Take 5: March is lacking madness


Robert Willett | TNS

Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) glides to the basket for a dunk in the opening minutes of play against Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on March 14.

By Staff

With March comes madness, and this year is no exception. The only difference is the madness that is happening in the sports world is coming less from NCAA basketball and more from other major sports. When it comes to the tournament, it has been exceptionally ordinary so far. There haven’t been any major upsets, but that could all change this weekend. Making up for basketball in the NFL, Antonio Brown keeps drawing attention to himself, and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement after just eight seasons in the league. Oh yeah, and baseball is officially back.

Where’s the madness?

The first weekend of games in the 2019 March Madness tournament are in the books and fans are now left with 16 teams. That number will be brought down to the Final Four after this weekend. There have been a few upsets and exciting finishes, but it has been nothing compared to years past.

The most exciting part about the tournament so far was when three No. 12 seeds defeated No. 5 seeds in the round of 64. No. 11 seed Ohio State and No. 13 seed UC Irvine beat No. 6 Iowa State and No. 4 Kansas State, respectively, to add to the growing list of upsets. Only one No. 12 seed, Oregon, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and that was because it was fortunate enough to match up with No. 13 seed UC Irvine.

The Sweet Sixteen is comprised of all the favored teams, except for No. 5 seed Auburn and No. 12 seed Oregon. Every single No. 1, 2 and 3 seed advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. No. 1 seed Duke defeated No. 9 seed UCF because of missed tip-in at the buzzer by UCF. That would have been the upset of the tournament, considering Duke is the overall favorite to win the dance.

It’s not fun to see all the favored teams win. Sure, fans are technically getting the best possible matchups and that, in turn, will lead to the best possible basketball. But when fans watch March Madness every year, most want just as the name implies — madness.

Last year was arguably one of the greatest March Madnesses of all time. No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago advanced to the Final Four after it beat No. 9 seed Kansas State in the Elite Eight. Two No. 1 seeds, Xavier and Virginia, were eliminated in the first two rounds. No. 16 seed UMBC beat Virginia, becoming the first No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed in tournament history. That is what March Madness is about. This year just feels normal.

-Tyler Moran, staff writer

Oregon looks to quack the brackets

A typical March Madness tournament entails a plethora of upsets from underestimated teams. But the departures of Murray State and Wofford following the second round led to the realization of an undeclared Cinderella team. Now, Oregon remains as the only double-digit seeded team left, but some people think Cinderella’s shoe does not fit the Pac-12 program.

No. 12 seed Oregon toppled No. 5 seed Wisconsin 72-54 in the first round. The 18-point win made the mark for the third-largest margin of victory ever by a No. 12 seed in the opening round. The Ducks then outlasted No. 13 UC Irvine 73-54 in the second round for Oregon’s seventh Sweet Sixteen debut.

Experts believe none of the No. 1 seeds will make it to Minneapolis for the Final Four, something that has only happened three times since the creation of seeds in 1979. Overlooking Oregon when it faces No. 1 seed Virginia on Thursday is a rookie mistake.

Oregon’s 10-game winning streak is nowhere near burnout. It accumulated 47 points against Wisconsin in the second half and a 52-percent 3-point average over UC Irvine. The Cavs had a rough first half against No. 16 Gardner-Webb in the first round when they were down by 14 at halftime. Payton Pritchard and Kenny Wooten, two of the Ducks’ strongest offensive players, could throw Virginia off its rhythm and push past its defensive wall. Both teams have strong defenses and Oregon may have the talent to end Virginia’s season.

Oregon is one of the hottest teams left in the bracket. And this could be the Ducks’ year to nab the titles of Cinderella and March Madness champion. No one expected Oregon to come this far in the tournament — it proved it would not let its seed define its success in reaching the Sweet Sixteen, and the Ducks won’t stop now.

-Laura Sosovicka, for The Pitt News

An ode to Gronk

Over the weekend, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced his retirement on Instagram. Gronkowski, who has had rumors circulating about his future for the past two offseasons, is finally hanging up his cleats after an incredibly successful but injury-riddled nine-year career.

A player capable of putting on a show both off and on the field, from dancing the night away in Super Bowl celebrations to being arguably the most difficult matchup in recent NFL history, Gronkowski never seemed to come across another player who was fit to defend his combination of size, speed and route running. Cornerbacks were always too small, linebackers rarely had the ability to cover his routes and safeties rarely had the mix of size and speed.

Arguably the most underrated aspect of Gronkowski’s career is his ability to block on the line of scrimmage as well. Tight end mismatches like Gronk seem to be appearing around the league, but few can also double as an elite blocker like Gronkowski did. He truly was an extension of the Patriot offensive line every time he dropped into a 3-point stance.

It is rare for a player who played just nine seasons to make the Hall of Fame, especially one who has missed as much time due to injury as Gronkowski. But there is little doubt as to whether or not Gronk has a place in Canton, Ohio, waiting for him. In 115 games played (100 starts), the stellar tight end hauled in 521 passes for a total 7,861 yards as well an absurd 79 touchdowns. Those freakish numbers, in addition to completely revolutionizing the tight end position in the NFL, make Gronkowski an almost-definite gold jacket recipient.  

-Andrew Kelly, staff writer

Steeler drama isn’t going away

The Pittsburgh Steelers went through a rough breakup a few weeks ago with star wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown had been at odds with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin this past season and it was clear he was unhappy in this city.

The drama came to a close when the Steelers shipped him off to the Raiders for third- and fifth-round draft picks. Star running back Le’Veon Bell also departed in free agency for the New York Jets after sitting out last season.

While many people expected the Steelers drama to go with the players, it didn’t. And it might not for quite some time.

In this day and age of 24/7 social media and sports talk shows, there always has to be something to talk about. There is nothing juicier than a strained relationship gone wrong between two or three of the best players in the league at their respective positions. Other players have added fuel to the fire, such as former Steeler RB Josh Harris suggesting Roethlisberger fumbled on purpose to spite his offensive coordinator at the time.

Now the discussion has turned to Roethlisberger’s leadership skills — or lack thereof — that may have pushed Bell and Brown away. It’s become obvious that whether they like it or not, the spotlight will remain on the Steelers this year. New material will surface. Reporters will continue to barrage all three players with questions about the past. One bad game from Roethlisberger, or a big one from Brown, will cast the topic in a different light and bring it to the forefront just when it seems as if it has slunk into the shadows.

Tomlin, Big Ben and the Steelers may be done with the drama — but the drama isn’t done with them.

-Nick Carlisano, staff writer

Spring is baseball season

Major League Baseball Opening Day is here and the new baseball season surely won’t disappoint. Of course, there will be league powerhouses like the Red Sox, Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs and Astros, but there will be fun teams to watch.

After the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a megadeal and added a potent bat to an already deep lineup, it seems as though the Phillies will field a strong team once again. With the fielding and batting sorted out, the Phillies will be in the running for a division championship, aided by the strength of their pitching, which Fangraphs has ranked No. 12 in the league.

Things will most likely be status quo in the NL Central, as the Cubs and Cardinals will duke it out for first while the Brewers, Reds and Pirates fight for a wild-card appearance. Despite being in the basement of their own division, the Reds and Pirates will surprise the league and prove they can hang with the best — some of the time.

Moving on to the NL West, it would be no surprise for the Dodgers to repeat as division champions, as they are the fourth-highest spenders in the league, according to Spotrac. Although the Dodgers seem likely to remain kings in the West, the team to watch is the Padres, after they signed Manny Machado to a megadeal. Padres general manager AJ Preller has tried to field a strong roster over the years, and after the Diamondbacks and Giants stumbled, this year might be the year for San Diego.

The American League will be a two-way battle between the Red Sox and Yankees for the AL East, with the pennant race likely boiling down to the last month of baseball. In the AL West, the Astros will most likely come out on top with Mike Trout’s Angels fighting for second place. Back across to the Rust Belt, you’ll have the Cleveland Indians claiming the Central for the fourth year running.

Sure, there are reasons to root for the small teams or the teams that are down on their luck, but with baseball, one thing has been proven true — the regular season is a cakewalk for teams with money, and a trial for those that penny-pinch.

To the four teams that will make the wild card: show us a fun season.

-Sami Abu-Obaid, staff writer