“Super”-Nova Does it Again

March Madness is over. Here’s what went down.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Tiffany Zhong

March Madness is over and has certainly lived up to the billing. Records were broken and history was made. But most importantly, this was one of the most exciting NCAA runs in history. Here are some of the highlights of this year’s journey.

Late Drama

This year’s men’s tournament featured some thrilling buzzer beaters, but none stand out quite as much as Arike Ogunbowale’s. The Notre Dame junior scored two last second three pointers (in the Final Four and Championship Games) to help the Fighting Irish to their second NCAAW championship 17 years after their first. University of Michigan freshman Jordan Poole's game-winner against Houston went in with no time left on the clock. But buzzer beaters are nothing new; rather, the competitiveness of so many games was the real surprise. In total, there were 26 games decided by five points or fewer, including three games that were forced into overtime. In 11 of those games, the final margin was just one possession. Other than Villanova, all teams in the Final Four had nail-biters. With successful buzzer beaters usually come failed ones, and this year was no exception. Kansas won three consecutive games by a four-point margin, the last of which was only possible when Grayson Allen's attempted buzzer-beater rolled around the rim twice before falling out and resulting in overtime.

Sister Jean and the Ramblers

Entering the tournament as an 11 seed, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers were expected by almost no one to advance further than the Sweet 16. In fact, most people didn’t expect them to win their first game. Against all odds, the Ramblers found themselves preparing for a Final Four game against the three seed Michigan Wolverines. Obviously, the players played the games, but the beloved team chaplain, Sister Jean, was an influential factor in them.

Over the course of the tournament, Sister Jean became a viral celebrity and was greeted by cheers, waves, and dozens of outstretched phones when she rolled out to her seat before the Ramblers’s semifinal game against the Wolverines. The 98-year-old leaned up from her wheelchair to greet each Rambler with a hug and a few encouraging words before and after each game. Sister Jean gave the Ramblers the passion and drive they needed to edge out the opposition in the first four rounds of the tournament and put together a historic and inspiring run. Loyola-Chicago's first three games were decided by a combined total of just four points, and all three games featured a clutch bucket by a different Rambler in the final seven seconds. Without Sister Jean’s help, these players may not have had the confidence to get those vital points. Sister Jean only added to this Cinderella story, making it even more memorable.

Disappointments and Early Exits

We all came into March Madness with our perfect brackets, hoping we had at least guessed the majority of the first round correctly. Well, the tournament’s number one overall seed, the ACC Champion Virginia Cavaliers, destroyed the hope of many in the very first round. Virginia played some of the best defense in the entire country and consistently played efficient offense against some of the best teams throughout the season. Fresh off an ACC title victory against North Carolina, the NCAA tournament defending champions, they were the odds-on favorite to take it all this year. A 16 seed has never defeated a first seed in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Cavaliers were about to make history.

Virginia, who had lost just two games all season, ran into an the unlikely, worst nightmare in the first round of the playoffs—the UMBC Retrievers. The nerves were present when the 16 seed went blow for blow against Virginia the first half, but even the 21-21 scoreline didn’t signal the upset that was about to come. As the second half rolled around, the unthinkable happened. UMBC began to pull away, outscoring the Cavaliers by 20 points in the second half. The final score was 74-54 in favor of the 16 seed. For the first time ever, the first seed of the tournament was upset in the first round by the 16th. The Retrievers played with a chip on their shoulders, and this caught a vulnerable Virginia team expecting to roll through to the Final Four by surprise. This loss personifies the true chaos and unpredictability of March Madness.

Trae Young and his Oklahoma Sooners also fell victim to March Madness. The fact that the Sooners were even invited to the tournament was controversial, as the Sooners’s late season struggles saw their loss column pile up to 14 with a few terrible showings at home in Norman, Oklahoma. Sometimes, the NCAA tournament committee can’t help themselves, and Trae Young had been the face of college basketball all season, so it was almost inevitable that his team made the tournament. The controversy didn’t last long however, because like Virginia, Oklahoma flamed out in the first round, losing to the Rhode Island Rams. Young did his part with 28 points and 7 assists, which included a few clutch shots down the stretch to send the game to overtime, but if you’re going to be the face of college basketball, you’re going to be judged as such. Trae Young simply did not show up in overtime, helping his team muster up only nine points to Rhode Island’s 14. The game ended 83-78, Rhode Island.

There was one more major upset in the first round. This time, it was the consensus number one college basketball player in the country DeAndre Ayton, who with his Arizona Wildcats team, crashed out of the tournament against Buffalo in blowout fashion. Talent-wise, Arizona was one of the best teams in the nation, their centerpiece being center/power-forward Ayton, who is likely to be a top two pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Even with all their talent, the Wildcats lost by 21, with the final score being 89-68, Buffalo. All these games go to show that it's not always about which team has the most talent or best schemes during March Madness; it’s about which teams can get hot at the right time, and how far their momentum can carry them in the most chaotic tournament in college sports.

Villanova Wins Their Second Championship in Three Years

On their way to the Final Four, the Villanova Wildcats played like a true number one seed, asserting their dominance over each of their first four opponents by double-digit victories. Players like Mikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, national player of the year Jalen Brunson, and Donte DiVincenzo led the way for the Wildcats. Once the Final Four rolled around, the Wildcats ran into another number one seed that was on fire at the moment, the Kansas Jayhawks. Coached by future Hall of Fame coach Bill Self and led by their two dominant players, Deontay Graham and Malik Newman, the Kansas Jayhawks were coming off an overtime victory against the second seeded Duke Blue Devils. The clash between these two number one seeds in the Final Four was sure to be a barn-burner with heavy offensive arsenals on both sides.

Surprisingly, it did not take long for Villanova to put out Kansas’s fire. The Wildcats hit 13 three-pointers in the first half alone. The previous record for three pointers made in a Final Four game was 13 by UNLV, and the Wildcats had matched that by half-time. Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall stretched the floor and turned into deep range deadeyes. At one point in the first half, the Jayhawks were down by 15 points. With all due credit, the Jayhawks then scored on their next five possessions but ended up being down by 17 points even after that run. This just goes to show how unstoppable Villanova was all game. The final score was 95-79, Villanova, and even that scoreline does not do Villanova’s dominance justice. After the game, head coach Jay Wright basically apologized to Bill Self and the Kansas team, saying, “Sometimes everything you shoot just goes in.”

Going into the national championship game against the Michigan Wolverines, the Wildcats were not ready to slow down. Though a lot of their players fell into foul trouble, and their national player of the year, Jalen Brunson, only had nine points, the Wildcats quickly turned the game around. From the bench hailed the red-haired Italian stallion DiVincenzo from Delaware, and he put on arguably the greatest performance in a national championship game we have ever seen. His deep range and tough finishing not only erased the deficit, but also spurred his team to start quickly pulling away from the Wolverines. But it didn’t stop there, as every time the Wolverines began to chip away at the double-digit deficit, Delaware's Mr. Basketball hit a cold-blooded three to bury any hope of a comeback. He ended with a championship game record tying 31 points, three assists, and five rebounds. His defensive performance was up to par with his offensive performance, as his two-handed block in the second half was about as good a defensive play as you will see in college basketball.

The Villanova team had a great defensive performance as a whole, suffocating the Michigan Wolverines at the three point line and locking down their best player, Mo Wagner, as the game progressed. DiVincenzo won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award, and Villanova won their second title in three years with a final score of 79-62. For the second time this year, Philly is a city of champions.