It Starts With 68: Previewing March Madness


In the world of post-season sports tournaments, March Madness is widely considered as one of the most exciting. Ever since its creation in 1978, the event has attracted both basketball and non-basketball fans alike with its exciting stories, improbable upsets, and world class players leading their teams to a potential Final Four appearance. With the amount of thrilling games and surprising results that have already happened in this year’s college basketball season, March Madness could be in store for a lot more excitement.

Even though the tournament hosts 68 teams, there are only a handful of true contenders who have a chance at winning the national championship, including current number one Houston Cougars who is the only team ranked both Top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency. The team features experienced players all over the roster such as NBA draft prospects Marcus Sasser and Jarace Walker. Other teams include current No. 8 ranked Arizona Wildcats who have not lost a single game in almost 6 weeks, coming in hot after their rough start.

“This is my fourth year coaching these guys; we’ve developed a really good program here,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said to ESPN reporters, referring to his two straight elite 8 trips and one Final Four trip. “But the emphasis is ‘we have.’ One person doesn’t do it. I’m proud of our program. I’m proud of everyone in it.”

In one of the most unprecedented drop-offs in recent memory, preseason No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels was only a few plays away from a National Championship team in North Carolina, but now stands at a measly 19-12 through the regular season. Although that record alone is usually enough to make the tournament, the team has failed to secure little to no ranked wins, which severely hampers their chances. The team has one of the worst defenses in the country, very inconsistent star players, and has experienced bad losses to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. But if this team can muster a run in the ACC Tournament, then they may have a small chance to make the NCAA tournament. 

“I’ve been a North Carolina fan for almost my entire life and this is by far the worst I team I have watched,” junior Omar Ashraf said. “We have almost the same roster that went all the way to the championship last year, but everyone is so wildly inconsistent and we can’t figure out a way to close games.”

This is my fourth year coaching these guys; we’ve developed a really good program here. But the emphasis is ‘we have.’ One person doesn’t do it. I’m proud of our program. I’m proud of everyone in it.

— Kelvin Sampson

In March Madness every year, there are always a massive number of upsets with teams that were considered Top 10 or even Top 5 in the country getting kicked out of the tournament in the early rounds. This year is no different, with contenders such as Missouri and St. Mary’s having a very strong chance to upset some heavy tournament favorites. Even though Missouri is not currently ranked, they are the leading team in the nation in turnover margin at +6.8. They also average a whopping 83 points per game, which is 9th in the nation. So even though they will only be an 8-9 seed in the tournament, this is not an exactly easy matchup. On the other hand, St. Mary’s is not part of a particularly popular or big conference in the WCC, but they could be serious national title contenders. Their defense is widely considered one of the best, only letting up 57 points per game, plus having multiple players with above 40% from the three point range. 

With the regular season and conference tournaments coming to a close–and teams having finally aligned themselves either inside or outside the tournament–anticipation for the best time of the year in the world of sports is high. 

“This is really the only year I have watched college basketball intently but I’m still really excited for the tournament,” senior Jared Garcia said. “I recently started watching March Madness highlights which got me even more excited with the amazing last second shots and crazy upsets I saw.”