinderella runs, so don’t be surprised to see a few double-digit seeds in the Sweet Sixteen or even the Elite Eight. Middle Tennessee State, fresh off their historic win as a 15 seed last year over perennial powerhouse Michigan State, is back in the tournament as a 12 seed in the South, with a favorable draw against over-seeded Minnesota. The Blue Raiders are certainly capable of duplicating last year’s magic and even adding on to it. Wichita State would have a chance to play Kentucky in the round of 32 this year, a chance for redemption after their then-undefeated team lost to eighth seeded Kentucky in the same round in 2014, sparking the Wildcats’ run all the way to the national championship game.
My personal dark horses include Wichita State, Michigan, and six seed in the East SMU going into the Elite Eight. My Final Four features Florida, the four seed in the East, Iowa St; the five seed in the Midwest; Arizona, the two seed in the West, and UNC. But when it’s all said and done, I see UNC facing heartbreak by losing in the title game again to a team called the Wildcats. But instead of Villanova, it will be Arizona cutting down the nets in their home state.
On Friday afternoon, the Hall was knocked out in the round of 64, losing to Arkansas by the score of 77-71. The Pirates had five players in double figures led by 22 points from Khadeen Carrington, and another double-double from Angel Delgado, with 12 points and 13 rebounds. A controvesial flagrant one call on junior Desi Rodriguez was the final blow for the Hall. It concludes an up-and-down season for the Pirates with their second consecutive tournament berth and round of 64 exit. Arkansas advances to play North Carolina in the round of 32. Elsewhere in the tournament, Big East foes Villanova, Xavier, and Butler all advanced while Marquette, Creighton, and Providence were knocked out in the first round.
It was a weekend featuring few upsets. 12 seed Middle Tennessee State did advance, but were actually considered the favorite against fifth-seeded Butler. 11 seeds Xavier and USC winning provided the biggest true upsets of the first round. For the first time since 2007, every team seeded in the top four won their opening match-up. Don’t expect that to carry over through the rest of the weekend, however.
The round of 32 saw a major upset as the eight-seeded Wisconsin Badgers defeated the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in the East region. A layup in the closing seconds of the game by Nigel Hayes helped put the Badgers on top. Many had picked the defending-champion Wildcats to repeat, but the Badgers put an end to those hopes.
Another number one seed, Gonzaga, nearly fell to eighth-ranked Northwestern. They survived a late push to win by the score of 79-73. Many were also shocked to see the 11 seed Big East side Xavier defeat third ranked Florida State by a margin of 25 points. The round of 64 did not feature many upsets, but it appears that the trend will not last much longer, as a number of high seeds were knocked off in the round of 32. March Madness never fails to live up to the hype, and it is no different this year.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 print edition.
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