By Ezra Emerson
Oh, March. There’s so much to like about you. Spring is in the air, which means spring break (or Pesach break for YU students) is around the corner. MLB Spring Training is back along with the tail ends of the NBA and NHL seasons. Jewish High School teens get their personal share of sports entertainment too, with the Red Sarachek tournament happening right here in YU (shout out to MTA, Ramaz, and VT on winning their respective tiers championships). And then to top it all off, there’s March Madness, the basketball event of the year.
March Madness is a basketball tournament made up of 64 NCAA DI basketball teams from all around the country. Seeds are what each team is given, based on how well they did during the previous year. There are the clear top teams, who get the higher seeds of 1-5, as well as the middle of the pack, who are usually seeds 6-10 and might win and advance for a round or two. Finally, there are the bottommost teams, known as the Cinderella stories, who are usually seeds 11-16. Some are able to do some damage, but most are just there as a practice game for the bench. There is also a DIII version of March Madness, which our very own Macs played in, as well as a women’s basketball March Madness. While March Madness brings new people together, it also tears families and friends apart. People get so caught up in the hype that they make their own brackets, most of which get busted in the first few hours. March Madness is a cultural highlight to the month of March each year, and this year was no exception.
March Madness begins with a round called the first four where there are four spots in the actual tournament to be played for by teams who didn’t automatically make it in. I was very surprised to see that in this round, Wright St. beat Bryant, even though Bryant has the nation’s leading scorer, Peter Kiss.
Then, while we celebrated Purim, the real fun began. As a Memphis Tigers fan, I enjoyed seeing them win in the first round. Tennessee, Gonzaga, Duke, and Baylor all made their presence known by dominating their respective games. As usual, there were some upsets, such as tenth seed Miami coming out strong and beating seventh seed USC in a nailbiter, ninth seed TCU giving eighth seed Seton Hall a run for their money, and twelfth seed Richmond letting their presence be known by knocking out fifth seed Iowa. But the big upset of the round was by far fifteenth seed St. Peters, hailing from Jersey City, beating the beloved second seed Kentucky in OT. I cannot tell you how crazy watching that game was; brackets were busted, people were going crazy, and best part of it all was that it was a New Jersey team.
The second round had its own drama, with an opening overtime upset by eighth seed North Carolina over first seeded Baylor. Eleventh seed Michigan also provided another upset by foiling third seed Tennessee’s plans to bring the trophy to Knoxville. One seed Gonzaga figuratively put a dagger into my heart by beating out ninth seed Memphis in a nailbiter 82-78. Duke, led by Coach K who is the winningest coach in Duke’s History, Coach K also kept their last dance tour alive, beating out seventh seed Michigan State. Miami and eleventh seed Iowa state both kept their upset mode alive, each beating their higher-ranked opponents by 5 or more. And yet, the Cinderella we all saw in St. Peters, danced into the sweet 16 as well, this time beating seventh seed Murray State.
Now, this is where it usually gets really fun. In the sweet 16, anything can really go. You can either get all the upsets happening, or it can be the usual high seeded teams that move on. In this year’s case, a mix of both was given. First seed Kansas and second seeds Villanova and Duke got through it pretty well, beating the other teams all by 5 points or more. There were also the shocking upsets, with the eighth seed University of North Carolina stomping all over the fourth seed University of Califorina Los Angeles Bruins paws, fourth seed Arkansas calling cap on one seed Gonzaga’s dominance, and fifth seed Houston taking the claws out of one seed Arizona Cats, which made the already crazy March Madness even crazier. You would think the story would end for fifteenth seed St. Peters. Welp, you’re wrong. They went on to show off their true feathers (they’re Peacocks, get it?), and beat a hot (they’re the Boilermakers, get it?) and rising team in the third seed Purdue.
After an epic round of drama, you would think it would continue, right? Nope. The elite 8 was nothing but the top seeded team left showing why they were seeded that way. First seed Kansas, second seed Duke, and eighth seed UNC all destroyed their opponents, one of the losing teams being the Cinderella’s fifteenth seed St. Peters. The only game that was fun to watch, in my opinion, was second seed Villianova versus fifth seed Houston, with the score differential being only 6 points.
The final four was set. First seed Kansas vs. second seed Villianova and eighth seed UNC vs. second seed Duke. Villianova has won two Madnesses in the past six years, while Coach K is still on his farewell tour, and against UNC of all teams. The long standing rivalry goes back a while ago, and, with the schools both based in North Carolina, it was bound to happen. Some key players have come from both programs, including Christian Laettner, Grayson Allen, Vince Carter, and Michael Jordan just to name a few. And since Duke and Coach K’s last home game of the year was also against UNC, and that didn’t end well, Duke wanted revenge. But sadly, it happened again. It was definitely a close one, but UNC sent Duke and Coach K home unhappy, falling short of their national championship goals. With the loss, Coach K is done, Duke is out, and UNC is in.
Now to the other great game. Sure, Villianova is good and all and has recent championship experience under their belt, but it wasn’t their day at the end. Kansas took the living daylight out of Nova, demolishing them by more than 15 points.
And then there were two. First seed Kansas versus eighth seed UNC, and only one can claim the ship. In the end, it was Kansas who came away with it. They started off with a 7-0 run in the first two minutes, showing no sign of mercy. UNC answered back with a bold statement of their own, with a 22-7 run in the last nine minutes, and a 15 point lead heading into the second half. Kansas came back and made things interesting, going on a 25-10 run in the first 10 minutes of the half. As the game got closer and closer to the finish line, the intensity heightened as the teams were neck and neck. Ultimately, Kansas pulled out victorious.
Although March Madness is over, April has arrived, bringing with it the MLB, NBA, and NHL to look forward to. Oh, and don’t forget about Pesach!