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Moller: Top 10 March Madness storylines

| Monday, April 4, 2022

With March Madness officially coming to an end with the National Championship between North Carolina and Kansas on Monday, it’s time to look back at the tournament and analyze the biggest surprises of the tournament. Here are the biggest surprises I took away from the tournament.

10. The collapse of the Big Ten (again)

This would be higher on the list if this wasn’t a yearly occurrence. Every year, the Big Ten comes into the tournament with a plethora of seemingly solid teams that could make a run, and nearly every year, the Big Ten falls victim to early-round upsets. This year was really no different. Despite having nine teams in this year’s tournament, only two teams made the Sweet 16 in Purdue and Michigan, and both of these teams lost in that round. The conference yet again fell victim to early-round upsets with Richmond beating Iowa in the first round and Iowa State ousting Wisconsin in the second round.

9. The success of 11 and 12 seeds

11 and 12-seeds are always popular upset picks, but they had a very good showing this year. Three out of four 11-seeds won their first-round matchup this year (Iowa State, Michigan, and Notre Dame) and two out of four 12-seeds won their first-round matchup (New Mexico State and Richmond). Iowa State and Michigan also both won their second-round games to advance to the Sweet 16. These upsets are to always be expected, but there was definitely a lot of chaos with the 6-11 and 5-12 matchups this year.

8. The blueblood programs in the Final Four

It’s pretty crazy that every team in the Final Four this year is a college basketball blueblood. Duke, UNC, Kansas, and Villanova have a combined 17 national titles, and it is rare for a Final Four to have four of the most successful programs with no Cinderella team.

7. The poor play of conference tournament champions

I guess winning your conference tournament can set you up to do poorly in the NCAA Tournament. The winners of the Power 5 conferences were Iowa (Big Ten), Kansas (Big 12), Arizona (PAC 12), Tennessee (SEC), and Virginia Tech (ACC). Iowa and Virginia Tech looked like two of the hottest teams coming into the tournament, but both of them lost after embarrassing performances in the first round. Tennessee won their first-round game, but they were eliminated by eleven-seeded Michigan in the second round, and Arizona was upset in the Sweet 16. Kansas obviously is the outlier here, but four out of five bad performances is surprising.

6. The disappointing performance of the SEC

With Arkansas being the one exception, the SEC had a horrendous tournament. In the first round, LSU, Kentucky, and Alabama all lost as the better seed. Kentucky was obviously the most surprising of the three, losing to St. Peter’s in stunning fashion. To make matters worse for the SEC, Tennessee and Auburn stumbled in the second round as well despite having very high expectations coming into the tournament. Arkansas did beat Gonzaga en route to the Elite Eight, but the fact that the SEC, which was considered one of the better conferences all year, had no teams in the Final Four was a disappointment.

5. Houston blowing out Arizona

After Gonzaga, Arizona was the most picked team to win the tournament, but they had a serious letdown in their stunning Sweet 16 loss to Houston. Houston dominated the Wildcats from start to finish and ended up winning the game by a comfortable 72-60 scoreline. Coming into that game, Arizona’s offense hadn’t scored under 80 points since February, making their collapse as an offensive unit even more surprising. Arizona’s upset capped off a disappointing performance from the PAC-12 that saw USC lose in the first round and UCLA lose along with Arizona in the Sweet 16.

4. The success of the ACC

Many mocked the ACC all year for being a weak conference, but the conference put those haters to shame with its performance in the tournament. Although Virginia Tech lost in the first round, Miami, Notre Dame, Duke, and UNC all won in the first round. Notre Dame then fell in the second round, but Miami, Duke, and UNC all advanced to the Elite Eight with Duke and UNC ultimately playing in the Final Four. This performance was a statement from the conference as a whole, and it means that the ACC might be back on its path to relevance next season.

3. Gonzaga’s loss in the Sweet 16

Gonzaga was the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, making their loss to Arkansas in the Sweet 16 stunning to say the least. For whatever reason, Mark Few’s squad just can not seem to win a national title despite being one of the favorites nearly every year. The fact that this squad was not even in the Final Four is even more perplexing. Although Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference (WCC), the conference was much improved this year, and the Bulldogs also looked like a national title caliber team against a difficult non-conference schedule. It feels like the Bulldogs have put together a “dynasty” of sorts, but without a national title, it feels like something is missing.

2. North Carolina’s unforgettable tournament

Everyone knew coming into the tournament that UNC had a very talented team, but they had struggled to put it all together all season, making their run in this tournament improbable. They showed flashes of greatness in the regular season, beating Duke in Coach K’s last game at Cameron Indoor. But they also showed their inconsistency, evidenced by their abysmal 72-59 loss to Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament semifinals. First-year head coach Hubert Davis has his team playing their best basketball of the season during the tournament, and his team just pulled off the biggest win against Duke in school history in the Final Four. Davis and the Tar Heels can cap off their magical run on Monday night by beating Kansas to win the national title.

1. St. Peter’s magical Cinderella run

Obviously, this is number one. St. Peter’s is the greatest Cinderella story of all time, becoming the first 15 seed to ever make the Elite Eight. Although it ended in a blowout loss to UNC, the Peacocks put together a magical run that will never be forgotten. The exciting end to St. Peter’s three wins makes their run that more enjoyable. From beating Kentucky in overtime to beating Murray State in a thriller to beating Purdue in the Sweet 16 to make history, the Peacocks put together an unforgettable, miraculous showing in this year’s tournament. The Peacocks’ run is what makes March Madness so enjoyable; you never know what mid-major team is going to make a name for themselves and write their name into the history books.

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

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