By Dan Kelly
Nearly two years after Virginia defeated Texas Tech for the 2019 title, the much-anticipated March Madness tournament is finally back, and has brought many upsets along with it.
In early March 2020, the NCAA announced that the March Madness tournament, in addition to all other winter and spring 2020 championships, was cancelled due to Covid-19.
However, for the 2021 season, the NCAA announced that the tournament would be held in one state for the first time due to Covid-19. While 2020 seniors were no longer eligible for a “Last Dance,” returning players and coaching teams came together for a tournament of a lifetime.
All of the games were played in Indiana, with a majority in Indianapolis. The games allowed 25% capacity, so some lucky fans got to see their favorite teams play. Fans were mandated to wear masks and socially distance while in the six arenas.
The idea of a single, neutral location is probably not something we will be seeing again. “I liked having the different regions go to different cities,” said Caroline Muccifori, who is in the dual certification (Pre-K/K-6) graduate program. “It was really cool when it was in Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center. I would definitely want some games to come back to Philly.”
Being held in one place isn’t the only thing that will look different due to Covid-19 protocols. For the first time since the 1994-1995 season, college basketball powerhouse Duke missed March Madness after missing their division tournament due to one of their players testing positive for Covid-19, according to Jeff Goodman of Stadium. Another noticeable missing presence from the tournament was a representative from the Ivy League schools, whose division chose to not participate in athletics this year.
For the first time since 1979, the Sweet 16 missed all four of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and North Carolina. Duke and Kentucky both did not qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1976, No 3. seed Kansas lost to No. 6 seed USC in the Round of 32 and No. 8 seed North Carolina lost to No. 9 seed Wisconsin in the Round of 64.
Even now that the tournament is underway, the pandemic is influencing the game. For instance, the first round matchup of No. 7 seed Oregon vs No. 10 seed VCU was declared a no-contest due to health protocols. Oregon automatically advanced with the higher seed.
The tournament in general saw an unusual amount of upsets this year. No. 2 seed Ohio State, No. 3 seed Texas, No. 4 seed Purdue, No. 4 seed Virginia, No. 5 seed Tennessee, No. 6 seed San Diego State and No. 6 seed BYU all lost in the first round. No. 1 seed Illinois, a top pick to win the whole tournament, fell to No. 8 seed Loyola Chicago in the second round.
“You have to think about how strange this year is so anything could really happen,” Muccifori said. “It’s March Madness, so I always expect a few upsets.”
Once again, no one has made a perfect bracket. The chances of correctly predicting the tournament’s outcome are 1 in 9.2 quintillion or, if the person has a high basketball IQ, 1 in 120.2 billion, according to the NCAA.
“I did a lot of research to see who had the best odds, but there’s only so much you can do,” said Paul Reibel, a senior accounting major. “My friends don’t really watch basketball at all, and their brackets are doing better than mine.”
The biggest Cinderella story of the year may be No. 15 seed Oral Roberts making it to the Sweet 16. They became only the second team in March Madness history to achieve this. According to Matthew Berry of ESPN Fantasy, only 4.8% of all brackets picked Oral Roberts to make it past the first round — even less had them making it to the Sweet 16.
March Madness is also a chance for the college stars to show how they deal with the pressure of elimination on national TV. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham, USC’s Evan Mobley and Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs are all set to be top prospects for the 2021 NBA draft. The tournament is a great chance to introduce them to the pressures of the league.
“My favorite NBA team has a chance of getting a high pick in the draft this year,” Reibel said. “It’s pretty cool to see who could be the next franchise player.”
After a hectic year, March Madness brought flashes of normalcy: filling out the brackets, getting mad when your favorite team loses and rooting for the underdog to win it all. It’s relieving for the sports world to say once again, “this is March.”