Duke conquers March Madness

Dylan Snyder

March is always the time in which even the most casual sports fan hits a fever pitch of excitement as there is more basketball that can physically be watched for two weekends. This year was different though, as the tournament had several other enticing aspects to follow. Obviously there was the undefeated superteam from Kentucky, but in a lesser-known aspect this year a huge move in sports betting was made. That doesn’t even mention the fact that Duke was able to bring home their fifth title.

John Calipari has made his mark on college basketball by being one of the best recruiters of all time, but rarely do his players stick around very long. The use of one-and-done athletes has been the ire of some, but the results are undeniable. The difference this year was that a group of sophomores decided to stick around, creating one of the most promising teams in the history of college basketball. The Wildcats tore through the tournament and delivered record-setting television numbers to boot. They were dropped in the Final 4 by Wisconsin, but to pretend this tournament wasn’t riding on the backs of Kentucky’s pursuit of a 40-0 perfect season would be absurd. Kentucky’s Elite 8 and Final 4 games became the most watched college basketball games ever, and the empire that Calipari has constructed was clearly the main force behind those games.

After Kentucky lost, the chance to witness history was pretty much eliminated this year. Coach Krzyzewski (“K”) of Duke is closing in on several records, but they all appear to be a few years away. What could be altering the sports landscape on a historic level soon, however, is legalized gambling. New Jersey is already in a battle to legalize gambling, and with new pioneers in the field there is reason to believe its only going to grow. New NBA commissioner Adam Silver is actually in favor of legalizing sports betting on a national level, and given some of the numbers that Silver is able to draw upon, it is hard to keep the argument against sports betting alive. Silver’s main claim was that sports betting is already rampant, but the government and sports leagues just aren’t taking advantage of it. This seems to be an easy cop-out for a league attempting to boost viewership, but Silver’s claim that more people filled out online NCAA tournament brackets than voted in the last general election makes it hard to deny that legalizing sports betting is a logical step in creating a more fan-friendly sports experience.

As for the tournament in general, it was its usual craziness, with 3-seeds Baylor and Iowa St. dropping in the first round. Then we saw 1-seed Villanova fail to get to the Sweet 16. Wichita St. continues to be a tournament darling and Kansas can’t seem to get a grasp on the Missouri Valley Conference as they fell victim to the Shockers in the third round. Bob Huggins’ full court press and intensity on the offensive glass shocked Maryland into several turnovers, but West Virginia played an embarrassing game against Kentucky in one of the worst blowout losses in the tournament’s history.

The madness ended on Monday night in what will go down as one of the most frustrating NCAA finals in recent memory. With Duke star Jahlil Okeafor battling foul trouble the entire game, Wisconson was able to hold a small lead for the majority of the second half. Then two brutal missed calls gave Duke two extra possessions near the end of the game and make the victory that much easier for the Blue Devils to hold on to. Claiming Duke doesn’t win without those calls is far from my intent, but you never want that “what if” hanging over your title.