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Strap yourselves in, the upsets are coming.
There is something about the month of March that brings out the best and worst in athletes across the states of America.
Beyond the bands, the adrenaline and the chaos of thousands of screaming fans, only one team can reign supreme in March.
As an Australian sports fan looking from the outside in, March Madness has an aura about it, bringing together schools and cities across a nation to achieve the unthinkable - a Cinderella story.
Australia has and probably will never see anything like it. Yes, there are university games, but the sport is taken to a different level in the United States.
Everything is taken to a different level in the United States.
With growing interest in US sports upon Australian shores – in particular, the NBA with the rise of Australian Ben Simmons – it is only natural that as the sports-hungry fans we are, we become familiar with arguably the most competitive sporting tournament in our modern-day world – March Madness.
Australia loves an underdog. Think shots at the buzzer and games going down to the wire. Think players and coaches getting in each other’s faces, screaming at referees as their season comes to a dire conclusion.
March really is mad.
With the potential to whet the appetite of even the most unappreciative sports fan, the month of March leaves you on the edge of your seat, rooting for an 18th seed team from a city you cannot even pronounce - St. Bonaventure Bonnies, I’m looking at you.
Trust me I was sceptical once, but beyond the intense levels of testosterone and adrenaline that comes with collegiate sports, you witness the rise of potentially the next biggest thing in the game, transcending through the ranks and taking that next step into professional basketball.
Think of the hype surrounding UCLA and Lonzo Ball in 2017 or LSU and Ben Simmons in 2016.
Scouting through future prospects, analysts draft big boards and predictions a year in advance. The competition is that intense.
Players have the potential to transform their own lives as well as the lives of their families around them with big-time performances and paychecks dangling in front of their eyes.
With that comes my three predictions for who will make the month of March their own, sending draft stocks soaring.
Oklahoma is probably, scratch that, definitely the team you want to watch just to see this guy play ball. PAC 12 freshman of the year Trae Young is averaging the highest marks seen over the past decade in the NCAA PAC 12 division, putting up 27.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 8.9 assists.
Having gone 2–8 throughout February did not help the Oklahoma Sooners’ cause. This team is my flop, with Young looking to carry this team on his shoulders.
Look to Young to lead the side in March putting up more outrageous numbers in a battle with fellow countrymen for top draft honours.
Leading the charge for the Kansas Jayhawks is the PAC 12 player of the year. Under Graham, Kansas has gone 21–7, which is pretty remarkable considering the loss of the likes of Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III, the first and second scorers for Kansas State throughout their NCAA run last year.
Working in Graham’s favour is the cohesion created through a successful run this year, with Kansas State possessing arguably the best team and individual dynamics across the country.
Michael Porter Jr
Gordon Hayward-esque, when Porter Jr went down after some 127 seconds against Iowa State in Missouri Tigers’ first game of the season, he did not think he would play again this year, squandering chances of top prospect status in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Thursday marked Porter Jr’s return for Mizzou, adding instant depth to a side who can only grow from fourth in the SEC conference. Watch out for this guy.
Duke, Villanova, Xavier and Kentucky are all the usual candidates, ranked high every single year. Yet there is a change in the air and you could feel it with North Carolina last year, a team with consistency yet not your stereotypical success story, finally breaking the mould and taking the next step to achieve the penultimate prize.
How do then teams like Oklahoma or even the likes of Saint Mary’s, who have been written off despite the talent they possess, achieve the penultimate prize?
Upsets – after all, in March, they are inevitable.