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Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

March Madness preview

Check out this March Madness preview from Sports Editor Matt Merlino!
Kaitlyn Verde

March is here! For sports fans, this means yet another trip around the carousel that is March Madness. Conference Championship week has already provided some upsets, with both North Carolina and Duke falling to NC State in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Tournament, mighty Purdue losing to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Semifinals, and Houston, previously the best ranked team in the country, losing to Iowa State by 30 points in the Big 12 Championship Game. If that is not the perfect preview for the madness of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, I do not know what is.

Please do not take this as betting advice or even advice in general. The beauty of March Madness is the fact that everybody’s bracket is destroyed after two days. Instead of fretting about how you are going to win your office pool, just sit and enjoy the beautiful basketball that we see every March.

UConn was the only favorite out of the six major conferences to win their conference tournament, and that secured the overall one seed for the defending national champions. They will play out of the East Region. My prediction is that UConn makes it out of this region to the Final Four, but watch for second-seeded Iowa State. 

I have UAB upsetting San Diego State, who made the National Championship Game last year, but I can see the Aztecs going to the Sweet Sixteen. Some other upsets are #11 Duquesne over #6 BYU, #14 Morehead State over #3 Illinois, and #10 Drake over #7 Washington State. 

The Dukes are in their first tournament since 1977 after winning an upset-heavy Atlantic 10 Tournament, and I have a feeling their momentum will continue into the Sweet Sixteen before they run into Iowa State. Morehead State has just eight losses on the year, but I have a feeling that Illinois will be a bit tired after winning the Big Ten Tournament. Drake is a team that can go far, but they should run into Iowa State in the second round. 

Purdue kept their momentum after a stunning loss to 16-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson University in the first round last year. Zach Edey, the Player of the Year, is back for his final season as a Boilermaker. Only one number-one ranked team before Purdue had lost to a 16 seed before, that was Virginia in 2018, but the year after the Cavaliers went on to win the National Championship. I have a feeling the same script will be reused for Purdue. 

Many fans have observed that the Big Ten referees have been favoring the Boilermakers, and their loss to Wisconsin may have caused the team to be fired up to prevent the same thing from happening in March. Some upsets in this region include McNeese State and Samford upsetting weak Gonzaga and Kansas teams. Both the Bulldogs and Jayhawks have had down years, and watch for both of these teams to use that to their full advantage. 

Oregon may make a run after winning the final Pac-12 Tournament, but they should run into Creighton in the second round. My Elite Eight matchup in this region is #3 Creighton against #1 Purdue, but do not keep #2 Tennessee out of your thoughts. Any of those three teams can win the region and head to the Final Four, but I will take Purdue this year.

Houston is coming off of a crushing loss to Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship Game. The Cougars have been the best-ranked team in the nation since February 26th, but the Cyclones’ upset has them as the third overall seed, and I do not think they make it out of the South Region. 

First, let’s talk about the upsets. James Madison is a 12 seed, and their 31-3 record proves that they can dispatch Wisconsin in the first round. I have them playing #13 Vermont in the second round with the Catamounts upsetting Duke in the first round. Vermont won the America East Tournament to get back to the dance for the third straight year. Duke is coming off of an ACC Quarterfinal upset to NC State, and the Blue Devils have always been a bit suspect when March begins. Either they lose in the first round or make it to the Final Four, no in-betweens. 

NC State is another team to watch if they do not run into Kentucky. My final upset in this region is #15 Western Kentucky, who can and will upset Marquette in the first round. The Final Four team in the South is the Kentucky Wildcats. They will dispatch Houston to make their 18th Final Four. John Calipari’s team has gone under the radar this year, so prepare for the Wildcats to make a run.

North Carolina is the final 1 seed, and after a close loss to NC State in the ACC Championship, I do not think the Tar Heels will go to the Final Four. This region is my least favorite for upsets, but there will still be a few. #11 New Mexico, #10 Nevada, and #15 Long Beach State may be the best contenders. New Mexico is my upset favorite. After winning a very deep Mountain West Tournament, the Lobos should have an easy walk in their first round matchup against Clemson. Nevada is another Mountain West team to watch, and I think they take out Dayton. 

The Flyers were ranked for the better part of this season, but a poor showing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament has many feeling bullish on their tournament hopes. Long Beach State has an incredible story to follow. They fired their head coach, effective at the end of the season, last Monday, but they went on to win the Big West Tournament and make the field. The perfect story will have a hard battle in the first round against Arizona, but the Wildcats are a bit shaky after a Pac-12 Tournament upset. 

A first-round game to watch is #5 Saint Mary’s against #12 Grand Canyon University. Both teams can win that one. My Elite Eight matchup is #4 Alabama and #3 Baylor. Both have had down years compared to successes in the near past, but March Madness is the ultimate level playing field. I will take the Crimson Tide in the Final Four this year. 

This year’s Final Four in Phoenix, Ariz. will be one of the best in the past few years. The first matchup, pitting UConn against Alabama, will see the Huskies pull away late to head to the National Championship Game. Purdue and Kentucky will play a close game, but the Boilermakers will come out on top. 

Monday, April 8 will see a close and defensive championship game between Purdue and UConn. Zach Edey will deny Dan Hurley his second straight National Championship in a 66-63 final.2

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About the Contributor
Matt Merlino
Matt Merlino, Sports Editor
Matt Merlino is a Hills sophomore. He joined the Trailblazer his freshman year and live broadcasted sporting events at Hills for the PH Athletics YouTube channel. This year, Merlino is excited to be a part of the editorial staff and report on breaking sports news. Fun fact: Merlino enjoys go-karting as a hobby.

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