Hot Take of the Week
This will be one of the most unpredictable NCAA tournaments yet.
It's March! That only means one thing: upsets, upsets, and more upsets. The factor that sets apart this tournament from others is that there hasn’t been a clear favorite all year long. In the past there have been teams that are far above the rest, remaining consistent amid steadfast pressure. Teams that stand out in that aspect are the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats who went 38-1, the Duke Blue Devils who went 35-4 that same year, and most recently the 2020-21 Gonzaga Bulldogs who went 31-1. While only one of those teams won a national championship, they all performed extremely well and consistently all year and were very popular picks, However, this season, there have been many frontrunners for that top spot, yet no one can seem to notch a strong grasp. Top seeds like No.1 seeded Baylor and No. 2 seeded Kentucky have already exited the tournament, while other favorites like No. 3 Tennessee and a hot No. 5 Iowa squad were eliminated in the early rounds.
Personally for me, I struggled making a bracket this year a lot more than other years. To some, Kentucky might’ve looked like an obvious choice to make a deep run. They were impressive early in the season with some high quality wins vs Tennessee and Kansas, however they ended up losing two straight times, with one being in the SEC championship. Auburn and Duke as well may look like favorites to get to the Final Four. However, both were upset by Texas A&M and Virginia Tech respectively in their conference tournaments. With that being said, many people were looking at Tennessee to make a deep run, as they have been hot as of late, just winning a championship in a stacked SEC conference. But then again, they couldn’t beat the upset bug, as 11 seeded Michigan, who many said shouldn’t have made the tournament, beat them by 8. Similarly, 8 seed North Carolina came off a hot end of the season, playing spoiler to Coach K’s last game at Cameron Indoor, to beat reigning champs, 1 seeded Baylor. Furthermore, the team that upset Kentucky, St. Peters out of New Jersey has made it to the Sweet 16 after beating Murray State; shaping up to be the new Oral Roberts of last year.
Looking forward to the rest of the tournament, I think it's going to be a really exciting one for viewers. You have a great mix of really good, consistent teams, and squads that have shocked the country. There is a good variety of teams from all conferences and parts of the country. All of this parody plays into the reason why viewership is back up to pre-pandemic levels, which bodes well for the NCAA tournament. During the regular season, CBS was up 5% from 1.19 million viewers last season to 1.25 million viewers this season. ESPN and FOX also saw upticks in viewership rising 21% and 8% respectively. Furthermore, the explosion of sports betting will set this tournament apart from others, with more people being able to bet on their favorite teams in more states than ever before. The gambling industry's national trade group estimates that Americans will gamble around $3.1 billion on this years tournament. Bill Miller, the association's president and CEO, said, "There's no doubt this year will generate the highest legal handle in March Madness history." All of these factors play into the attractiveness of this years tournament. My personal pick to win the NCAA tournament is Arizona beating Gonzaga, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out. This tournament is shaping up to be the textbook reason that makes March Madness so great; no one is safe.