Less than two weeks ago, in those halcyon spring break days, 2022 seemed to be the year of the underdog in the men’s NCAA tournament. The 15th-seed Saint Peter’s Peacocks beat Kentucky — and then kept winning. No. 1 Baylor lost in the second round. No. 11 Michigan knocked off No. 3 Tennessee. The upsets kept piling up, as No. 1 Gonzaga fell to Arkansas (who saw that coming? Me.), and No. 1 Arizona lost to Houston.
But, as we head into the Final Four, it feels as though the fun — the Madness, that bit of intellectual property the NCAA works so diligently to protect — has stopped. None of the Elite Eight games were all that exciting. There have been few sadder sights in the last few years than watching the Peacocks’ all-time run Peter out almost instantly against UNC on Saturday, April 2. After so many early upsets, a lackluster weekend has left us with a Final Four comprising of four of the five or six most successful programs of the 21st-century — Duke will play North Carolina and Villanova will play Kansas this coming Saturday in New Orleans.
Things have, frankly, been more entertaining in The Student’s bracket challenge. After sitting one-two after the first weekend, Jordan Leaf ’25 and Sandor Weiss ’25 are all but out of the running. Leaf’s champion Arizona were bounced in the Sweet Sixteen. Weiss’ home-state bias was his downfall: the Seattle native put too much faith in Gonzaga.
But, a new pair of contenders has risen to take their place. Jack Dengler ’22 was slow out of the gates, but he put together a miraculous Final Four: he has three-out-of-four teams and was bold enough to pick North Carolina all the way to the final weekend. He has Duke winning it all, and if Coach Mike Krzyzewski goes out Jordan-style, winning the final game of his career, the gift card will be Dengler’s. Behind Dengler is Vaughn Armour ’25 — The Student’s Survivor columnist. He could make up the 90-point gap if Kansas wins it all. These two bluest of blue bloods are the current odds-on favorites, so The Student’s pool could come down to the final day.
Inside the newsroom, things have moved around quite a bit. In an unfortunate development for the paper’s bottom line, the $20 gift card will be won by somebody outside the editorial board. Publisher Ethan Samuels ’23 has come the closest, with a 93rd-percentile bracket that correctly predicted the Villanova-Kansas matchup. Among the sports editors, Leo Kamin ’25 has rocketed to the top of the pack. Liza Katz ’24 sits two slots behind him, Nick Edwards-Levin ’25 comes in two lower, and Alex Noga ’23 brings up the rear — that said, they are all decidedly out of contention. In an exciting turn of events, Assistant News Editor Eleanor Walsh ’25 is no longer in last place.
Despite a lackluster Elite Eight, more excitement beckons. A retiring Coach K leading an inexperienced squad against arch-arch-rival North Carolina one last time, and for the first time in the NCAA tournament, is the kind of thing we will watch a “30 for 30” about in 25 years. Kansas-Villanova will be a great game. Armour and Dengler’s quest for bracketological glory may go down to the final whistle.
In stark contrast to the relative chaos that the men’s tournament so routinely brings to our TV screens, computers, and handheld devices, the women’s tournament is generally a more routine affair, especially in the later stages: the top seeds advance, and that’s pretty much that. On Sunday, this trend continued. No. 1 seeds and tournament powerhouses South Carolina and Stanford advanced to the Final Four – the Gamecocks doing so in emphatic fashion, 80-50 over upstart Creighton, and Stanford earning the win over No. 2 seed Texas.
But, that being said, Monday truly brought the Madness. The day started with a game of the year candidate, a double overtime thriller contested by UConn and NC State. The teams scored 178 points combined. The Wolfpack hit game-tying threes in the last 10 seconds of both regulation and the first overtime period. Paige Buekers was back to her stat-stuffing ways, scoring 15 combined points in the two overtime periods and only missing one shot in extra time to lead UConn to the win. And the second game was just as close. Hailey Van Lith’s 22-point game led Louisville to a 62-50 win after a high-pressure layup and barrage of last-minute free throws widened the margin from six to 12. While Sunday was, well, boring, Monday was women’s basketball at its finest. What more could you want?
While the enigmatic Jerry1 was identified in the aftermath of our article last week, he seems to have fallen out of gift-card contention after this weekend’s games. He was undone by his unusual pick of UNC making the Final Four – the Tar Heels lost a close one to South Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen – while much of the field ahead of him went four-for-four.
But, in fitting fashion, we have another mysterious figure at the top of The Student’s bracket challenge going into the Final Four – a very ardent fan of the challenge’s host site whose username is ESPNFAN8341195727. Who is this person, who has a bracket in the 98.4th percentile with the ever-popular Stanford Cardinal as their champion and nailed all of their Final Four picks? We may not yet know, but they’re well positioned to win the challenge going into the last two rounds of the tournament.
Among the editorial board, Katz sits in a very close second, but seems unlikely to win the title with the same Final Four, National Championship matchup and winner pick as this puzzle of a current leader. As she sits on the newsroom couch writing this (hi everyone!), her only hope is to win through the tiebreaker, as her final score is much higher than the sole bracket in front of her. Noga and Edwards-Levin are in the running as well, in fourth and fifth places respectively, with Noga’s winner pick of South Carolina having him well-positioned to potentially steal the win. Samuels sits in the middle of the pack, but, like Weiss in the men’s challenge, his hometown bias doomed him – the Houston-native’s winner Texas has been eliminated, leaving him with little hope for a run to the top of the standings.
We’re now set up for the final weekend we have been waiting for all season. With so much on the line, and four of the sport’s blue bloods facing off in the final two games of the season – South Carolina will take on Louisville and Stanford will face UConn – the title chase is on. We can only hope that these games will come close to Monday’s excitement, and with these teams, it should. It’s still anybody’s game, and the quest for bracket supremacy Marches on. Only time will tell who is going to come out on top.