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Upsets abound in the NCAA Tournament

Alex Mitchell
Upsets abound in the NCAA Tournament
Stephon Castle, UConn Huskies. PHOTO: COURTESY OF UCONNATH

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Every year, millions of people decide to part ways with their sanity by picking teams in the 64-team field that is the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament.

Every year, upsets abound in the early stages of the tournament, leaving people despondent, like they just lost their pet.

One such case was the Oakland University-Kentucky, matchup in the first round. The Wildcats from Lexington, Kentucky, are a basketball powerhouse, having won this tournament eight times and finishing second four times.

Furthermore, the Cats can boast a plethora of blue-chip athletes who come from a variety of all-star teams in high school. Their alumni are a Who’s Who of NBA superstars — Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns, Anthony Davis of the Lakers, Tyler Herro of the Miami Heat and De’Aaron Fox  of the Sacramento Kings. All are products of Coach John Calipari’s University of Kentucky Wildcats program.

Zach Edey, Purdue Boilermakers center. PHOTO: ALEXANDER JONESI

And significantly, all four of the aforementioned stars played just one season in Lexington before being selected in the first round of the NBA draft.

This is a problem for the team, and one reason they lost to the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, who fielded a roster with only one true freshman and two graduate students, one of whom, 24-year-old Jack Gohlke, torched the Cats for 32 points including 10 three-pointers.

Calipari even mentioned this conundrum on his radio program. “I mean, kids are 25, 26, 27,” he said. “Now how do you continue to do it with freshmen? What do they have to look like physically? And how do you bring in some transfers out of that portal to make up for your team? Some people are not taking any freshmen. They’re just going into the portal and 12 new guys and hope it works out.”

Kentucky has eight freshman on the team, and the inexperience showed on Thursday.

Six more bracket-busting upsets occurred during the first week of the tournament, including wins by the Ivy League Champion Yale Bulldogs, who bested the Southeastern Conference champion Auburn Tigers 78-76 — a No. 13 seed beating a No. 4 seed.

Meanwhile 12th-seeded James Madison prevailed over No. 5 Wisconsin, 72-61, and No. 12 Grand Canyon beat No. 5 St. Mary’s, 75-66.

All three of these schools sport veteran squads laden with upperclassmen.

Armando Bacot, North Carolina Tarheels PHOTO: SNEAKINDEACON

This year is also unique in another way: It is the first time since 2019 that all the No. 1- and 2 -seeded teams in the four regions have survived to the round of 16, and only the fifth time in over 40 years.

Could the age difference be a factor in this case too? The top-ranked North Carolina Tarheels boast senior Armando Bacot (14.5 points, 10.7 rebounds) and senior guard RJ Davis, the ACC Player of the Year, who is averaging 20.3 points and 3.4 assists. The UConn Huskies, last year’s champion, lost five players, including three from the starting lineup. The team added transfer Cam Spencer and Big East freshman of the year Stephon Castle and followed the title with a program-record 28 regular-season wins.

The Purdue Boilermakers, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest region, is another seasoned team  that has underperformed for the last  few years and is looking to make it to the Final Four. The team has superman Zach Edey, the 7-foot-4 center who swept all six major National Player of the Year Awards: The Wooden, The Naismith, The Big O Trophy, The National Association of Basketball Coaches Player of the year, the AP, and The Sporting News National Player of the Year.

That leaves the Houston Cougars, led by Coach Kelvin Sampson, as the best defensive teams in the country. They are facing a tough opponent in the perennial powerhouse Duke Blue Devils in the round of 16. Houston has top senior guard L.J. Cryer, who has averaged over 15 points a game. The Baylor transfer has flourished in Sampson’s offense, where has had 12 20-point games.

Cryer is one of many student-athletes who have used the transfer portal to their advantage since Covid-19. The NCAA’s decision to give all athletes who were forced to miss an entire college season due to the coronavirus an additional year of eligibility has elevated the usage of the transfer portal, allowing student-athletes to move to different schools around the country.

Also, thanks to a 2021 California law, students can now legally receive financial compensation for the use of their image by their school as well as other businesses and companies.

That means more students are staying in college longer and leveraging their likeness for financial gain. We shall see if the veteran teams remain atop the college basketball world.