Lifelong Fans Ready for March Madness

One of the greatest sporting events of the year, my personal favorite, is once again upon us. The time of Cinderella stories, beating blue bloods, buzzer-beater endings, and brackets being busted: it’s March Madness time. Last year, we saw the Baylor University Bears take down the Gonzaga University Bulldogs to win their first championship game. With consistently nail-biting finishes and edge-of-your-seat anticipation until the clock hits zero, it’s hard not to love March Madness and all the crazy upsets that come with it. In anticipation for another month of insanity and hopes for a perfect bracket, I asked some fans around campus what their predictions are and which teams they’re pulling for.

Assistant Men’s Lacrosse Coach Drake O’Neill currently thinks the University of Kentucky is going to win it all and that players Oscar Tshiebwe and Kellan Grady will be key factors in the team’s success. Some other teams he likes are UCLA, Auburn University, the University of Houston, and his personal favorite, the UNC Tar Heels.

Fourth-year men’s soccer player Ryan Kim has been supporting the University of Illinois for a while and sees them going all the way to the top this year.

“I’ve been a lifelong fan, so I have to back the Fighting Illini for March,” he said. “We are the Big Ten regular season champions, and this was the first time since our Final Four 2005 team. We won arguably the toughest conference in the country, so I am confident in our abilities.”

Like O’Neill, Kim is excited to watch Oscar Tshiebwe from Kentucky. He also says not to overlook Kofi Cockburn from Illinois or Jaden Ivey from Purdue University.

“I’ve loved watching all these guys play this season, and they will definitely be must-see players in March,” Kim said. “I do like Kentucky, [University of] Arizona, and Purdue as some other favorites to win March Madness.”

Some Blue Devils fans might hate to hear this, but O’Neill believes that Duke University will have a disappointing performance in the big dance and has his eye on some underdog teams that he thinks could make it through this year. 

“I think [Duke will] have a Sweet 16 exit with the pressure of Coach [Krzyzewski] leaving being too much to handle,” he said. “For underdogs, I’m going with [the University of Tennessee at] Chattanooga, Wright State [University], and Iona [College]. Chattanooga’s overtime conference championship buzzer-beater win will help give them a boost of momentum for the tournament.”

O’Neill also says to keep an eye on University of Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa for Chattanooga, and not to underestimate the Mountain West Conference, which he believes has some great “under-the-radar teams” like Colorado State University and Boise State University. 

“I’m definitely looking for Boise State to make a big run as a Boise native. I think they have what it takes behind star player Abu Kigab,” he added.

I think we need to keep an eye on Murray State University. Not many people are familiar with the Murray State Racers since they play in the Ohio Valley Conference, but they’re 302, ranked 19th in the country, and just won the conference tournament. They are led by OVC Player of the Year KJ Williams and have a top 25 offense and defense in DI at 79.3 points per game and 62.3 points allowed. I could definitely see Murray State upsetting a No. 1 seed as the No. 8 or 9 seed and going to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8.

Second-year men’s lacrosse player Ben Johnson is a die-hard UNC fan, and he sees them as a sneaky contender.

“I’ve always been a big fan [of UNC] since the 2016 championship loss, when they lost in brutal fashion to Villanova,” he said. “But I think [players] Armando Bacot and Caleb Love have what it takes to make some noise and get to the Final Four.”

When asked about some other favorites that he thinks are for real, Johnson mentioned some heavy hitters.

“Despite what I just said, I like Villanova,” he said. “They have a lot of experienced, scrappy guards like Colin Gillespie, and experience is very important in March Madness, especially as you progress through the tournament and get in more high-pressure situations.

Similar to Kim, Johnson also likes Purdue and Jaden Ivey and seems to think he’s the best player in college basketball.

It seems that Jaden Ivey has turned a lot of heads in the regular season, and for good reason. Ivey is a projected top 5 NBA draft pick, and has been compared to budding superstar Ja Morant.

First-year men’s lacrosse player Jonas Taylor-Lilliquist  has some very strong ties to college basketball, and is very invested in Seton Hall University. 

“My dad is the athletic director at Seton Hall, so I’ve been following them very closely all my life, and I think they’re very dangerous this year,” he said.

There’s no question that Taylor-Lilliquist is a die-hard Pirates fan. In fact, I had to pull him away from their first round Big East Tournament game for this interview.

When I asked what separates Seton Hall from the rest of the pool, Taylor-Lilliquist presented some strong points.

“We’re a very good defensive team, we’ve beaten a lot of high-ranked teams, and we have a great blend of veterans and young talent.”

We’ll see if the Pirates can make some history this March, and bring home some hardware for the Taylor-Lilliquist family.

Personally, I think Auburn is going to be the last one standing this year. They have all the components that they need to win, most notably two Player of the Year candidates — projected No. 1 draft pick Jabari Smith, who has an average of 17.1 points per game, and defensive standout Walker Kessler, who averages a staggering 4.5 blocks per game. With the strong guard play of K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. and the great coaching of Bruce Pearl, I don’t see anybody stopping this team. Don’t be surprised if this group gets revenge for their 2019 Final Four loss and takes it home. 

We can make all the predictions we want, but at the end of the day, nobody has a clue who’s going to be dancing in April, since March Madness is one of the most unpredictable events in sports. After all, the odds of getting a perfect bracket are 1 in 9.2 quintillion. And that’s the beauty of it, you truly never know what’s gonna happen next. All you can do is sit back and pray that your team makes that magical run and cuts down the nets.