By Joseph Frescott and Andrew Scarpaci, Sports Editors
The 2023 March Madness tournaments came to their triumphant conclusions, with UConn and LSU winning the men’s and women’s tournaments respectively.
This year’s tournaments were historic for a number of reasons.
In the men’s bracket, a conference rival of LIU in the Northeast Conference (NEC) made history when Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) became the second 16-seed to defeat a 1-seed when they defeated Purdue 63-58 in the first round. Upsets were a theme in this year’s tournament, as it was the first time in history that there was not a 1-seed in the Elite Eight.
Junior Adelphi University history major Michael Serrao had a plethora of takeaways from this year’s tournament.
“I was shocked but not surprised to see Purdue go down in the first round. They are an absolute joke of a program right now. They have came up way too short in the past few tournaments for it to be acceptable for their level of prestige amongst the rest of the NCAA. I knew national player of the year, Zach Edey, was a fraud, but I didn’t expect him to choke that early in the tournament,” he said. “Florida Atlantic’s story was a great one to watch as a 9-seed making it to the Final Four. I wish Kansas State made it farther, as they were a major sleeper pick for me. [Markquis] Nowell is insanely talented for such an undersized guard. I think he will make a great backup point guard in the NBA. The University of Miami and San Diego State had great tournaments too. I feel bad for SDSU because they were the best team in the country in 2020 when the tournament was canceled due to COVID. They made it all the way to the championship game and lost, which has got to hurt.”
These unexpected outcomes weren’t exclusive to the men’s tournament, however, as the women’s bracket featured many surprising results. While the first few rounds went as anticipated, Iowa’s Caitlyn Clark led her team to a shocking 77-73 victory when she scored 41 points against the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks in the Final Four. This performance would not be enough to win the tournament, as the 3-seed LSU cruised to a 102-85 victory against Iowa in the Championship.
LSU’s victory garnished plenty of media attention, but not for the reasons that either team intended. Following the win, First Lady Jill Biden tweeted that she wanted both LSU and Iowa to visit the White House, which is extremely uncommon across both college and professional sports. Associated Press All-America First Teamer Angel Reese received criticism for both her on-court taunting and her comments regarding the First Lady’s tweets, in which she showed clear disapproval of the remarks.
Serrao sided with Reese on this issue.
“Why would both teams from a championship visit the White House? The point is that the championship winner gets to go to the White House, not the loser too. If both teams get to go, then what is the incentive to win the game?” Serrao said. “LSU’s celebrations were mimicking that of Caitlyn Clark from Iowa. She had a signature you can’t see me celebration that she did throughout the tournament. What’s the big deal if someone does it back to her? That’s part of the game. That’s part of sports. That’s part of trash-talking. If you are going to trash talk, showboat, and celebrate when you’re winning, you better be able to take that same behavior being done back to you when you are losing. Why are people so soft? Clark even said herself that it’s part of the game, and if you are gonna talk trash, you better be able to get it back. If this is her stance, then why are we defending her?”
Outside of the on-court action and off-court controversy, this year’s tournament marked the last for one of the most iconic voices in all of sports. After spending 32 years covering March Madness, broadcaster Jim Nantz called his last game on Monday, when 4-seed University of Connecticut (UCONN) defeated 5-seed San Diego State University (SDSU) 76-59 to win their fifth national championship.
Serrao recognizes that this tournament marked the end of an era.
“Obviously, Jim Nantz is an all-time great. So, it’s really sad to see him go. As a sports fan, we become attached to certain announcers, usually the good ones. Nantz has some legendary calls that will go down in history along with the moments themselves,” he said. “Jim Nantz retiring only signals to me that I am getting old because I remember hearing his voice watching games as far back as I can remember. He should be remembered as one of the best announcers in sports history, and aspiring broadcasting majors should look up to him.”
Nantz, who will continue to call the Masters and NFL games for CBS, concluded his final college basketball broadcast by alluding to his infamous opening, “Hello friends.”
“Can I tell you one other thing? I mean this, not to try to play off ‘Hello friends,’ but to you, everyone in the college game, my CBS family, my family, all the viewers, thank you for being my friend,” Nantz said.
St. Joseph’s Brooklyn alumni George Garyfallos felt the unprecedented number of upsets in this year’s tournament was to be anticipated.
“March Madness is great. Every year a lot of teams with number-one seeds lose. It’s just a matter of getting hot at the right time,” he said. “The number one seeds were overhyped this year. Purdue always loses in the first round, and Alabama is a football school. I was a real believer in Gonzaga this year.”
Portledge Senior and Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse commit Daniel Shalam had high expectations for the UConn Huskies heading into the tournament.
“My prediction for March Madness this year was either UCLA or UConn winning it all. From broadcasting UConn, I had a good feeling about them. But, at the same, UCLA was a sneaky pick as they had lots of experience from the past few years to guide them to winning the Final Four,” he said. “One thing I should’ve considered was that no team west of Dallas has won the national championship since 1999. Another pick I considered was Creighton. They were top 40 in all KenPom stats. I had them going to the Final Four, but they bowed out to SDSU in the elite eight.”
Despite no #1 seeds making it to the Elite 8 for the first time ever, Shalam believes this year’s tournament was the best he has ever seen.
“This year’s March Madness was the most fun by far. Once we saw a #1 seed got knocked off for only the second time in history, it was bound to be a weird one. I felt as if some of these upsets were bound to happen, #3 Virginia is always a fluke team in the big dance and Arizona as a #2 seed was just too high,” he said.
Shalam speaks on the business aspect of having teams with less recognition making a deep run.
“While we as fans of March Madness liked the upsets, CBS sports was not a fan as they saw the lowest ever recorded viewership for a March Madness final,” he said. “Personally, I think it’s a good thing for the game as more mid-major schools get the spotlight, but it definitely is not the same without Duke, UNC, or Gonzaga making an appearance.”
Shalam, who interns at WCWP, got to see the UConn Huskies play live when they competed against the Sharks, calling the game for LIU Sports Radio.
“Being able to call the UConn-LIU game was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. For one, it was my second time calling a Division One game, and on top of that, the Sharks were on the road, meaning that we got to travel with the team to Storrs, CT. The anticipation was building. At that point in time, UConn was ranked #5 nationally. With that in mind, we didn’t expect the Sharks to come out victors in the game but tried to soak up every part of the experience,” he said. “Waking up on Saturday morning, we traveled with the team to the Gampel Pavilion, home of the Huskies. Walking into the arena was astonishing. The 10,000-person arena was empty, and I could imagine what it would be like in two hours’ time. UConn couldn’t have been more accommodating to us, as they had game notes, all access press passes, and more than 10 outlets.”
Shalam claimed the atmosphere of this game is unlike anything for a broadcast he has ever worked.
“As we started to set up about 45 minutes from tip-off, I saw a rush of UConn students flooding the stadium. Every one of them rushed to get a seat for the prized student on the right of the UConn midcourt logo, located right behind the basket. Even though this was an out-of-conference game, it seemed as if UConn were taking it like it was the National Championship.” he said. “As the game was about to begin, UConn had their players intros, and the crowd got deafening. It felt like I was screaming for the entire broadcast just due to the sheer noise of the UConn faithful. It will always be one of my favorite memories. To be able to say I broadcasted one of UConn’s games during their national championship season will stick with me forever.”
After watching them play, Shalam was sure this team was bound for greatness.
“When you have a starting five of Joey Calcterra, Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr and Tristan Newton, good things are bound to happen. What we saw in the game against the Sharks was depth. UConn didn’t even start 7-foot-2-inch Donovan Clingan or, as they like to call him in Storrs, ‘Kling Kon.’ UConn had two elite shooters in Calcaterra and Hawkins, paired with Newton and Jackson Jr. as the guards. It makes it really hard to limit scoring against this team,” he said. “Even when you force a bad shot, Clingan and Sanogo are there for the rebound, making it hard for any team to score and defend efficiently against the Huskies. After seeing them play, I had a gut feeling they were championship bound. On top of that, head coach Dan Hurley was the perfect piece to complete this UConn team and make them champions.”
Shalam was certain this team was bound to win it all by the time they made the Final Four.
“I thought that once UConn blew out Gonzaga in the Elite Eight, they were bound to win it all. Nobody just glides past Gonzaga like that. UConn was getting lots of doubt coming into the tournament. They didn’t play amazing down the stretch in Big East play, finishing 13-7 in conference,” he said. “It was a surprise to all of us that UConn dominated, but the coaching of Dan Hurley would put any team with that type of talent in the finals.”
Following this National Championship, Shalam would love to see these UConn players make it to the league.
“Every member of this UConn starting five could go to the NBA. Every one of these players was in the spotlight in the final, and there is no doubt the NBA scouts are ready and waiting for each one of these players to graduate,” he said.