A March Full of Mayhem

Adam Kunin, Staff Writer

March Madness is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and unpredictable tournaments that sports have to offer, with 68 college basketball teams representing their schools and competing to earn a spot in the final four. This year, the tournament was won by the No. 4 seed University of Connecticut (UConn), the fifth national championship the university had collected. 

This year’s tournament did not disappoint, as many shocking upsets took place on day one alone. On the first day of the tournament, No. 13 seed Furman stormed back against No. 4 seed Virginia from down 12 and sunk a last-second shot to kick off the flurry of upsets. Later in the day, the Princeton Tigers began their miraculous run to the Sweet Sixteen by knocking off juggernaut No. 2 seed Arizona. The Tigers went on to win against No. 7 seed Missouri in the round of 32 and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. In an interview after their second victory, Blake Peters cited Kevin Garnett’s famous quote yelling, “Anything’s possible!” However, Princeton’s run would come to an end in the Sweet Sixteen, with the Tigers falling to No. 6 seed Creighton. 

Even with Princeton and Furman’s huge first-round upsets, neither of these measured up with No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson University’s (FDU) shocking victory over No. 1 seed Purdue. The FDU Knights came into the field of 68 as the shortest team in the tournament, with an average height of 6’1”. To the spectators, this seemed like a David vs. Goliath matchup with 7’4” Purdue star Zach Edey leading the way, but FDU remained confident going into their first-round game. 

Unaware of the cameras in his locker room, Head Coach Tobin Anderson relayed a message to his team that later went viral on social media, stating, “The more I watch them, the more I think we can beat them.” 

Filled with confidence, the Knights relentlessly attacked Edey, and after a grueling 40 minutes, the Knights became only the second 16 seed in history to knock off a No. 1 seed. 

Despite all of these miraculous wins from small schools, not one school fits the profile for a Cinderella run more than the No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Owls. The Owls won a thrilling first-round game against Memphis and then knocked off FDU along with Tennessee to secure a date with Kansas State for a spot in the Final Four. 

The two teams played a scrappy game that came down to the very last possession, but the Owls were able to pull out a 79-76 win to complete their run to the Final Four. The Owls’ run was nothing short of a miracle considering their lackluster facilities. Head coach Dusty May almost quit on the first day coaching the Owls, as he was shocked to see just how poor the conditions were at the school. He described the facilities as not up to par and then explained his moment of defeat, saying, “I [walked] in the room, and I started crying and said, ‘I just committed career suicide. I’m not good enough. I can’t do this.’” 

Against all odds, May was able to pull this small school from Boca Raton, Florida, out of the depths of irrelevance into the spotlight with the Owls, becoming just the third No. 9 seed to make the Final Four, their first in school history. 

Continuing the trend of unlikely runs, the No. 5 seed San Diego State Aztecs joined the Owls in the Final Four and played them for a spot in the National Championship game. The Aztecs were faced with the difficult task of knocking off the No. 1 seed Alabama but used stifling defense to defeat the Crimson Tide and hold star Alabama forward Brandon Miller to only nine points on an abysmal 3-19 shooting. 

In the West region, favorites Kansas and UCLA were knocked out of the tournament in close games. Arkansas pulled out a close victory against Kansas, and Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther sunk a deep three-pointer late to send the UCLA Bruins home. However, the story of this region was the UConn Huskies, who steamrolled their way to a Final Four appearance. Legendary analysis and figures in college basketball detailed the Huskies’ dominance, describing the program as the “Best team left in the tourney.”

Rounding out the Final Four is the No. 5 seed Miami Hurricanes, who rolled to the Final Four on the backs of their experienced backcourt of Nijel Pack and Isaiah Long. Similar to FAU and San Diego State, this is the Hurricanes’ first trip to the Final Four in school history. 

This unexpected Final Four matchup this year perfectly encapsulated the tournament and the college basketball season as a whole. There were very few truly dominant teams this year, especially since many of the favorites were plagued with injuries and off-the-court issues. 

To see how unpredictable this tournament was, look towards the nation’s millions of NCAA brackets. It is traditional for millions to fill out brackets each year and try to predict how the field will play out. With celebrities, professional athletes and even President Biden participating, it is interesting to see how the brackets are fair against the results of the tournament. This year over twenty million brackets were filled out across multiple online platforms, and after just two days of the tournament, not a single accurate bracket remained. 

After a wild tournament, the Final Four was set, with San Diego State, Florida Atlantic, UConn and Miami advancing. 

The first Final Four matchup featured a back-and-forth brawl between San Diego State and FAU. The Aztecs had to claw back from being down double digits to make it a one-possession game with only seconds remaining. With two seconds left, San Diego State guard Lamont Butler shot a buzzer-beating game-winner to send the Aztecs to the national championship after beating FAU 72-71. 

“I think that’s one of the shots that we’re going to see forever,” Head Coach Brian Dutcher said. “They’re going to play for previews for March Madness next year and the year after that. I think that was just legendary.” 

In the second Final Four game, the UConn Huskies dominated against the Miami Hurricanes on the back of star forward Adama Sanogo leading by double digits for most of the game and pulling away with a final score of 72-59.

Finally, the national championship was set with the scrappy San Diego Aztecs facing off against the dominant UConn Huskies. 

UConn got out to a hot start leading 36-24 at the half behind a mixture of steady three-point shooting and strong play from the Huskies. The Huskies held a large lead for most of the game, but the Aztecs made a late push headed by Jaedon Ledee to cut the lead to only six points. Despite this late scoring run, the Huskies proved to be too dominant, storming back out to a big lead and ultimately cruising to a 76-59 win. 

UConn Head Coach Dan Hurley cemented his place among the great coaches in college basketball with the national championship win, and he was proud of how the UConn program has returned to the top of college basketball.

It feels great to come through on promises made by me to all the great people of Connecticut and then with these guys,” Hurley said. “This was our vision. This was our dream. This is what we talked about when we recruited these guys, that we could get together and do something big like this.”

Stories are what make the March Madness tournament captivating. Whether it’s No. 16 seed FDU, small Florida Atlantic making it to the Final Four, or UConn’s dominant run, this tournament was one of the most entertaining in recent memory.