Different setting, same entertainment: 2021 gave sports fans a March Madness that was full of surprises
BY RYAN MERARD
Looking to bounce back from cancelling the series last year due to COVID-19, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) decided to hold the annual college basketball tournament “March Madness” in men’s and women’s “bubbles.” This consists of just one arena and practice facility for all teams to use during their scheduled times in San Antonio, Texas and Indianapolis, Indiana, respectively.
The players were also assigned tracking devices that would alert the NCAA about who they are around when near others, so that the league would be able to effectively exclude any players who were in the proximity of another player who tested positive for coronavirus and thus effectively contact-trace.
Besides the setting of the tournament, this year’s tournament was not much different in terms of the excitement. For the men’s tournament, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) team—that placed 11th in their conference—made a deep run in the tournament, reaching the Final Four after surprisingly beating the top-ranked University of Michigan.
Upsets are nothing new to college basketball, which is why it’s not safe to bet on a team that appears to be a favorite for the championship. All it takes is one bad game and that team’s season is gone, as opposed to the National Basketball Association (NBA), where teams play seven-game series and may have a chance to get back up.
Upsets are nothing new to college basketball, which is why it’s not safe to bet on a team that appears to be a favorite for the championship.
Having a perfect season up until the championship round, Gonzaga University looked to be the clear winner for the men’s tournament. One of the greatest qualities that can power over skill and talent in March Madness is consistency. The men’s Gonzaga team powered over every team they met with notable players Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme leading the way, but they seemed to crumble in the championship round against Baylor University. Many thought that Gonzaga was capable of finishing the season with no losses, but they fell short in the most important game of the season.
“I honestly believed in Gonzaga and thought they were about to go all the way,” senior Julian Smallcombe said. “I wasn’t too surprised to see Baylor win though. [This] was one of the more memorable ‘March Madness’ tournaments that have gone on in a while.”
As for the Women’s March Madness tournament, their season started off with tension, as the NCAA infamously only gave the women a single rack of weights to serve as their weight room, which was nowhere near to the equipment that the men were provided with. Although their situation was fixed quickly, many would say that the gyms should have been equal from the start.
As the first Associated Press (AP) Women’s Player of the Year to be a freshman, Paige Bueckers rose to stardom in college basketball quickly, averaging 20 points per game while leading her team, the University of Connecticut (UConn), to the top rank of their conference.
UConn made it to the Final Four, but happened to get upset by Arizona University.
UConn made it to the Final Four, but happened to get upset by Arizona University. Aari McDonald scored 26 points in that game, increasing her stock as she has recently declared for the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) draft. All of the momentum going forward into the championship round after upsetting UConn, however, was not enough for Arizona to pull through. They went up against a prepared Stanford University but fought to the end, losing by just one point.
“Paige Bueckers is a bucket for sure,” senior Joey Piteo said. “I wanted to see her in the championship round, but the women for Arizona just played with more heart.”
Although a completely different setting, NCAA March Madness was still filled with the excitement and action that sports fans love to watch every year.
Photo courtesy of CBS Sports