On Friday, March 19th, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament began. Known for its upsets and fantastic finishes, the tournament goes by the name “March Madness.” This college basketball season has been altered by COVID-19, just as every aspect of our lives have been. Certain protocols have been put in place for the tournament to try to keep participants safe while allowing the games to proceed. Players and coaches are tested every day, and everyone on the bench must wear a mask. Because the games must remain on schedule, teams with players who test positive or are subject to quarantine will have to play without those players, as long as the team has 5 available players. Teams without 5 available players are required to forfeit. Even if the coach tests positive, the game will still be able to go on as long as that team can field 5 healthy players.
So far through the first two rounds, there have been a ton of major upsets and bracket busters. Nine teams seeded 10th or lower won their first round matchup, which is very impressive considering the circumstances. There are currently still 4 double digit seeded teams remaining as we head into the Sweet Sixteen this upcoming weekend. This year upsets are happening more frequently, and some perennial top teams, such as Duke and Kentucky, did not even make the tournament. Upsets in part may be due to a condensed season with fewer practices and games, potentially making it harder for teams with young players to form good chemistry. Some teams have played more games than their opponents, and teams have lost players and have had to pause practices and games or miss conference tournaments due to exposure to the virus. When you combine the typical craziness of March Madness with the uncertainty of COVID-19, it leads to more and bigger upsets and more brackets being busted.
One team has already had to forfeit because it did not have the required number of players to play the game. The West Region’s #10 seed VCU was eliminated from the tournament due to an outbreak which resulted in #7 seed Oregon advancing to the Round of 32 without having to play a game. Oregon essentially got a bye in the first round which other teams may feel is unfair but it is the new normal that teams are going to have to deal with in this tournament. Hopefully there will not be another outbreak on a team so the tournament can be conducted as it normally is.
With all the unknown upsets that are likely to happen, maybe the only thing that can be expected is the unexpected. Despite all the uncertainties, though, one team is a heavy favorite to win the tournament. The Gonzaga Bulldogs are undefeated this season and have looked unstoppable in their first 2 tournament wins. They are looking to become the first Division I men’s team since the 1976-77 Indiana Hoosiers to be undefeated National Champion.