Madness is in the air

NCAA tournament once again living up to its hype

Tyler Job, Sports Editor

The calendar has just flipped to April, but March Madness fever is still in full swing.

After yet another tournament filled with exhilarating moments, four teams head to Minneapolis vying for a chance to make history only a handful of schools can say they have accomplished.

No. 3 Texas Tech is heading to its first Final Four in program history after defeating No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the West Regional Final.

Top-seeded Virginia took down No. 3 Purdue in an overtime thriller in the South Regional Final to clinch its first Final Four appearance since 1984.

The winners of the East and Midwest Regional Finals were not announced by press time. Top-seeded and top favored Duke battled No. 2 Michigan State in the East, while No. 2 Kentucky took on No. 5 Auburn in the Midwest.

In order to reach the Final Four, players and coaches are required to bring their best to the court each game. UW-W junior guard Becky Raeder, who has been to the NCAA Division III Tournament three times, knows how vital the tournament is to an athlete, both physically and mentally.

“The air feels electric,” Raeder said. “Every player on the court is a great player, so you know you have to always be on your A game…Our coaching staff does a great job of scouting our opponents so we know exactly what we are up against… They do a lot of walkthroughs and film sessions to ensure that we are all mentally prepared but not physically worn down for game time. They do a great job of balancing it all.”

While Raeder is a veteran player for the Warhawks, she also has the fan experience in her when it comes to watching the top Division I teams in the country battle for a national championship. Raeder said she took North Carolina to win another national title, which ending up losing in the Sweet 16 to Auburn, 97-80.

“My favorite thing about March Madness is the unpredictability of it all,” Raeder said. “Your record really doesn’t mean anything when you’re in the tournament because anyone can win on any given day. It comes down to whoever wants it more and whoever is willing to work the hardest for it.”

Texas Tech proved it wanted it more by taking down the top-ranked offense in the country. The Red Raiders held the Bulldogs to 42 percent shooting overall and just 27 percent from three [7-for-26]. Texas Tech turned its stout defense into offense, by making two more very important 3-pointers to win by six, 75-69, and ultimately seal its first Final Four appearance in program history.

UW-W communications professor Michael Betker picked Gonzaga to win it all.   

“Gut [instinct],” Betker said. “Plus my daughters loved the name ‘Gonzaga’ so I kind of went with that. I don’t know for sure. Everybody’s picking Duke. I’m not gonna pick Duke…I was also playing with Virginia Tech for a while because they’re one of those dark horse teams maybe…I got Duke getting beat by Virginia Tech.”

No. 4 Virginia Tech almost pulled off the upset, but ended up falling to Duke 75-73 in the Sweet 16. Hokies guard Ahmed Hill missed an alley-oop layup with one second left that would have tied the game. The Blue Devils’ Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones combined to score 63 of their team’s points. Williamson led all scorers with 23 points.

If anybody was cheering for a Wisconsin team, chances are they were left disappointed. Both the Badgers and Golden Eagles were ranked a five seed in their respective regions and dropped their first-round games in blowouts to 12 seeds. Murray State dominated Marquette, 83-64, while Oregon took care of Wisconsin, 72-54.

“My mom is a Marquette alumni so I always tend to have some faith in them,” Raeder said.

Raeder picked both Marquette and Wisconsin to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Betker correctly chose Murray State’s upset over Marquette, but had the Badgers moving on to the Elite Eight.

“My undergrad was in Madison so I’m a Badger fan,” Betker said.

The NCAA Tournament is called March Madness for a reason, with already a certain amount of unpredictability unfolding. Raeder’s and Betker’s pre-tournament champion picks are out, despite both Gonzaga and UNC being very popular picks this year.

The excitement awaits for three more games in Minneapolis.