March Madness is in full swing and in the opening day of first round action in the men’s tournament, I, like probably many other people, saw their bracket busted. I didn’t see No. 13 Furman upsetting No. 4 Virginia and I certainly did not see Princeton taking down No. 2 Arizona.
As I began writing this, with No. 11 Providence playing No. 6 Kentucky on in the background on the second day of the tournament, a game update came through in which Sean Moore from No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson University hit a 3-pointer to put FDU up five points with 55 seconds remaining in the game over No. 1 Purdue. The lead held, which further broke my bracket and I’m sure several other people’s as well. With that win though, FDU made history, becoming just the second No. 16 to knock off a No. 1 seed in the 84-year history of the NCAA Tournament. The last time was 2018 when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) defeated Virginia.
That left No. 6 Kentucky and No. 2 Marquette, which had defeated No. 15 University of Vermont earlier in the day, as the highest seeds left in the Eastern portion of my bracket, and with 1:14 left to play, Kentucky had a mere six-point lead and I had to wonder if everyone was in store for another upset. It didn’t happen. Kentucky won 61-53.
As the tournament was about to start, one concern I had was that I might not be able to watch UVM and Marquette play on Friday or the UVM women play UConn on Saturday, as the snow storm that dumped nearly three feet of snow in my area had caused a lot of damage and left several people, including myself, without power. I had heard that power might not be restored until Saturday. I was genuinely fearful that I might miss both games. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have started pondering the best bars where I could warm up, drink some pints, and watch the games.
Fortunately, my fears turned out to be baseless. My power was restored by Friday morning, life returned to normal, and I was able to see UVM play Marquette.
The score did not reflect how well the Catamounts played. About midway through the second half it was a seven-point game. UVM had been able to slowly narrow what had been an 11-point gap and they were doing so despite Marquette not turning the ball over. It was at some point around there that Kam Jones began scoring his 18 consecutive points for Marquette, after scoring just one point in the first half, to lead Marquette to the 78-61 win. I expected Marquette to win, but I was also really hoping that UVM would join the ranks of Furman and Princeton and pull off the upset.
On the women’s side of my bracket, I am doing OK. No. 9 Marquette lost to No. 8 South Florida and No. 5 Creighton lost to No. 11 Mississippi St. Ole Miss beat Gonzaga, Georgia defeated Florida State and Princeton just barely defeated NC State 64-63. Those were my only losses and all the teams I had picked were still in play to advance to the Sweet 16.
The bigger concern was Saturday’s game between UConn and UVM. Going into this game I guess the only way to describe my mental status was wildly conflicted. I felt like I couldn’t lose and at the same time that I had already lost. I have rooted for UConn, both the men’s and women’s teams, for many years. They are my team. I also root for UVM though. Furthermore, I love to see the smaller, underdog schools in the tournament pull off the upset. The UVM women haven’t been to the tournament since 2010 and the fact that they drew UConn in the first round, from my perspective, was unfortunate to say the least.
Going into the game, I had the sense that I knew exactly how the game was going to go. There is an expectation with UConn. If they make the Final Four again this year, it would be the 15th consecutive year they have done so. They have not been knocked out in the Elite Eight since 2007. Their performance again UVM was classic UConn. They did to UVM what they have done to better and worse opponents alike. They took a commanding 15-point lead by the end of the first quarter. They pushed it even further in the second quarter by taking a 53-20 point lead at the half before advancing to the next round by the final score of 95-52.
The Catamounts had some good moments in the game. They showed some impressive passing skills and some nice shooting at times. The fact that they made it to the tournament means they had an exceptional year and I hope it is the start of continued success for that program. I would love to see them back in the tournament again next year.
There was a similar scenario with Sacred Heart, which was back in the tournament for the first time since 2012. The Pioneers unfortunately drew Stanford, which has missed making the Elite Eight just four times since 2004. Sacred Heart played well at the start of the game. It was a five-point game after the first quarter. Then Stanford outscored Sacred Heart 22-8 in the second quarter and advanced to the next round by defeating the Pioneers 92-49. Still, the fact that Sacred Heart made the tournament for the first time in 11 years is a win for the program.
They have a standout freshman in Ny’Ceara Pryor who was the Northeast Conference’s Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year. Given that, it may be a sign of things to come and there’s the possibility that they may be back in the tournament next year.
There’s been a lot of great basketball in the past few days and I feel fortunate that I was able to see a fair amount of it. As I start the beginning of my week, I will probably still be in a zombie-like state, but this time it will likely be because I was up much later than normal watching both men’s and women’s games and enjoying every minute of the tournament.