MISHAWAKA—After two years of not having a traditional march madness tournament, basketball has officially returned to normal. In 2019, the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then in 2020, we did not have crowds because of the pandemic. So, in 2021, it was, and has been, refreshing to see people at march madness games once again.
On Mar. 13, the field of 68 was solidified. From conference tournaments to at-large bids, everything was set. The first four games took place in Dayton, Oh. On Mar. 16, the first two teams, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas Southern, faced off for the right to play the No. 1 seed, Kansas. Texas Southern pulled away late for a 76-67 victory. The next game that night was Indiana against Wyoming. They played for a chance to face Saint Mary’s. Indiana held off the Cowboys for a 66-58 victory and returned to the big dance for the first time in six years. The next night we saw Wright State hold off Bryant with a 93-82 victory. Lastly, we saw one of the best games of the tournament in which the Notre Dame Fighting Irish pulled off a double overtime victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in an 89-87 victory.
Now that the Round of 64 was set, it was officially March Madness. The No. 1 overall team in the tournament, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, got pushed for thirty minutes against the No. 16 seed, Georgia State, before pulling away late with a 93-72 win. In the same region, we saw a pair of double-digit upsets in the form of No. 12 New Mexico State taking down the No. 5 UConn (Connecticut) Huskies 70-63. We also saw the No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish continue their March run with a 78-64 win over the No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide.
In the East Region, we saw everything go status quo until one of the favorites of the tournament, the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats, fell to the No. 15 Saint Peter’s Peacocks, and for the second straight year, we saw a Cinderella run from a 15 seed. In the South Region, we saw one of the question marks of the tournament pull off an upset. Going into the tournament, the Michigan Wolverines were 17-14, and many people questioned why they were selected to make the tournament. Despite those doubts, the Wolverines proved they belonged and erased a double-digit deficit to upset No. 6 Colorado State. Lastly, in the Midwest Region, we saw a plethora of double-digit seeds win. No. 12 Richmond knocked out one of the hottest teams going into the tournament, the No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes, in a 67-63 victory. We saw both No. 11 Iowa State and No. 10 Miami Hurricanes pull off close victories over the No. 6 LSU Tigers and the No. 7 USC Trojans.
In the Round of 32 we only saw one region go “chalk,” meaning that all four top seeds advanced. That was in the West Region where No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Arkansas all advanced. Despite advancing, all four saw a challenge from lower seeds. Gonzaga was threatened by No. 9 Memphis, Duke was challenged by No. 7 Michigan State, Texas Tech narrowly beat No. 11 Notre Dame and Arkansas pulled away late against No. 12 New Mexico State.
In the East Region, the No. 1 seed fell, the Baylor Bears, and the Cinderella story continued. The Baylor Bears rallied from down twenty to force overtime against No. 8 North Carolina before running out of steam and losing 93-86. No. 15 Saint Peter’s pushed past No. 7 Murray State to advance to the Sweet 16. Both No. 3 Purdue and No. 4 UCLA made their way to the Sweet 16 as expected. In the South Region, the top two seeds advanced; both No. 1 Arizona and No. 2 Villanova made their way into the Sweet 16. Other top seeds did not find their way so easily; No. 4 Illinois fell to No. 5 Houston in blowout fashion, 68-53. Then No. 11 Michigan found a way past No. 3 Tennessee, 76-68. Lastly in the Midwest Region, we saw chaos. Although both No. 1 Kansas and No. 4 Providence found no struggles in their second-round games, both No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 Wisconsin saw their tournament run end at the hands of a pair of double-digit seeds. No. 11 Iowa State and No. 10 Miami pushed past two top seeds to solidify an Elite 8 berth for a double-digit seed.
So, on Mar. 20, the Sweet 16 had been set. In the West Region, No. 1 Gonzaga faced off against No. 4 Arkansas. Arkansas knocked off Gonzaga 74-68. On the other side we saw No. 2 Duke against No. 3 Texas Tech. Duke continued their advance in the tournament with a 78-73 victory. In the East Region, No. 8 North Carolina went toe to toe with No. 4 UCLA. The Tar Heels pulled off the upset, 73-66.
In the bottom part of the East Region, the Cinderella story continued against No. 3 Purdue. The fifteen seeded St. Peter’s Peacocks became the first fifteen seed to advance to the Elite Eight with a 67-64 win. On the other side of the bracket, No. 1 Arizona faced off against No. 5 Houston and Houston knocked off Arizona and left the Kansas Jayhawks as the lone one seed standing with a 72-60 win over Arizona. The other Sweet 16 matchup in the South region saw the No. 2 Villanova Wildcats face off against the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines. The Wolverines saw their magical tournament run with a 63-55 defeat. In the final region, the Midwest, the No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks took down the No. 4 Providence Friars 66-61, and the No. 10 Miami (FL) Hurricanes took town the No. 11 Iowa State Cyclones, 70-56.
The Elite Eight was played on Mar. 26 and Mar. 27 and saw two of the heavy favorites advance to the Final Four with No. 2 Duke and No. 2 Villanova advancing in their respected regions. The No. 2 Duke Blue Devils cruised to a 78-69 victory over No. 4 Arkansas in Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final tournament run. No. 2 Villanova advanced to the Final Four in a defensive battle against the No. 5 Houston Cougars with a 50-44 win. The next day, we saw a pair of blowouts. In the first matchup, No. 1 Kansas raced past No. 10 Miami in the second half to advance with a 76-50 win. In the second matchup, we saw the Cinderella story end with No. 8 North Carolina blitzing No. 15 Saint Peter’s, 69-49.
With that, the Final Four is set. It will be played on Apr. 2 in New Orleans. On one side, No. 2 Duke will face off against No. 8 North Carolina. This will be a very anticipated matchup because it will be the final time that Coach K will face off against North Carolina. Earlier this season, he saw his Blue Devils fall in his final game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, 94-81. On the other hand, No. 1 Kansas will square off against No. 2 Villanova. This will see two of the more dominant teams in the tournament face off. Both teams have won all their games by more than five points.