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March Madness 2017: It’s happening

The best part about March Madness? It doesn’t wait until the NCAA Tournament to start. On Saturday, we had wild games across the board, ranging from ones with huge implications to ones that just gave us a good thrill.

We saw the Maryland Terrapins knock off the Michigan State Spartans with a game-winning three-pointer by Melo Trimble, putting Maryland in a better seeding and Michigan State closer to the bubble. We also watched the Rutgers Scarlet Knights win on a last-second three, beating the Illinois Fighting Illini. That means nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it was still one hell of an ending.

While the game didn’t feature a buzzer-beater, we did get to see the North Carolina Tar Heels delight their fans at Chapel Hill, beating the Duke Blue Devils, 90-83. The win gave North Carolina the ACC regular season championship, setting it up for a potential one seed when Selection Sunday is finished up in a week. The Tar Heels could push their case in the ACC Tournament, especially with a victory or two against teams like Louisville, Maryland and Duke.

Another point to make on the Saturday that was? The best teams won, and in many cases, won handily. This is the time of year where you want to see those programs start to roll, getting ready for postseason play. It’s one thing to lose in the middle of January on the road against Arkansas, but it’s quite another to be stumbling through the late February and early March slate.

Give teams like Villanova, Kansas, Arizona, Oregon and Louisville credit. All of them were supposed to win and did, gearing up for the conference tournaments. The only teams to fall on their faces in the top 25 were the No. 12 Florida Gators and the No. 13 Butler Bulldogs, both of whom go into postseason play in a bit of a funk.

All that said, we’re set for one of the craziest tournaments we’ve had in a long time. For so many of the recent seasons, we have had a couple of huge favorites, whether it was Kentucky, Duke or another blue blood. This year, there are a dozen teams who could win it all.

On Sunday, we’ll see the first March Madness tickets punched. The finals for the Big South, Missouri Valley and Atlantic Sun are all being played out tomorrow, with the best being in The Valley. Illinois State and Wichita State face off, with the winner getting in and the loser having to worry about how the bubble sits beneath it. Honestly, both should get in, but the committee has done stranger things.

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