Raborn: The NCAA Tournament was perfect this year

The 2017 NCAA Tournament was one of the best tournaments in recent years for one simple reason: there was a lack of early upsets. Upsets are the staple of the NCAA Tournament, no? However, an excess of upsets is damaging to the layout of the tournament and prevents viewers from seeing the matchups they really want to see.

This year, there was one No. 10 seed over No. 7 seed upset as well as a couple of No. 11 seed wins over No. 6 seeds, and one No. 12 seed over a No. 5 seed. Outside of that, the first round was clean and made some great second round matchups. People got to see Kentucky and Wichita State in the rematch from 2016 and an improbable win with Wisconsin defeating the defending Champion Villanova Wildcats. Viewers also got to see one of the best matchups in the whole tournament when South Carolina’s stingy defense played against one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation in Duke. Upsets in the first round like were seen in in 2015 and last year would have prevented these matchups from happening.

The Sweet Sixteen featured a matchup between arguably the two best players in the nation: Malik Monk of Kentucky and Lonzo Ball of UCLA. The Sweet Sixteen was the highlight of the tournament this year when No. seed 11 Xavier upset No. 2 seed Arizona and No. 4 seed Florida stunned No. 8 seed Wisconsin on a buzzer-beating circus shot.

The Elite Eight did not feature any close matchups other than the No. 1 and No. 2 seed game between North Carolina and Kentucky. However, it forged one of the most interesting Final Fours in recent memory.

This year’s Final Four was one of the best I have seen in my lifetime. Two of the four teams, No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 7 seed South Carolina, had never been to a final four in their history as a basketball program. Also, No. 3 seed Oregon made its first Final Four appearance since the first NCAA Tournament in 1939 and No. 1 seed North Carolina returned to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-2009.

South Carolina nearly managed to complete a legendary comeback, but fell short in a close four-point loss to send Mark Few and Gonzaga to the national championship game. North Carolina won in a thriller as Oregon was unable to box out during the final free throws of the game. This made for the first matchup between two No. 1 seeds since 2015 when Duke and Wisconsin squared off.

Is this not what everyone wants to see? The best teams in the nation playing each other on the biggest stage?

Fans got to see the best Gonzaga team in history with guard Nigel Williams-Goss and two massive 7-footers in Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins take on guard Joel Berry and North Carolina, who returned to the championship game for the second year in a row. The result was exactly what you would expect from such a great matchup. It’s the kind of quality product that is produced when the NCAA Tournament plays out like it did this year. North Carolina clearly deserved the national championship because it had one of the toughest roads to the championship of any team. There was a perfect mix of Cinderella teams like Xavier and South Carolina, yet there were plenty of elite matchups that were noteworthy.

Until next year, folks.

Edited by Robert Hughes

Featured image from wikimedia.org, courtesy of Creative Commons

Gonzaga: the Boise State of men’s basketball

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Gonzaga, despite only losing one game this season, has been somewhat of a sleeper thus far in the NCAA Tournament. A weak conference schedule led many to believe that the Bulldogs weren’t a legitimate contender, but a Final Four run has silenced most, if not all, of the doubters.

The Bulldogs’ run has been spectacular, but their future beyond this season remains uncertain. Will they be a powerhouse from here on out, or are they just a flash in a pan? Are they still going to be viewed as David, or are they Goliath?

Only time will tell what kind of program they’ll be, but so far, they’re a lot like Boise State football. Here’s why:

Weak conference play

The Bulldogs’ biggest flaw hasn’t been their play; it’s been their schedule. Gonzaga is the only school in the West Coast Conference with a win over an AP Top-25 team, and only one of two NCAA Tournament teams from the conference.

Perhaps the most notable moment in all of Boise State athletics history is the famous “Statue of Liberty” play executed against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl that won the Broncos the game.

That play is arguably one of the best plays in the history of college football. Boise State deserves a lot of credit for winning that game, and especially for going undefeated in the 2006-2007 season. But that 8-0 conference record and 13-0 overall record is slightly less impressive when viewed with the fact that Boise State played in the WAC at the time.

Perhaps if the Broncos had played in a Power Five conference, they would’ve been selected to play for the national championship. Instead, they were competing for a Fiesta Bowl championship.

The first championship in school history is still within reach for Gonzaga, but perhaps if its schedule were a bit beefier, the Bulldogs would have been awarded the No. 1 overall seed for the 2017 NCAA Tournament instead of Villanova, a team that had two more losses than Gonzaga.

No significant accomplishments

Sure, Boise State went 13-0 in 2006 and 14-0 in 2009. Yes, Mark Few has an .818 winning percentage in nearly two decades of coaching at Gonzaga.

Neither team has a national championship, however, and that’s what matters in sports. Neither team has sustained greatness for more than a handful of seasons, even. Especially in recent years, both teams have been great, but never the greatest.

Weird quirks

Yes, the fact that both Boise State and Gonzaga have been trendy teams that don’t win championships is worth noting. The most glaring similarity between the two programs, however, is that both have strange traditions.

Boise State has had a blue turf field since 1986.

It’s beautiful, it’s trendy, but it’s weird.

What’s even weirder is that it was installed in 1986, well before the Broncos began consistently winning games. It is worth noting, however, that Boise State defeated Humboldt State 74-0 in the first game played on the blue turf.

The biggest question for Gonzaga is not its ability to win a Final Four game. The biggest question surrounding the Zags is that nobody knows what a “Zag” is.

The official mascot of Gonzaga is the Bulldogs, but fans of the program call their beloved team the “Zags.”

Apparently, fans just started calling their team “Gonzos” and “Zags,” and it appears “Zags” has stuck.

What sticks even more than nicknames, however, are championships, and the Zags just need two more wins if they want to call themselves “champions,” too.

Gonzaga faces South Carolina in Phoenix at 6:09 p.m. ET on Saturday in the first game of the Final Four.

Featured image by SD Dirk, courtesy of Creative Commons