By: Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales, Section Editor for Student Voices (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For the longest time, I was quite disinterested in NCAA sports, ignorantly believing that they could not be nearly as thrilling as watching the pros play. It was probably around my freshman year of high school that I actually started paying more attention to college sports – all because my father turned me on to March Madness. That year, a powerhouse Florida team, coached by the awesome Billy Donovan and featuring a young Joakim Noah, took the title in a stunning display of talent and athleticism. Something about the pride and heart that these college players showed on the court really touched me in a way that professional sports had not since MJ, Pippen, Rodman, and Jackson parted ways in the late 90’s.
Since then I have watched the tournament every year and have only been able to predict the winner twice. The first time was in 2007 when Florida took the title for a second consecutive year, and the last time was in 2010 when Duke won the title against an extremely powerful Butler team. The only thing I have learned when making my bracket selections is that anything can happen. First seeded teams losing to 12th seeded teams, players coming off the bench make that last minute three that wins them the game, bad calls being made, injuries sidelining stars, and the list goes on. These college athletes, unlike pro athletes, only play on a team for about four or five years, so the line-ups are constantly changing. These athletes also don’t get paid to play but they play because they love their sport and to play in the tournament is a shot at greatness. They leave it all on the line because they may never get an opportunity like this again so when they go into it, it doesn’t matter if they’re from the Big Ten, The Horizon League, or the Summit League – they come to win.
This year I am running two brackets. In one I chose the winner based on the teams I would want to win and ultimately have the number one seeded Florida Gators winning the championship. They are an experienced team of seniors who I think will play hard and leave it all on the court, but they have some pretty stiff competition ahead of them. My other bracket is one that I entered for that billion dollar perfect bracket challenge (I already lost) but I picked the winners based purely on statistics of both the team and the individual players. As I said before I don’t put much stock as in what conference the teams are from when it comes to the tournament, but it is definitely something I take into consideration. In that bracket I have the Iowa State Cyclones winning for two very good reasons. Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang have both made over 200 baskets this season and are both make around 47-50% of all their shots. Aside from those two, the team itself is also very strong and I think they have a great potential to win if they can get past Michigan St. or Villanova. This year has been particularly tough because there are so many talented and strong teams in the tournament, so I can only hope that at least one of my brackets has a winner but, as I said earlier, in this tournament anything can happen.