March Madness has long been a competition of superlatives. Each year seems to promise the best teams, the closest matchups and the biggest upsets. And, as March comes and goes, fans are left wondering how the next year could possibly live up to the sky-high expectations that the previous year inspired. This year, the oft cited phrase seems more applicable than ever: how could it get any better?
On the men’s side, there is no point in ignoring the obvious tournament highlight. St. Peter’s University, the pride of Jersey City, New Jersey, stole our hearts and chances of bracket success with their wins over Kentucky, Murray State, and Purdue. As you’re surely tired of hearing, the 15-seed was the first ever to make the Elite Eight. Who cares if they got obliterated by UNC? As the instagram infographics teach us, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. That’s not the attitude for St. Peter’s players, though, as their big three of Doug Edert, Daryl Banks and Matthew Lee have entered the transfer portal, and their coach, a Seton Hall alum, took the head coaching job at his alma mater.
Beyond the St. Peters games, the rest of the tournament had us hooked. The championship game, featuring the biggest comeback in the final’s history, came down to a thrilling (if anticlimactic) final shot. Many of the games were equally thrilling, including the fairy-tale matchup of Duke and UNC. The Tar Heels prevailed, after Bryce Love hit the shot of the tournament to put the game on ice. UNC itself was perhaps the story of the tournament — the No. 8 seed Tar Heels breezed through the early rounds, knocking of No. 1 Baylor in the process. They were the ultimate narrative destroyers: they cut short the Coach-K farewell tour; they knocked off the Peacocks, shattering the Cindarellas’ glass slippers.
The Student’s bracket challenge ended up being a fantastic affair. The composition of the leaderboard seemed to change with every round, but with the Kansas Jayhawks’ win on Monday night, Vaughn Armour ’25 made up the astounding 90-point deficit against the mysterious ESPNFAN8341195727 to claim the top spot. Armour seems to be a big college basketball fan, but this year’s bracket is his most successful ever. “Most years I’m pretty much ruined after the first weekend,” he said, “with my sister beating me by picking the hottest coaches.” Perhaps, in staying away from Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils in the Final Four, he learned a thing or two from his sister.
Armour attributed his success to not “overthinking.” He kept it simple this year: “In past years I spent way too much time analyzing my bracket and debating each pick I made. This year, I kinda just went with my gut.” That said, Kansas as champions was definitely an informed decision. “I just thought they checked all the boxes,” he said: “NBA talent, great free throw shooting, well coached, deep and physical.”
Though Kansas’ victory clinched his victory, Armour’s favorite moment came early in the tournament. “An upset hitting that you picked is always awesome, so Teddy Allen going god mode to lead New Mexico State over UConn was the highlight for me.” In a classic 12-over-five, the Aggies took down the Huskies in the first round. Allen had 37 points.
As the winner of the inaugural Amherst Student Men’s March Madness pool, Armour secured a $20 Antonio’s gift card. Hopefully the success doesn’t go to his head.
But the unexpected storylines and viral moments didn’t stop with the men’s tournament. We had our fix of upsets in the first round, with Belmont topping Oregon, and Princeton beating Kentucky to make the Round of 32. And, we got the beginnings of this year’s Cinderella runs, with Number 10 seeds South Dakota and Creighton making runs deep in the tournament on the backs of dominant shot performances. The Coyotes downed Ole Miss and then No. 2 seed and tournament power Baylor in back to back games, and Creighton took out Colorado and then National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark and Iowa on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Creighton even took their run one step further, besting Iowa State to make the Elite Eight before the clock struck midnight in the Elite Eight.
But just as fun as the upsets were, the last few rounds of the tournament were the basketball we were all waiting for. The UConn-NC State Elite Eight matchup was the Game of the Tournament, with Paige Bueckers going god-mode in overtime to lead the Huskies to a double overtime win, complete with not one, but TWO last-second game-tying threes from the Wolfpack. The Final Four gave us two good games as well, with UConn battling against a tough Stanford squad and South Carolina downing Louisville to make the National Championship game.
That was the matchup we were all waiting for, and the storylines were *chef’s kiss*. A UConn squad that overcame injuries all season (at one point they were practicing with only five players) to make the title game was slated to face 2022 Player of the Year Aliyah Boston and South Carolina, who were on their revenge tour after Boston missed an easy layup in the final seconds of their 2021 Final Four matchup. Although the game didn’t live up to everyone’s expectations, with the Huskies going down early and never really recovering, it drew nearly 5 million viewers, peaking at over 5.91 million. This was an 18 percent increase from 2021, and was the highest viewership for a women's national title game since 2004.
While the Gamecocks took a relatively easy win, the real winner was Managing Sports Editor Alex Noga ’23, who was the only soul to correctly predict South Carolina getting their payback, and rose from fifth place to take the win in our bracket challenge. He stole the win from last week’s leaders, who all had Stanford taking the title. Of his title-taking strategy, Noga told us, “With Aliyah Boston and Destanni Henderson dominating the floor, and with legendary head coach Dawn Staley calling the shots and rocking the ‘Louis V’ varsity jacket, I had complete faith in the ‘Cocks all the way. I wish I could say my other picks were anything other than guesswork.”
In a stunning turn of events, Noga also called his win “[his] greatest achievement.” But indeed, an achievement it was, as he correctly picked six out of eight of the eventual Elite Eight teams, and three of the four Final Four squads. And, in a stroke of luck, no one else picked his winner, as if anyone else had, Noga would not have come out victorious — he failed to enter a score for the tiebreaker, so if it had needed to be used, he would have lost in the 11th hour – not unlike the road his Gamecocks took to their national title.
“Watching Boston’s postgame interview, in which she referenced their crushing defeat that ended in tears in last year’s tournament, brought a genuine smile to my face.” Noga said, “Those little moments are what sports are all about, and to see it featured on such a big stage magnified it even more.”
And with that sentiment, our bracket challenge comes to a close. Thank you all for playing, competing, and following along with both NCAA Tournaments alongside us. We hope these updates provide a little bit of fun to a cutthroat game that we all love to hate (sometimes, I’m not sure why I even make a bracket). But that aside, we’ll (hopefully) be back next year with another installment — don’t go too Mad waiting for us.