*This column was originally published in The Inkwell and on its website.
So, your brackets are busted and you did not win a million dollars from Warren Buffett, but that means one thing that is good for all of us. The madness is on in March and we can’t look away.
A Sweet 16 match-up of Stanford and Dayton sounds boring on paper and nobody saw this coming. Most had usual powerhouse schools like Kansas, Ohio State or Syracuse in that match-up. On paper that should have kept your bracket alive, but No. 11-seed Dayton decided to kill your bracket by defeating in-state opponent Ohio State and then Syracuse. The No. 10-seed Stanford Cardinals upended New Mexico in the first round and then shocked the world by beating Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks.
With these wins by Dayton and Stanford, an underdog-filled Sweet 16 was created, but stars were left behind. Senior Aaron Craft’s hustling, gutsy career at Ohio State came to a crushing blow with him failing to make the game-winning shot. A picture-perfect moment was created with Craft laying on the ground, hands behind his head after the game ended. Syracuse, Dayton’s next foe, saw senior C.J. Fair’s career come to an end and freshman Tyler Ennis most likely played his last game as well. Both players saved the Orangemen multiple times this year, but it was Ennis who tried to save the day once more and came up short.
Stanford’s upset win over Kansas saw the most hyped player in the country come to a crashing end. Andrew Wiggins was hyped as the next LeBron James in the preseason and his season was a mixed bag of ups and downs. No low, however, was lower than the loss to Stanford. Kansas was without Wiggins’ budding star freshman Joel Embiid, and everyone looked for Wiggins to step up and take over for the Jayhawks. Instead, he did the exact opposite. The Stanford zone defense held Wiggins to four points on 1-for-6 shooting and one assist with four turnovers. Throughout the game Wiggins looked scared to shoot and shied away from the defense. As troubling as the four turnovers and four points are, shooting the ball just six times as the preemptive No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft is just as much of a red flag.
Besides Wiggins, the other freshman that was supposed to rule college basketball was Duke’s Jabari Parker. Perhaps the biggest upset of March Madness so far was No. 14-seed Mercer beating the No. 3-seed Duke. In the loss, Parker was sub-par despite scoring 14 points with seven rebounds. Parker just made four of his 14 shots while missing all three three-point field goals he attempted. He also had four turnovers and four fouls. Parker finished the season as the best freshman in the country by averaging 19.1 points per game and 8.7 rebounds, but this will be a tough loss to swallow if it is the last of his college career.
One of the most controversial stars of the season was Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart. After being a lock to be drafted in the top-five of the NBA draft last year, Smart shocked the world by coming back for his sophomore season. Smart was the Big 12 Player of the Year after his freshman season, but decided he wanted to mature his game and try to win a championship. He didn’t win a championship and in the eyes of many he did the opposite of mature. Smart had multiple outbursts of frustration with his biggest coming at Texas Tech when he shoved a fan after the man said something that upset Smart. Oklahoma State went on to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, this time against Gonzaga. While he will still be a high draft pick, Smart’s season will go down as more downs than ups.
Perhaps the biggest and most beloved star saw his season come to an end in the second round against Baylor in a complete beat down. Creighton’s Doug McDermott will go down as one of the biggest and best stars in college basketball history. All season long McDermott was a scoring machine, and defenses were victorious when they held the senior under 30 points. He was every fan’s hero. In an age where so many players head for the money after one season, McDermott played four seasons under his father at Creighton and made the program a true contender and a known commodity in every home. In Creighton’s crushing loss, McDermott had 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting and missed all of his three-point shots. He finished his career fifth all-time in points in NCAA history with 3,150 points, 10th in field goals made with 1,141 and an NCAA record of 135 games in double figures.
A plethora of college basketball’s biggest stars may be out of the tournament, but the fun has just begun. There are still stars that will shine and fantastic teams and match-ups.
Right now Florida, the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament, is the favorite to win the national championship. The Gators are full of experience and ran the table in the SEC – which is undefeated during the tournament – this season. According to prediction mastermind Nate Silver, Florida has the best chance of winning the national championship with an 18.38 percent chance of winning. Silver has Louisville, Arizona and Virginia right behind Florida as the favorites to win it all.
March Madness is all about match-ups and even the Gators can fall victim in the Sweet 16 to the long, athletic UCLA Bruins. The star-studded freshmen of Kentucky are looking to continue to have Louisville’s number and take down last year’s champ, and also . . . well, who knows what the hell will happen, but there’s no other sporting event more properly named than March Madness.