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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Winners and losers: (Pre) March Madness has begun

Photo by Jaime Rowe
Students sway to the war hymn before Texas A&M’s game against Arkansas on Feb. 20, 2024 at Reed Arena. (Jaime Rowe/The Battalion)

Winner: The balls on Jamal Shead

I realize the title may just be a little provocative, but it’s deserved. Houston senior guard Jamal Shead has been a force in his time with the Cougars and is a big reason why they sit No. 1 in the country right now.

The Manor native has grown each year and, besides being a dog on defense, has the clutch gene that Houston has needed. Starting in March 2023 and with overtime looming between Houston and Memphis, Shead took it the length of the court and stopped on a dime to get an inch of separation to knock down his first career game-winning buzzer-beater.

The senior hasn’t slowed down since then. In Houston’s most recent matchup against Oklahoma with a potential upset brewing, the guard again took it full court. This time around, he was hobbled by a leg injury and on a crazy layup attempt, the ball bounced out and around two players like pinball and with just two seconds left, Shead did it again.

He picked up the loose ball and did the damn thing, knocking down another game winner to give Houston the win. And just in time too, with March Madness around the corner.

Loser: (Early) March Madness-esque loss for Ball State

Just imagine you’re a student at Ball State for a second. It’s been a great back-and-forth between a fierce Western Michigan team and it goes to overtime.

More basketball is played and it comes down to the wire. With 15 seconds left, the Broncos lay it up to go up by two. No biggie, it’s still winnable. Just calm down for a second and collect your breath and … the clock is at three seconds left?

Wait, there’s a whistle as Cardinals junior forward Mickey Pearson Jr. gets fouled on a 3-point attempt?

The first shot clanks off. No biggie, just knock ’em down and tie the game and go to double overtime.

He hits the last two and the Broncos have to inbound it from full court, we’re going to double overtime. I’ll be right back to go use the restroom real quick.

Wait, what’d I miss? Western Michigan won? What happened???

Now, stop imagining. This is their reality. A full-court pass that was supposed to be easily picked off, or at least batted away, slipped through everyone and the last line of defense in freshman F Mason Jones just … runs up? And the ball bounces into a Broncos player’s hands for the buzzer-beater lay-up.

Yep, March Madness has come early and, oh, is it sweet.

Winner: Indiana State’s cult following

As the calendars flip over to March and college basketball becomes the main focus of our sports culture, the Indiana State Sycamores feel like a prime candidate to tug at America’s heartstrings.

The Sycamores extended their win streak to four when they beat Murray State 89-77 to be crowned as the Missouri Valley Conference regular season champions this week.

March Madness has always been, and particularly since the advent of social media, a star-making vehicle for the plucky underdogs. We all know the legendary performances of Jimmer Fredette in 2011, Doug Edert’s mustache taking over the country on Saint Peter’s Cinderella run or Markquis Nowell’s heroics for Kansas State last year.

The icons of old will welcome Robbie Avila to their ranks this year. Avila is a 6-foot-10, 240 pound center who just dropped 35 on Evansville this week. Indiana State’s goggle-sporting leading scorer has already earned the nickname “Cream Abdul Jabbar” on social media, and his Nikola Jokic-like playstyle makes him a force to be reckoned with.

The Sycamores and Avila are not just a good story, though. The team is 12th in scoring offense and third in field goal percentage. Indiana State’s continued success has it poised to be this year’s tournament darling, and if this ushers in an entire generation of kids wearing goggles and pretending to be Avila, count me in.

Loser: Bill Self’s nonchalance

The No. 7 Kansas Jayhawks are on a two-game skid after losing to BYU on Tuesday, 76-68, and to No. 15 Baylor on Saturday, 82-74. Coach Bill Self downplayed the Baylor loss in his post-game press conference.

“I actually thought we did some good things,” said Self. “We only focus on the end result as opposed to the actions and everything that goes into it.”

Uh, Bill? Your team just lost its most conference games since the 1988-89 season. It’s the time of the year when results matter.

Kansas has won two national championships under Self, but losing back-to-back matchups to other competitive teams this late in the season is concerning. Although it is the 14th-ranked team, some statistics show that the Jayhawks have major deficiencies. Kansas is 320th in the nation on the offensive glass and 316th in 3-pointers made.

A duel with No. 1 Houston looms large in the ultimate game of the Jayhawks’ regular season. After a disappointing second-round exit last season, Kansas needs to right the ship before a similar fate awaits it in this year’s tourney.

Winner: Gonzaga’s eight-game streak

Since the start of February, the Zags are 8-1 with wins over then-No. 17 Kentucky and a tough No. 17 Saint Mary’s squad. Zag fans can stop holding their breath after competing in next week’s West Coast Conference Tournament, where a rematch against the Gaels likely awaits them.

A back-to-back win over the No. 1 team in the conference would likely be enough fuel for the committee to punch Gonzaga’s ticket to the Big Dance. With a win, the Zags could finally step out of Saint Mary’s looming shadow that has casted over them for the Gaels’ 16-game winning streak.

Gonzaga also shows up in the NCAA stat sheets multiple times, most notably as the No. 2 team in field goal percentage at 51.8, a top 20 team in assists/turnover ratio and top 15 in defending against field goals. While these accolades do not automatically transition into wins in March, they are a key indicator for predicting the fakes from the ones that make it into the Final Four.

With the way the Bulldogs have played so far this year, I believe this 24-win team is ripe for another deep tournament run.

Loser: Alabama against Tennessee and other ranked opponents

The high-powered Crimson Tide have fallen short against top ranked opponents this season, especially in the loaded SEC.

When breaking down the Tide’s make-or-break losses, ones that typically stick out to the committee are against the consistently ranked top-10 Tennessee. First, a 20-point loss in January in Knoxville, Tennessee, then most recently a 7-point loss at home.

Alabama struggles mostly on the defensive side this season, even after losing offensive power Brandon Miller to the NBA Draft after last year. The Crimson Tide rank 332nd in scoring defense, allowing 79.2 points a game for dead last in the SEC.

On the flip side, Alabama has had 10 games with more than 100 points scored on offense. There is nothing concerning about the Tide’s ability to shoot and score baskets. They have four players averaging double digits in points while shooting a collective 48% and 37.5% from behind the arc.

The key to Alabama’s success in the SEC Tournament and in March Madness is to either outscore its opponents severely or to learn how to guard. This team is shaping up for an unpredictable run this month.

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About the Contributor
Justin Chen
Justin Chen, Sports Writer
Justin Chen is a journalism senior minoring in sport management and communication. Justin has covered football, men's basketball, volleyball, baseball and swim & dive. Justin also writes feature NBA pieces and covered the Miami Heat for Sir Charles In Charge. When not writing, he likes to frequent the gym, support Arsenal and watch anime.
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