March Madness is one of the truly great times of the year because of the emotion involved in a single elimination tournament that can end a long journey.
This season has been dominated by the senior leaders on many contenders leading their teams as they end their season. Seniors will be playing their final games for their schools. For some freshmen, this is expected to be their one and only season playing in college for free before entering the NBA draft this June and making millions. A school and team were also on a journey this spring playing in their first ever NCAA tournament.
The top seed in the tournament, Kansas, has Perry Ellis playing the final games of his career while highly regarded recruit Cheik Diallo continues to struggle to find playing time. Ellis has been a part of Kansas, a team that’s continuing to dominate one of the best conferences in the NCAA, having now won 12 consecutive “Big 12” conference championships. Ellis hopes to advance to the final four for the first time in his four-year career.
The highest scoring player left in the tournament is Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield, who finished the season averaging 25 points per game. After winning Big 12 Player of the year for a second consecutive season, Hield will try to carry the Sooners past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. Hield solidified Oklahoma as a contender when he scored 46 points during a visit to Kansas. The triple overtime game was full of excitement and resulted in Hield receiving a standing ovation from the Kansas fans.
For those who follow basketball at any level, it comes as no surprise that Kentucky is again being led by superstar freshmen. One of them freshmen is Canadian guard Jamal Murray from Kitchener. Murray is one of the top scorers in the NCAA, averaging over 20 points per game this season. Murray is one of two potential top-10 picks that could leave after one season, joining centre Skal Labissiere.
If you are looking for a Canadian angle to root for other than Murray, Oregon is the top seed in the West region with Montreal native Chris Boucher, who finished second in the NCAA with 3.12 blocks per game in his junior season. Boucher did not begin playing organized basketball until he was 19 years old. Boucher played two years of Junior College basketball, one in New Mexico and a second in Wyoming.
Of the 50 teams that play in division, one had failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. That number is 48 after Stony Brook and Cal State Bakersfield won their conference tournaments to receive an auto-bid.
The Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners are in their first tournament after winning the Western Athletic Conference tournament in their third season in the conference and nine years in division one. The Roadrunners beat New Mexico State, which had won four straight, in a rematch after losing in the semi-finals to the Aggies their first two years. The ending was dramatic, with junior guard Dedrick Basile hitting the winning three with .2 seconds left on the clock.
If possible, the journey for Stony Brook is even more improbable, if only because it took this long. The Seawolves have won four of the last seven American East regular season championships, but have not been able to win the tournament to make March Madness. They have also made the last two tournament finals and four of the last six, this included a one-point loss last season in the final keeping them just out of the tournament.
Although they both lost in the first round it was a journey neither team will forget.