Your bracket’s been busted for weeks. You’ll never see Grayson Allen play for the Blue Devils again. Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean are taking no prisoners. These are the facts of 2018 March Madness, weird as they may be. The Final Four will, at long last, descend upon San Antonio this weekend, and while the 2018 NCAA Tournament has been nothing short of unpredictable, it’s been far from disappointing. Here are the stories you should be paying attention to before you tune in on Saturday night.
Time to make a little more room for another trophy, @KUHoops!
— Kansas Jayhawks (@KUAthletics) March 26, 2018
Only two No. 1 seeds have survived. And come April 2, only one will have made it to the National Championship game. Kansas and Villanova will face off on Saturday, and it’s billed to be a shootout. No, really–both teams are monstrous on the perimeter. The Jayhawks boast seniors Devonté Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, who have combined to connect on 220 threes this year. That’s a (watered-down) Steph & Klay-type stat. Don’t forget that Graham and Mykhailiuk have four years of chemistry to work off of: despite two vastly different journeys, Kansas would bring them together as roommates, best friends, and a terrifying offensive tandem. Don’t put it past them to erupt against Villanova. They want to graduate National Champions.
Villanova will be putting up a two-tiered fight. Defensively, they’re going to put Kansas through hell. They’re averaging a winning margin of 18.25 points through the tournament, allowing just 64 points per contest, freezing opponents in their tracks. Villanova struggled offensively against Texas Tech in the Elite Eight, scoring 71, a tournament-low for them; still, they won by 12, proving that they have the endurance to get it done on defense even when the shots aren’t falling. The Wildcats are led by NBA draft prospect Mikal Bridges, their 21-year-old defensive leader, who also happens to shoot 43.6% from three. His averages are down through the tournament though, and Villanova is going to need Bridges to make a statement against the Jayhawks if they want an opportunity to play on April 2nd.
Sister Jean vs. Michigan
Here's what Sister Jean looked like the last time Loyola-Chicago went to the Final Four: pic.twitter.com/74huzc2FEs
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) March 25, 2018
Loyola-Chicago is only the fifth double-digit seed to play in the Final Four in NCAA history. Not one of the previous four advanced to the Championship game. But Loyola looks minted to break that streak, and hardly anyone would be surprised to see them extend their Cinderella run. The No. 11 seed has divine help, after all: their emotional leader Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt has, at 98 years old, magnetized the NCAA spotlight.
Sister Jean is much more than a mascot nun. As team chaplain, she leads the team in prayer before every tipoff, but also offers genuine basketball advice and analysis. A former player herself, Sister Jean does scouting reports. While Sister Jean has been rendered “darling” by the media, she is, in truth, a coach if not an honorary teammate. After all, she’s been around for decades and was with the Ramblers in 1963 when they won the NCAA title. 55 years later, Charles Barkley is trying to score a date with her, and she’s not too impressed. Sister Jean is focused on winning.
Loyola is going to have to get through No. 3 Michigan, who have employed a scare tactic: Jalen Rose’s 100-year-old grandmother. Rose, the former Fab Fiver, posted a video of his “grammie” on Instagram. The centenarian addresses Jean: “It’s been a good ride. But it’s over Saturday.” Taking out Sister Jean would put Michigan over the top, but it isn’t likely. Instead, they’ll have to shut down Ben Richardson and Clayton Custer, defend the three as if life depends on it, and pray against Sister Jean that the Ramblers’ luck runs out.
So Much for the Draft Prospects
It’s been a tough few weeks for most of the NCAA players expected to be chosen as lottery picks in the 2018 NBA Draft. Mikal Bridges is the only top prospect remaining in the tournament. For a disappointed handful, their March Madness rite of passage lasted somewhere between two and six hours.
I will enter the June NBA Draft!!
— Trae Young (@TheTraeYoung) March 20, 2018
Rhode Island and Oklahoma opened the tournament, and the Rams wasted no time sending Trae Young back to Norman to pack up his dorm room. Five days after Oklahoma’s overtime loss in Pittsburgh, Young officially announced his intent to forego NCAA eligibility and declare for the Draft. In the essay written for ESPN, Young reminisces on the Oklahoma City Thunder games he’d attended as a kid, where he was treated to hometown heroes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; he’d ogle traveling superstars in Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, and of course Steph Curry, to whom he’s been compared and by whom he’s been called “unbelievable”. Trae Young, at 19, is ready to join their ranks. He has been linked to the Knicks, and would be a nice piece of a developing young core which includes Emmanuel Mudiay, Frank Ntilikina and the pink unicorn himself, Kristaps Porzingis.
— Deandre Ayton (@DeandreAyton) March 21, 2018
In the first bracket-buster of the tournament, No. 4 Arizona was blown out by No. 13 Buffalo in the first round. The Wildcats’ Deandre Ayton grabbed a signature double-double, but it was nowhere near enough to save Arizona from an embarrassing early exit. On March 21st, Ayton declared for the NBA Draft in a series of tweets, including a video compilation of his Wildcats highlights. It’s widely speculated that Deandre will be taken first, and the Bahamian big man is set to do great things for whichever team–Grizzlies, Suns, or Hawks–tanks hard enough to earn him.
— Miles Bridges (@MilesBridges) March 28, 2018
Many saw Spartans where Wolverines stand today. But when No. 3 Michigan State was edged by No. 11 Syracuse in the second round, the pride of the Great Lakes shifted to blue shoulders. Draft prospects Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. were ineffective in their disappointing NCAA finale, but today they can focus on their futures. On March 28th, Bridges announced he’d forego his junior and senior years at Michigan State to enter the Draft; Jackson hasn’t declared yet, but he’ll likely follow in his teammate’s footsteps soon. Bridges, the “skinny kid from Flint,” thanked his coach Tom Izzo, his teammates, his academic support team, and Spartan Nation in his Twitter announcement. Bridges has hired high-profile agent Rich Paul, and will join a Klutch Sports team which includes John Wall, Ben Simmons, and LeBron James.
Bridges, a versatile shooting guard/small forward, averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 blocks in two seasons for Michigan State. He is projected to be taken somewhere between 10 and 12, and could join Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz in Philadelphia.
Jackson, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, will probably be taken before teammate Bridges. He could be drafted in the top 5 by the Orlando Magic or even the Cleveland Cavaliers, who will have Brooklyn’s pick.