By: Nathan Marder ’18
The madness is officially over. The college basketball season came to an end last Monday as Villanova defeated Michigan 79-62: a result that came as no surprise for most college basketball fans. Michigan led by as many as 7 points in the early minutes of the game, a lead that would prove not nearly large enough to fend off the damage that Donte DiVincenzo and his teammates have been dealing to their opponents all season. The Villanova Wildcats lead the country in points per game this year with an average of 86.6 points and outscored their opponents, on average, by 16.4 points per game. This regular season statistic was surely reflected in their postseason performance as Villanova went on to defeat each of their tournament matchups by double digits, an impressive feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the University of North Carolina won the title in 2009.
There is no doubt that this year’s tournament yielded a deserving winner, but, even though a 1st seed won the title, the 2018 NCAA Tournament was a tournament for the underdogs. For the first time in tournament history, a 1st seed lost in round one as Virginia handed UMBC their first ever ticket to the Round of 32. UVA, a team that had lost two games all season and won the ACC championship, lost by 20 points to a team that has only 2 tournament appearances in school history. You have to give some credit, however, to the Retrievers and head coach Ryan Odom who refused to budge late in the game as the Cavaliers gave everything they had in an attempt to close the 20-point gap. Although the Retrievers inevitably folded in their Round of 32 match up against Kansas State, they will undoubtedly be remembered for decades as the stand alone 16th seed to make it through the Round of 64.
However, that couldn’t outshine the record-breaking performance put together by Loyola-Chicago’s 11th seeded Ramblers. As the fourth 11th seed in tournament history to reach the Final Four, the Ramblers looked unstoppable all tournament but couldn’t hold on long enough to push past the University of Michigan, the eventual tournament runner-up. The Ramblers led by double digits midway through the second half but it was Michigan’s Moe Wagner that led the way as Michigan mounted an impressive comeback to tie the game with about 7 minutes remaining. Wagner finished the game with 24 points and 15 rebounds. A few uncharacteristic Rambler turnovers countered by a few timely 3-pointers by the Wolverines were enough to seal the deal, sending Michigan to the championship and putting an end to this year’s Cinderella story. Loyola-Chicago went home empty handed, but – with a little help from team chaplain Sister Jean– who captured the heart of almost every college basketball fan in the country – which is what March Madness is all about.
As if this tournament didn’t offer enough excitement already, the Davidson Wildcats gave fans one more reason to watch this year by making their first tournament appearance since 2015. Davidson forged their spot in the NCAA tournament as a 12th seed set to take on the University of Kentucky’s Wildcats. Kentucky led the way the entire game until late in the second half as Jon Axel Gudmundsson ‘20 made an astonishing seven much needed 3-pointers to tie the game at 52 with 9 minutes to play. His standout performance, along with a 16-point game from Kellan Grady ‘21 ultimately fell just short of fending off a strong Kentucky team. The tournament was a glimpse of a season full of highlights, including a well-deserved A-10 championship. Davidson graduates 6 seniors this season, including 4-year starter Peyton Aldridge. Averaging 21.2 points per game, Peyton lead the Wildcat’s to an impressive 21-12 season and played a crucial role in winning the program’s first A-10 title. Aldridge, along with fellow seniors Nathan Ekwu, Jordan Watkins, Oskar Michelsen, Will Magarity, and Rusty Reigel will be greatly missed moving forward, but the future of Davidson basketball is nothing to be remiss about. With a talented group of underclassmen and Bob McKillop at the helm for his 29th season, 2019 promises to be another memorable year for the Wildcats.
Even if your team lost early or your bracket was busted after the first round, March Madness surely lived up to its name this year, delivering a spectacle that was both exciting to watch and almost impossible to predict. With the Eagles winning the Super Bowl and Villanova winning the NCAA tournament, Philadelphia sports seem to be onto something this year. Is a 76ers NBA Championship next? I wouldn’t bet on it, but if a team with a golden retriever for a mascot can fight their way to the Final Four, anything is possible.