March Madness in Review: 2018

Peter Blatchford, Contributing Writer

In my opinion, March is one of the best months of the year.  It has so much to look forward to: Saint Patrick’s Day, Spring Break, and of course, March Madness.  Every year, the NCAA tournament captivates millions of basketball fans with one of the nation’s most exciting sporting events.  It seems like each year’s tournament is better than the last, and this year was no exception. The tournament’s very first game was an overtime thriller that saw Providence put an end to the season that started off so well for freshman Trae Young and the Oklahoma Sooners, setting the tone early.  Several hours later, Loyola—an eleven seed—shocked the world as it upset sixth-seeded Miami. Chicagoans were thrilled with the success of their local team, but almost no one expected the upsets to continue.

As Friday night was drawing to a close, the first round had already proven itself to be as exciting as ever, but then UMBC—the University of Maryland Baltimore County—made history to become the first sixteen seed to upset a one seed, ruining the last of roughly seventy million brackets.  University of Virginia was the tournament’s overall one seed, a team with only two losses all season, upset by a school most Americans don’t recognize.

The Second Round was just as rewarding as the first.  Loyola upset Tennessee in yet another tight game, earning itself and its emotional leader Sister Jean the respect and attention of not just Chicago but the nation.  Syracuse, an eleven seed, joined Loyola as the only two double digit seeds to reach the Sweet Sixteen once Kansas State knocked off UMBC in a hard fought defensive battle.

Unlike most years, the upsets did not begin to thin out in the Sweet Sixteen. Loyola earned another close win against Nevada, which not even Loyola’s now famous nun and sports fan Sister Jean had predicted.  Nine seeds Florida State and Kansas State also won spots in the Elite Eight, just in case enough brackets weren’t busted already. Meanwhile, the one seeds Villanova and Kansas continued to cruise past their competition.

In the Elite Eight, Loyola tied with three past eleven seeds to become the lowest seeded team to reach the Final Four.  Michigan, Villanova, and Kansas also punched their tickets to the Big Dance in Houston.  Once there, it seemed like Loyola would shock the world once again as it was up by double digits in the second half, but Michigan fought back to end its astounding run.  Villanova, meanwhile, easily dealt with Kansas.

It seems almost ironic that, in a year that will be remembered for Loyola’s improbable trip to the Final Four and for UMBC’s historic victory, the champion was Villanova: a one seed.  Yet just as much as this year was defined by the miraculous, it was also marked by Villanova’s uncontested dominance; it won each of its games by double digits—a feat that is unheard of in collegiate basketball.

In the excitement and adrenaline that follows the final buzzer of the championship game, I always look back at the tournament as a whole.  Doing so, every year I somehow convince myself that I had just witnessed the most shocking, the most exciting, the best March Madness, and that none will ever top it.  However, I find myself saying the same exact thing at the end of the next March. This year, though, I can say with absolute certainty that this year’s tournament was the best  in the history of the sport. Or, at least until next year.