What would March Madness be without a little madness?
Wisconsin gave us the chaos we were looking for by knocking off No. 1-seeded Villanova, and if that didn’t bust your brackets open, South Carolina over No. 2-seeded Duke surely did.
During the second and third rounds of the tournament is when brackets typically start to go through the shredder, and Final Four selections get second-guessed. The Badgers and Gamecocks upsets, to go along with Northwestern pushing Gonzaga to the edge, give me reason to believe that Purdue and Butler might have a chance to make it to the Elite Eight.
Accomplishing what the Badgers did is not new to Butler, which already has proven it can compete against the best teams in the country by beating Villanova twice during the regular season.
This is not the regular season, and North Carolina is not Villanova. But if freshman Kamar Baldwin has a big scoring night, who knows what can happen in the UNC-Butler Sweet 16 game? March is known for big-time upsets, and this could be another one.
Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan channeled his inner Russell Westbrook against Iowa State, being three assists shy of a triple-double. Swanigan averages the second-highest rebounds per game in the country at 12.6. Not only can he hold his own in the paint, but the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward also can step back and score from deep.
Swanigan shot 3 of 6 from behind the arc against the Cyclones, and a dynamic player of his caliber can be a handful for any team, including No. 1-seeded Kansas. The Boilermakers aren’t too far behind Kansas on paper. The Jayhawks average just three more points per game, and they shoot only 1 percent better than Purdue from the field.
The Atlantic Coast Conference set a league record with nine teams making the tournament but has greatly underachieved. North Carolina is the only ACC team remaining, and if it follows the trend of the other eight teams by not playing its best basketball when it matters, the Tar Heels could be going home.
One big-time player who could have willed his team to another upset against No. 1-seeded Gonzaga is Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson, but his 27 points and eight rebounds were not good enough to overcome West Virginia’s full-court press. The Fighting Irish were the first state team to drop out of the tournament after falling to 81-73 to the Mountaineers.
Purdue and Butler are still alive for now, and we’ll see how long they last.
Kansas and UNC are the obvious favorites, but this time of year has a funny way of proving fans and basketball analysts wrong. All it takes is for one or two players to have a bad game or get into early foul trouble to give the underdogs enough leverage to win a game.