College basketball’s annual March Madness tournament nears

Noah Sollinger, Staff Writer

The NCAA college basketball tournament is a constant reminder of the excitement and thrill of college sports.  Every year in March, 68 college basketball teams from around the country battle for the national championship.  This tournament always guarantees buzzer beaters and games that go down to the wire.  This year is no different, with plenty of thrillers and upsets.

The final four has been decided, and only 657 brackets of the over 18 million in the ESPN tournament challenge picked all 4 teams correctly.

This is largely due to the shocking success of the South Carolina Gamecocks, a seven seed from the east region that was relatively unknown prior to the tournament. Led by senior guard Sindarius Thornwell, the Gamecocks initially busted brackets by shocking two seed Duke in the second round, and their success has continued into the later rounds.  Thornwell, a 6’5’’ senior, has averaged an astounding 21.4 points this season, and he is one of the best players in the final four.  He should be a force in the Gamecocks upcoming semifinal game against Gonzaga.

Coming into the tournament, Gonzaga had not yet proven that they could beat the best; however, they have now shown their dominance and winning abilities.  The Bulldogs beat a solid squad in four seed West Virginia as well as a streaking Xavier team that had pulled off three consecutive upsets.

Although they only had one loss prior to the tournament, Gonzaga had only beaten one top 20 team during the regular season.  Despite their easy regular season schedule, the Bulldogs were seeded first in the Western region.  Gonzaga has proven that they deserve this one seed, and they will look to continue their success against South Carolina in the semifinals.

Coming out of the Southern region, the juggernaut North Carolina has looked incredible throughout the tournament.  Many people were skeptical of their seven regular season losses, but the Tar Heels have torn through their challengers so far in the tournament.  They won comfortably in the first three rounds, but faced a real challenge in two seed Kentucky in the elite eight.  The game went down to the wire, with sophomore Luke Maye breaking a tie on a long jumper with .3 seconds remaining.  Maye scored 17 points off the bench, and had help from juniors Joel Berry and Justin Jackson, who scored 11 points and 19 points, respectively.  6’10’’ senior Kennedy Meeks was a force inside for the Tar Heels, grabbing 17 rebounds while adding on seven points.

Kentucky, a college basketball powerhouse, brought the game right down to the wire, with freshman Malik Monk hitting two three pointers in the final 40 seconds. His later shot tied the game at 73.  Monk totaled 12 points in the game, while fellow guard De’Aaron Fox scored 13.

Although they were the higher seed in this matchup, this was a huge win for North Carolina, as Kentucky is a well-respected program who has been extremely successful in recent years.

Oregon, champions of the Midwestern region, have had a tough road to the final four.  They have had multiple nail-biters during this tournament, the closest being their third round victory over seventh seed Michigan, in which they triumphed by a mere point.  Michigan had previously beaten second seed Louisville, so this was a huge victory for the Ducks.

The toughest challenge they faced had been in the elite eight against a dominating Kansas squad who had won all three of their prior tournament games by 20 points or more.  However, the Ducks seemed unfazed by Kansas’ prior success as they demolished the Jayhawks 74-60.

Oregon has a vast array of scorers, with five players averaging double digit points this season.  Their best player all season has been junior Dillon Brooks, who is averaging 16.3 points per game.  Brooks had a solid 17 points in the victory against Kansas, but he was not the top scorer.  Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey scored an astounding 27 points for the Ducks, including six shots from behind the arc.  Dorsey has been incredible throughout the tournament, scoring at least 20 points in all four of Oregon’s games.

Right now, out of these final four teams, North Carolina has to be favorite in winning the national championship.  The Tar Heels have tournament experience and one of the best coaches in the country, Roy Williams.  The Tar Heels have it all: athletic guards who can score and pass, such as Jackson and Berry, and a commanding big to control the boards in Kennedy Meeks.

With their incredible victory against Kentucky, North Carolina proved that they can beat any team in the country.  Nonetheless, it will not be easy for the Tar Heels, as all four teams remaining are completely capable of winning the championship.

The Final Four will take place at the University of Phoenix stadium with the two semi-final games, South Carolina vs. Gonzaga and North Carolina vs. Oregon, taking place tomorrow.  The national championship game will be on held in the same location on April 3.

According to Bleacher Report, Gonzaga is favored to defeat South Carolina and make it to the finals. In the East, North Carolina is favored to beat Oregon to face up with Gonzaga in the National Championship game.