Then There Were Four: The Final Weekend of March Madness

And then there were four...

Only four teams remain from the 68 that entered the NCAA Tournament. For anyone who thinks making the Final Four isn't an accomplishment in itself, consider how the teams who are still left standing got here, and who they had to beat to do it.

Let's talk about the history that's being made this year as it provides some insight on how hard it is to make it to the Final Four. This is the first time since the league began in 1939 that Oregon has made it back to the Final Four, which was the year they won it all. For the first time in school history, South Carolina has made it, and it's also Gonzaga's first time. North Carolina has been 20 times, which is record breaking, but this is an impressive back-to-back Final Four appearance for the Tar Heels. If you think making one Final Four appearance is hard, try doing it back-to-back.

I have yet to believe that anyone, off the top of their heads, came up with this bunch making the Final Four. ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg got zero of the teams correct while others had at most two. Some may have picked Oregon, but I've seen very few brackets advancing them. South Carolina wasn't on anyone's mind going into the tournament. Now they're living a real-life Cinderella story.

Gonzaga and North Carolina are the only no. 1 seeds left. North Carolina has been on many lists to win it all, but very few pegged Gonzaga to follow suit. In fact, the Bulldogs were voted most likely to be the first no. 1 seed out. Only losing one game this season, on paper it seems baffling that so many people underestimated this team. However, most people can't name the conference Gonzaga is in, let alone name a team who is in it. I know Loyola Marymount is in there, but I only know that because I had to look up where that school is even located. Gonzaga has been known to have a winning pretournament record, but have consistently under preformed. I made the mistake too many times of advancing this team only to have them bust my bracket in the second round. This year, they're different.

Let us to point out though that Gonzaga's ride to Phoenix has been a picnic compared to everyone else’s. They played 8-seed Northwestern, an easy win, barely escaped a decent but not overly competitive West Virginia team, then they got the luckiest draw of them all in the Elite Eight. The Bulldogs put an end to no. 11 seed Xavier’s Cinderella story. 

North Carolina, on the other hand, had to play the highest seeded teams possible. After barely escaping Arkansas, North Carolina didn't have it easy with Butler, then unlike Gonzaga, North Carolina had to fight for their spot by having an all out war with no. 2 seed Kentucky to win on a buzzer beater. Still think making the Final Four isn't an accomplishment? Try winning four back-to-back games against the best competition you can face, then come talk to me. Just ask Kansas how easy it is to make one slip-up.

North Carolina has been to 25% of all Final Four appearances, 20 out of 78. That's an impressive number to start throwing around next time someone wants to talk about Duke being superior. 

While people slept on South Carolina and Oregon, these teams weren't sleepwalking their way to the Final Four. South Carolina, the lowest seed still left at no. 7, had to upset everyone from round 32 onward. They started with no. 2 Duke, taking out the biggest monster in their region. No. 3 Baylor was next, and South Carolina made sure they were never even in the game. Next was no. 4 Florida. South Carolina beat a no. 2, 3, and 4 to make it. That's three upsets, in case you weren't counting. Is it a coincidence that when the big chicken went viral South Carolina went on a winning streak? 

No. 3 Oregon was eliminated in many brackets early due to the fact that one of their best players was injured entering the tournament. This team overcame the adversity to show that when one goes down, the rest keep fighting. They took down no. 1 seed Kansas, the biggest beast of them all, by a whopping 14 points. Kansas was the early favorite to take home the trophy, scaring everyone who drew them and those who had yet to. Roy Williams owes a major thank you to coach Dana Altman and the Ducks for eliminating his old team whom he's never beaten. 

This weekend is the last weekend of college basketball for the next few months. If you don't like college basketball, you can celebrate. For the rest of us, it's going to take a while to come down from the adrenaline March brought. 

Saturday, the Final Four play in Phoenix: South Carolina vs. Gonzaga, and North Carolina vs. Oregon. Then the winners' seasons come down to Monday night, one last game, one shining moment. 

Who will be the one left standing? 

 

Sources:

https://twitter.com/BleacherReport/status/846148027681255424

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/27/sports/ncaabasketball/final-four-nort...