Who knew the NCAA Tournament could be so darn entertaining?
Yes, that’s a rhetorical question. They way the games went in the last two rounds is the way it’s supposed to be. Now the result is one of the most unlikely Final Four groups I can remember.
And I can remember NCAA Final Fours going back to the early 1980s.
There’s been some Cinderellas make it to this point — George Mason, VCU, Syracuse last year as a 10 seed, Butler twice (reaching the championship game both times), etc. But this is a weird national semifinals to say the least.
Even though Gonzaga is now in its first Final Four after evolving from the perennial Cinderella to a perennial Sweet 16 team that could never break through, the Zags are the statistical favorite to win two games and take the title based on odds-makers.
North Carolina is the only “blue blood” with numerous Final Four appearances in its past — including the championship game last year, losing to Villanova on a heartbreaking buzzer-beater. The Tar Heels also have the majority of future NBA players in this group of four. But that doesn’t always translate to national titles. Just ask Kentucky, which lost to UNC on Sunday after a fever-pitched final minute and a last-second basket.
South Carolina hadn’t won a tourney game in 44 years before this season. Now the Gamecocks are two wins away from a title. Oregon lost its best rebounder and shot blocker to injury before the tournament, but turned up the defense to prevent a Bill Self-led Kansas team from reaching the Final Four again.
Who will win? Who to root for? Multiple good story lines. That’s why it’s called March Madness.
As for the N reader contest, just to explain the point system, each first round winner earns one point; second round winners get two points, Sweet 16 winners three points and Elite 8 winners five points. For this weekend’s Final Four, semifinal game winners earn 10 points and getting the national champ correct gets 20 points.
Ted Henderson of Michigan City rocked on his picks this past weekend, going from 45 points to 75 and the lead. And he’s the only reader to have three Final Four teams correct (North Carolina, Gonzaga and Oregon) with UNC winning. The only other reader with more than 70 is Michael Chism with 71. He has UNC winning one game, but the rest of his bracket is dead.
Tommy Sosinski Jr. of Westville is the only reader with 69 points that can accumulate any more since he has UNC winning. A pair of 68-point readers (Jackolyn Woodard and Martha Tryon) have Gonzaga winning, so they still have a chance, too.
In our celebrity brackets, Marquette athletic director and girls basketball coach Katie Collignon leads with 65 points, but her national champ pick of Kansas is gone and her bracket is dead. Michigan City A.D. Craig Shaman is second with 62 points, but has North Carolina winning. If UNC does win, sports reporter Zack Eldridge will finish third, passing City boys basketball coach John Boyd (56 points) and myself (55).
Reach Sports Editor Steve T. Gorches at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 214-4206. Follow him on Twitter @SteveTGorches.
ND NCAA BRACKET CONTEST
(top entries still alive)
75 — Ted Henderson
71 — Michael Chism
69 — Tommy Sosinski Jr., James Saylor, Christine Kopanski
68 — Larry Arness, Jackolyn Woodard, Martha Tryon
67 — Dave Van Vlack
66 — Dave Pahl, Dick Scrivnor, James Lamm, Linda Hancock, Faye Ann, Sandy Nelson, Sue Webster
65 — Gale Schooley, Mark Dolph Sr., Dave Havlin, Ron Black, Diane Hack