Driving us all mad!

Zach DiSchiano

     If one were to enter the home of a sports fan at any given time during the weekend of March 20, it wouldn’t be uncommon to see shreds of paper scattered on the ground. These unceremonious strips were once brackets filled out by once-confident sports fanatics before they were destroyed in frustration and rage after their predictions turned sour. Teams no one has ever heard of — Ohio, Old Dominion, St. Mary’s, Murray State and most notably Northern Iowa all defeated teams with prestigious basketball programs. Everyone knows upsets will occur in the big tournament — it’s not called March Madness for nothing — but when the team that most college basketball analysts predicted to win the National Championship loses in the second of six rounds, you know this year’s tournament is especially mad.

     In addition to the huge upsets, there were the typical stories of schools beating teams destined for the Final Four early in the first round; only to go on to the second round and get mauled by a slightly above average team. For example, Ohio University (14) pounded an extremely talented Georgetown (3) team before getting destroyed by Tennessee two days later, 83-68. Notre Dame (6) came into the tournament red hot, winning 6 of 7 games before losing to low-ranked Old Dominion (11) by one point in the first round of the tournament. Old Dominion lost in the second round to third seed Baylor by 8 points.

     Then there were the teams that upset good schools in the first round and somehow continued winning. St. Mary’s (10) beat Richmond (7) in the first round, and then defeated a very high-seeded Villanova team later that weekend. Washington (11) found a way to upset Marquette (6) and later earned a spot in the sweet sixteen when they took down New Mexico (3). Even an Ivy League school caused a disturbance in the bracket, as Cornell (12) not only won their first two games but crushed good teams like Temple (5) and Wisconsin (4).

     Because of all the first round upsets, several teams had a very easy second round game. Teams like Tennessee and Baylor won easy matchups against Ohio (14) and Old Dominion (11) respectively. However, other teams like Northern Iowa, Cornell and Washington made it clear that their wins weren’t just flukes. When Northern Iowa upset the number one seeded Kansas Jayhawks, pigs all across the nation sprouted wings and took off. The vast majority of Americans, including our president, selected the Jayhawks to go all the way. Cornell proved that even though they were only an Ivy League school, they had the tools to beat solid, prestigious conference teams. Few selected Washington to go anywhere because they were from the Pac-10 conference, a league that struggled to beat any nonconference opponents, but managed to battle their way into the sweet sixteen.

     Every one of these teams has their leader, a star player who the coach will give the ball to in clutch situations. The most valuable player of a team has the responsibility to be a consistent player as well as a consistent emotional leader. He has to keep his team focused and settled in pressure situations. The best player on a successful team has a shot at being the MVP of the tournament. As of right now, the competition for best player of the tournament is fierce as many athletes established themselves as clutch performers. When it comes to talent, Kentucky’s point guard John Wall is easily the best player in college basketball, only challenged by Ohio State guard Evan Turner. However, the best player in the tournament is defined as someone who is heavily relied on by their team, a consistent and clutch performer.

     My MVP pick is best known for his YouTube glory over the summer when he dunked on the greatest basketball player in the NBA, LeBron James, at James’ summer camp. That’s right; Xavier’s Jordan Crawford has been proven the best player in the tournament. He averaged 29 points per game going before the Musketeers were eliminated by Kansas State. Crawford lit up his opponents with stellar shooting and magnificent drives to the basket through multiple defenders. His nine three pointers, 12 rebounds and clutch free throw shooting carried the Musketeers over the heavily favored (3) Pittsburgh Panthers. He led the Musketeers in an 8 game win streak prior to the start of the tournament, and the freshman was only getting started. He hasn’t been discovered yet, most people still think of him as a young kid who got lucky and dunked on LeBron James. But if he keeps playing like he has been, he may have an opportunity to dunk on James again, this time in an NBA uniform.

     The best coach of the tournament isn’t as difficult to decide as the best player. Many think Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobsen did the best job, but a win over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is not hard to come by. Although they played well against Kansas, the Jayhawks played sloppily and still almost pulled out a victory. My pick for best coach of the tournament goes to Michigan State’s (5) Tom Izzo. The Spartans played excellent and his genius strategy managed a win against higher seeded Maryland, even though they lost their best player Kalin Lucas to injury in the first half. A close victory over Tennessee (6) earned the Spartans a spot in the 2010 Final Four, where they will meet a similarly ranked Butler. This is Izzo’s second straight trip to the Final Four, and it could be his second straight trip to the National Championship if his Spartans can knock off the Bulldogs.

     It’s been an exciting year for college basketball. Although we weren’t graced with the presence of the traditional powerhouses (North Carolina, UCLA, Indiana and Connecticut) who did not even play in the tournament, we did see some amazing basketball games played by amazing basketball players. There were buzzer-beaters deciding the outcome of more games this year than I’ve seen in a while. The double-overtime, Kansas State-Xavier game was easily the most intense game of the tournament. The greatest thing about this season is that we may see a more exciting game in the Final Four or the National Championship. I expect to see Michigan State and West Virginia play in the National Championship, and I pick the Mountaineers to go back home to Morgantown, West Virginia, with the trophy in their hands.