The men started with 68 teams, and the women with 64. None of the 132 teams played a full schedule, with games missed due to positive Covid-19 tests, both internally and within their opponent’s program. Some teams went upwards of two or three weeks without playing a single game, and if the positive tests were internal, they were not even allowed to practice during that time. And yet, these 132 teams weathered the storms that seemed to never end and were rewarded with a chance to be crowned as national champion.
On the women’s side, three of the four No.1 seeds remain in the Final Four, with Arizona the lone wolf as a 3-seed. Stanford has cruised relatively easy through their tournament games so far, a good sign, but also worrisome because they have not played any real competition, and a date with South Carolina looms large. This is a South Carolina team that just decimated perennial title contender Texas 62-36 to reach the Final Four, and so nothing short of Stanford’s absolute best will give them an opportunity to win. On the other side of the bracket, Arizona has played close game after close game, beating Indiana by 13 to reach the Final Four, but it was a classic example of the game being much closer than the final score would indicate. They get the pleasure of facing UCONN, a team that many would argue should not even be in the Final Four after the highly controversial no-call in the final seconds of their win against Baylor to advance to this stage in the tournament.
The men’s Final Four features two No.1 seeds in Gonzaga and Baylor, a No.2 seed in Houston, and eleventh-seeded UCLA. Houston has yet to play a single-digit seed this tournament, surviving through one of the most upset-filled regions in recent history. They take on Baylor, a team that has been the second-best team in the nation all year. Baylor was able to topple Villanova and outscore Arkansas, and now they must do the same against Houston. On the other side of the bracket, UCLA is the Cinderella of the tournament, going from playing in a First Four game to now playing Gonzaga in the Final Four team. They are a team that has all the confidence in the world and will not quit, but they must face one of the best teams in college basketball history in this year’s Gonzaga squad. This is a team chasing perfection with a seemingly unstoppable trio of Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs.
In a year of uncertainty, it seems ironic that the two best teams in college basketball, UCONN and Gonzaga, remain the favorites to hold that crown at the end of the season. It has not been an easy road to get here, and it does not get any easier. And let’s not forget it’s March. We expect madness.