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Princeton’s Historic Journey to Become the Face of March Madness During the COVID Era

by Chloe Baker
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Things hadn’t been looking too great for Princeton’s player Tosan Evbuomwan during the first three years of his college career. But eventually, he overcame all these struggles and made it to the NCAA Tournament, even reaching the Sweet 16!

This brave 6-foot-8 Brit has taken an amazing journey and helped the Tigers have success at the NCAA Tournament since 1967. Despite having their entire season cancelled in 2020, losing by two points in the 2022 tournament championship game, and watching three of his friends transfer just to keep playing in 2022-23, he never stopped believing and came out strong on the other side.

Evbuomwan said that they all had a special kind of togetherness during the COVID year, and one of his favorite memories from that time was having video calls with each other to discuss their goal for the next season: win a championship. Now, the Ivy League tourney champions are the talk of everyone and it shows how much of an effect the last two years have been for college basketball.

Nobody thought the Princeton team would succeed this year, especially since three of their top players had left to use an extra season given by the NCAA, but in a different school. Even with these challenges, the Tigers showed courage and chose to stay strong, building friendship and achieving their goals.

Matt Allocco, a Princeton guard, said that he felt sad because they missed out on playing a whole year with other teams. Despite this, it actually helped them in the end because they were able to practice and build relationships together during the spring. Not everyone has positive memories of the COVID-19 pandemic.

San Diego State and Dayton were really upset because the NCAA canceled their dreams of winning a title in 2020. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo also expected to be part of the Final Four tournament this year. Northern Kentucky coach Darrin Horn was supposed to make his return to March Madness after being away for three years, but those plans were ruined too and all he could say was that winning the Horizon League title didn’t even feel real anymore. Nothing can bring back what everyone lost this year – not even the sixteen teams who made it through to the semifinal regionals.

Brian Dutcher from San Diego State’s basketball team is playing against Alabama on Friday. Three years ago, they were supposed to be a really good team and get seeded as one of the top two best teams.

Coach Dutcher recently said that Malachi Flynn, KJ Feagin and Yanni Wetzell were all great players but they never got to play in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Tournament. They missed out on what it feels like to experience the excitement of March Madness, something Coach Dutcher felt bad about because other teams (such as Creighton) did get to experience this amazing opportunity.

In 2021, the tournament gave Creighton University a special combo of emotions: Happiness that they have their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1974, but sadness because it had to be celebrated in an empty arena (which was called the “bubble”).

After Creighton beat Baylor 85-76 last weekend and returned to the Sweet 16, they felt even more pleased with their upcoming game against 15th-seeded Princeton in Louisville.

When the game in Denver was over, there were a lot of people cheering us on – it was more fun to celebrate with them than by ourselves like we did after our last game in Indianapolis. Coach Greg McDermott said that making it to the Sweet 16 is not easy and celebrating in Denver was much more enjoyable.

Baylor won the national championship in 2021, so they had nothing to complain about! Coach Jerome Tang was part of that team and has applied the same techniques to the number three seed Kansas State Wildcats this year. They’ll be facing Izzo’s seventh-seed Spartan team Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Coach Tang believes since their rosters have a lot in common, this could lead to an advantage for Kansas State in the weekend game.

We were stuck in a bubble for 30 whole days. That’s a very long time and we had to get along with every one of us if not, it would have been unbearable. But thankfully our team bonded together, we liked spending time with each other and even 30 days was fun! I feel the same way around these guys too. So no matter how long we stay with them in the bubble, I’m sure we’ll still be having lots of fun– especially Princeton who will definitely have the most fun!

The Tigers have worked so hard that they only need two more wins to make it to the Final Four for the first time in 48 years. It would be historic too, because no Ivy League team has gone this far since Penn did it back in 1979. If the Tigers do end up making it, it’ll be remembered as one of the most impressive and amazing tournament accomplishments ever! And we may have COVID to thank for this opportunity.

“Ryan Langborg, a guard for Princeton, said that having to watch other teams on TV during the tournament last year made him sad. He also said that this season’s Sweet 16 run has made up for it.”

In addition, six other sports writers were involved in writing this report.

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