All through the season, it promised to be probably the most broadly open NCAA men’s tournament in a era. Bluebloods weren’t so blue. There have been apparent flaws within the top-order groups. The mixture of an additional COVID yr for older gamers, an out-of-control switch setting and a crop of newcomers who have been largely not prepared for prime time meant that groups’ fortunes fluctuated from sport to sport, week to week. Yo-yo from week to week.
Now right here we’re, virtually achieved with the primary weekend of March Insanity, and there is one essential query to ask: Who is going to win the nationwide championship?
Maybe it could be higher to say it in one other method. If you wish to survive Sunday evening on this frenetic tournament, go forward and dare to dream. You too, Princeton. It is actually up for grabs.
A sport of small pattern sizes and microscopic margins has became a roulette wheel of possibilities that can probably be decided by well being, random shotmaking and maybe sheer luck over the following two weeks.
For a second on Saturday, it appeared that Houston may very well be the third No. 1 seed to fall within the first weekend, after Purdue and Kansas have been kicked out of the bracket. As a substitute, the Cougars got here from 10 factors behind at halftime and in the end asserted themselves to close out Auburn’s upset bid, 81–64.
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Nevertheless it’s clear that Houston’s championship likelihood is as fragile as Marcus Sasser’s sore muscle groups within the groin and Jamal Sheid’s knee. Each performed towards Auburn, and Sasser specifically seemed like himself with 22 factors in 31 minutes. May it’s for 4 extra video games and never a lot time to totally recuperate?
In single-elimination tournaments, these are the issues that decide the championship. Simply ask Kansas, whose season ended with out head coach Invoice Self on the bench. Self had a process final week to repair blocked arteries and has not but been deemed match to return.
Did his absence make a distinction within the 72-71 loss to Arkansas? Maybe. The Razorbacks, alternatively, are emblematic of how little distinction there is between most of those groups this season.
Arkansas in all probability has extra gamers who will make a residing within the NBA than Kansas, and but they have been the No. 8 seed as a result of they handled accidents and did not play up to their potential for many of the season. Wholesome Now, Why Not Arkansas?
Or what about Tennessee, which shot for a lot of the season however made 9 threes on Saturday to beat red-hot Duke? The Vols guard like loopy, however they aren’t among the many top-50 groups in offensive metrics. What in the event that they immediately catch fireplace for a number of video games?
Analytics favors UConn, which heads to St. Mary’s on Sunday to face Arkansas subsequent week in Las Vegas.
Gonzaga and Baylor have two of the very best offensive numbers within the nation however are mediocre on protection. UCLA’s protection is nice, however its offense is questionable at occasions. Or perhaps it is the sort of tournament the place an amazing participant on an epic tear — maybe like Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis, who seemingly hasn’t missed a shot in two months — leads an unlikely workforce to a title. May
The way in which this tournament often works, the upsets of the opening spherical clear the sphere a bit for the true heavyweights. Cinderella will get all the eye for a number of days, however favorites emerge from the Candy 16.
However now, it is even tougher to establish who actually are the favorites — particularly when the 2 remaining No. 1 seeds have some critical well being points. If Sasser is not proper, the Cougars aren’t going to win from this level ahead. Whereas total No. 1 seed Alabama edged Maryland on Saturday with out a lot drama, it is clear that star freshman Brandon Miller is not excellent. After recording zero factors within the first spherical towards Texas A&M–Corpus Christi, which the workforce attributed to an ongoing groin problem, he was nonetheless struggling towards the Terrapins.
Damage vulnerabilities involving the very best gamers of the 2 top-ranked groups within the tournament go away them out of locks to succeed in the final 4.
UCLA, a No. 2 seed that ought to be favored popping out of the West with a loss to Kansas, additionally has main harm points. After shedding their prime perimeter defender Jaylen Clark to harm late within the common season, David Singleton went down with an obvious leg harm within the closing minutes of the Bruins’ win over Northwestern. How far more can UCLA take?
It was yet one more reminder of how fragile expectations are for all of those groups. In a yr when the variations on the prime are minimal, each workforce that reaches the Candy 16 will have the ability to win its subsequent sport. No matter occurs from right here on out should not be an enormous shock.
The greatness of March Insanity is that anybody can beat anybody on any given day, which proved true as soon as once more when Fairleigh Dickinson shocked Purdue and have become simply the second No. 16 seed to topple the No. 1 seed.
However throughout tournaments, big-name packages and elite gamers often rise to the highest. This does not appear to be a kind of years. Given the distinctive set of circumstances that weakened the highest groups, we might finish up with two or three groups within the Remaining 4 that appeared extremely unlikely when the bracket got here out.
For the final 4 months, faculty basketball appeared like a sport with out a outlined hierarchy, a tournament setting the place something might occur. Thus far, it has given the best sign.
Observe USA TODAY sports activities columnist Dan Volken on Twitter @DanWolken