The 2023 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament tipped off on March 15. And there is now only a short wait to the concluding championship game on April 4, which is to be held in Caesars Superdome, New Orleans.
The tournament, affectionately known as “March Madness,” has reached the Sweet 16 Round, which takes place on March 24-25. The action is heating up, and the stakes are high because getting to this stage means the Elite 8, Final Four, and the coveted Championship are now within touching distance for the remaining teams.
The contest to name this year’s college basketball champion has been eagerly anticipated and the on-court action has brought about great sporting moments for some teams so far. Michigan managed to see off competition from Tennessee to earn their place in the Sweet 16 for the fifth year in a row.
Iowa State will play Miami after defeating Wisconsin, this is proceeding victory over LSU with Tyrese Hunter scoring the winning shot with only mere seconds left on the clock. Miami themselves knocked Auburn out of the competition. It was a disappointing game for Auburn and head coach Bruce Pearl what with their talent squad of much talked about future NBA players.
Another game that was similarly down to the wire was that of St. Peter’s overcoming Kentucky in overtime. All in all, it has been great entertainment for sports fans watching both court side and from home.
Among the final 16 is the Gonzaga Bulldogs who are the clear favorites to win for the second consecutive year according to the best March Madness betting sites, mytopsportsbooks.com, with odds of +225. This is more than twice as short as their nearest rivals, the Arizona Wildcats. Head coach Mark Few, in his 23rd season with the “Zags,” guided his team of young stars to a 28-3 record (13-1 WCC) despite losing some key players to the NBA Draft last season.
Despite having participated in 23 tournaments, the Washington college side and current number 1 seeded team have yet to bring home the coveted title. Will this be the year of glory for Gonzaga?
Following behind the Arizona Wildcats in the stakes are Michigan, UCLA and Villanova and trailing even further behind are Kentucky, Purdue and Texas.
Zags Are Still Strong Despite Losing Key Players
The close of the 2023 season could have been a challenge for Gonzaga due to the loss of significant players. Corey Kispert graduated before the NBA’s Washington Wizards drafted the small forward 15th overall, while the exceptional guard Jalen Suggs made his way to Orlando Magic as the fifth overall pick.
However, the Bulldogs recruited well for the 2023-22 season, bringing in four new players, including forward Braden Huff and two who are certainly destined to make it to the very top. Hinter Sallis, the Nebraskan native and point guard, is a supreme talent despite his tender age of 18 years. Meanwhile the 7ft 0in tall Chet Holmgren, centre position player from Minnesota, looks set for a long career in the NBA once he graduates.
The Zags’ starting five of Holmgren, Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, Rasir Bolton, and Andrew Membhard are all incredibly strong this season. For this reason, not a single team remaining in the March Madness competition will envy have to face them on the court in the coming weeks.
As mentioned previously, Gonzaga has never won this competition but came agonizingly close in both 2017 and 2023 when they finished as runners-up. They went unbeaten all season right up to the National Championship, where they slipped to an 86-70 defeat at the hands of the Baylor Bears. This should be the year Gonzaga finally gets its hands on the trophy. It really is their tournament to win.
Wildcats Are Gunning for Glory
The Arizona Wildcats are the second-favorites for March Madness glory, and it is easy to see why. Tommy Lloyd only joined as head coach at the start of this season but has worked wonders with his talented roster of up-and-coming stars. Lloyd’s Wildcats have a 33-3 record at the time of writing, including going 18-2 in the Pac-12.
Wildcats’ Benedict Mathurin is enjoying a superb season, one that has seen him average 17.8 points per game. The greatly talented small forward already has 640 points to his name at this stage of the season. This is in addition to seven other Wildcats having more than 250 points each, including Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko, who are averaging 14.2 and 12.7 points per game, respectively.
While it will not be a surprise to see the Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the Arizona Wildcats in the National Championship, both teams will have to successfully navigate their way through potential banana skins of Sweet 16 fixtures.
Difficult Sweet 16 Fixtures
Gonzaga take on the Arkansas Razorbacks, who went into the tournament seeded 18th. The Razorbacks reached the Sweet 16 stage last season but fell in the Elite Eight to the eventual champions, Baylor, with a score of 81-72. It is unlikely that this will be the year that the Razorbacks will win their first title since 1994, especially as they have a 27-8 record. However, that being said, the trill of sport is the unpredictability and they they could cause an upset on the day against the Zags if the latter is not on the top of their game and able to give a winning performance.
Arizona faces a much sterner test in their Sweet 16 game because the bracket drew them against Houston Cougars. Under the guidance of Kelvin Sampson, the Cougars are the 15th seed but head into this game with a 31-5 record. The Cougars reached the Final Four in 2023, the first time they progressed that far since they were the tournament’s runners-up in 1984. They fell at the Final Four last season, but they should not be written off just yet and we could see them reaching the same stage this time around.