The First Round of the 2017 March Madness featured a few potential upset match-ups, but lacked the excitement of doing so. All the big names got by and entered the Round of 32 wanting to play for a chance in the Sweet 16. What the First Round lacked, however, the Second Round made up. The East region went down fast in the Second Round, as both one seed Villanova and two seed Duke went down. Wisconsin upset Villanova 65-62 as the Badgers capitalized on Villanova’s carelessness and hit big shots at the end. Duke gave up only 23 points in the first half, but 65 points were scored for coach Frank Martin and the Gamecocks, as they beat the Blue Devils 88-81.
The Midwest featured Kansas, who beat Michigan State by 20, but the surprise of the region went to the Michigan Wolverines as they outlasted the Louisville Cardinals, 73-69. Rhode Island looked like they were going to the Sweet Sixteen, only to fall to the Oregon Ducks, 75-72. As for the West, Gonzaga and West Virginia prevailed, but the real surprise was 11 seed Xavier beating three seed Florida State, 91-66.
The South didn’t feature any upsets, but Kentucky nearly had their season end at the hands of Wichita State, but two late blocks by Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo punched their ticket to the Sweet 16. Arkansas also had their chance to beat one seed North Carolina, but cold shooting and a late run by the Tar Heels defeated those odds.
Now, after 64 teams entered, only 16 teams are alive as the countdown to Final Four fastly approaches and the wait for 2017 National Champion becomes clearer. There are several games to target, particularly the South match-up of UCLA and Kentucky game on March 24, featuring freshman phenom Lonzo Ball and Kentucky sharpshooter Malik Monk. Expect Kentucky to avenge its loss against UCLA and beat North Carolina in the Elite Eight to return to the Final Four.
Out to the West, expect Arizona to hold off Xavier to be one more step closer to playing in a Final Four game in their hometown, Arizona. Gonzaga and West Virginia is another great game as the press of West Virginia should give some problems for the Zags. Arizona will come out of the West.
Expect Frank Mason III and Josh Jackson to hold off Purdue and end up representing the Midwest in the Final Four. As for the East, Wisconsin is coming off a great win against last year’s champs, Villanova, and should be able to handle Florida, as well as the winner of Baylor and South Carolina.
There are certainly many questions, like can John Calipari go through a gauntlet of teams just to get to the National Championship? Certainly, anything can happen, but in terms of the easiest road, on paper, Wisconsin looks pretty good coming out of the West and can frustrate Arizona to make it to the National Championship. Buckle up, as March Madness is only getting started.
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