The first two rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament may not have had as many buzzer-beaters as perhaps we have been spoiled with in the past, but it definitely has not lacked any mayhem. With the Sweet 16 beckoning, here are five storylines that you should pay close attention to during the second weekend of March Madness.
St. Peter’s University was a +10000 pick to reach the Sweet 16 before the men’s tournament started last weekend. And with two massive upsets over 2-seed, blue-blood Kentucky (one of my Final Four teams… thanks for that!) and Murray State, a team a lot of people picked to make a Cinderella run, the Peacocks from Jersey City are repping the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in the regional semifinals. As this part of the bracket relocates to Philadelphia, it is easy to imagine that St. Peter’s might have a little bit of a home court advantage over Purdue, whom they play next, and North Carolina and UCLA.
The Peacocks have leaned on their defense during their current 10-game winning streak… specifically inside of the three-point arc. They are holding teams to 35.8 percent shooting during this run, but that stat will be tested by the Boilermakers with big 7’4” center Zach Edey, and 6’10” power forward Trevion Williams. Should the Peacocks pull off yet another shocker, they will become the first 15-seed team to reach the Elite Eight in the history of the men’s tournament.
In case you haven’t heard, or you currently live under a rock, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski will be retiring at the end of this year’s tournament. Whether that retirement will end with a 6th national title depends on the unenviable task of his youth-led roster. While junior forward Wendall Moore Jr. provides experience and calmness, it is no secret that the Blue Devils will go as far as first-year star Paolo Banchero can take them. This dude can flat out hoop. At 6’10”, 250 pounds, he is a big body who can post up his defender in man defense, but can also create off of the dribble, and knock down the three ball as well. Banchero is projected as a top 5 pick in this year’s NBA draft, and his abilities certainly justify that forecast.
It will be very interesting to see how Duke, as a team, responds in their Sweet 16 matchup against the 2 seeded Texas Tech Red Raiders. The boys from Durham eventually pulled away from Michigan State 85-76 in their Round of 32 matchup, but that game was close with 2 minutes remaining. Texas Tech has a ton of experience, and team athleticism that will cause Duke some problems. However, should the Coach K farewell tour continue into the Elite Eight, a potential regional final matchup against Gonzaga will be absolutely must-see TV. Ohh the pressure on those kids to win it all has got to be next-level lofty.
Jacy Shelton, y’all… get very familiar with her name before Ohio State takes on Texas in the Sweet 16. Girl put on a show against LSU in Baton Rouge to help the Buckeyes shock the Tigers in a one-sided 79-64 win. The junior guard had 23 points, 8 dimes, and 3 steals for good measure. She shot 53 percent from the floor, 40 percent from the three-point line, and made all three of her free throw attempts. Shelton’s backcourt partner Taylor Mikesell added 18 points of her own, while going 4 for 7 from three. The Buckeyes as a team shot a ridiculous 46 percent (10-22) from the three-point line.
Their offense did whatever it wanted against legendary coach Kim Mulkey’s new team, and if that trend continues, the Buckeyes will be a force to be reckoned with throughout the remainder of the tournament. This will be the program’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2017, and if they should get past the Longhorns of Texas, they will reach their first regional final since 1993. Shout out to LSU’s season in addition to recognizing the Buckeyes’ triumph. The Tigers went 9-13 during their final campaign under former head coach Nikki Fargas and failed to reach the Big Dance. In her first year at the helm, coach Mulkey helped lead them to a 26-6 record, and their first tournament bid since 2018.
It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Purdue guard, Jaden Ivey’s mom will be cheering him on as the Boilermakers take on aforementioned Cinderella team, St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16. However, Niele Ivey will have to support her son from the sidelines of Notre Dame as they take on top-seeded North Carolina State. Yep, Niele Ivey is the head coach of the Fighting Irish women’s basketball team. Both members of the Ivey family have their respective teams playing quality basketball as we head into the second weekend of action.
Jaden Ivey will be a top-5 pick in this year’s NBA draft. He will also be a key factor as Purdue tries to make a dark horse run to the Final Four. Momma Ivey’s Notre Dame team put the whole country on notice when they hung 108 points (one hundred and eight!) on 4-seed Oklahoma. The Fighting Irish have a tough opponent in the Wolfpack in the regional semifinal, but you have to think that any offense that is capable of scoring over 100 points a game, will have a chance to survive and advance. Very cool to see a mother and son duo representing their respective teams in March Madness. One of the more wholesome storylines of the tournament.
Let us not pretend that we live in a society where the men’s and women’s tournaments are respected (and marketed) equally. Because unfortunately, there are still plenty of “professionals” of the sports world who think March Madness only applies to the men’s tournament. There are several underlying layers of this that could yield an entire separate 10,000-word article… but for now, I am here to tell you that upsets exist in the women’s bracket. And so far, the women’s tournament has had as much or even more heart-pounding induced, end of game drama as the men’s. The madness is real everywhere!
For example, 10-seed Creighton went into the house that Caitlin Clark built, and knocked off the 2-seeded, and potential Final Four pick Iowa Hawkeyes. Florida Gulf Coast upset Virginia Tech in a 12 versus 5 first round matchup. Two 11-seeds in Princeton and Villanova both won their opening round games. Belmont, a 12-seed, beat Oregon in the first round, and damn near upset Tennessee in the second round. We have 10-seeded South Dakota in the Sweet 16 after they held one of the best offenses in college basketball, Baylor, to 47 points! Need I say more?
At the end of the day, these ladies put in equal the effort as the men do. The fourth quarter of the LSU-Ohio State game had some of the most physical and high-octane paced basketball I have ever watched… not in the women’s game, in college basketball PERIOD. I, myself, shamefully haven’t always dedicated as much energy or time into the women’s bracket growing up, but that is no longer the case. The women’s tournament is so dope y’all, and if you have not been tuning in yet, I promise you the rest of it is going to be awesome to watch. Support women… enough said.