The Mayhem of March – And Then There Were 8

March 30, 2024

NCAAW: (5) Colorado vs. (1) Iowa

3:30 p.m. ET, ABC

Iowa -7.0 (-110) | O/U 157.5 (-110)

© Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

March means madness. Bracket busting. Cinderella stories. Buzzer beaters.

Want to know the single biggest story of March Madness this year? It might be the biggest upset, nobody-saw-it-coming-story that’s never been a dream much less reality that’s ever been. You ready?

A women’s game is the biggest game of the entire March Madness slate. Not only has that never happened before, but the numbers make it indisputable. On Monday, the No. 1 seed Iowa Hawkeyes – led by none other than household name superstar Caitlin Clark – played West Virginia; the ESPN broadcast averaged 4.9 million viewers marking the largest pre-Final Four audience in women’s March Madness history. By comparison, that’s bigger than any Stanley Cup Finals game last season, and more than half of last year’s World Series per game viewership. Experts estimate that the Iowa-Colorado game could be watched by 9 million or more. Obviously that’s speculative, but Clark is clearly the sport’s most intriguing college player – men’s or women’s.

And while popularity shouldn’t determine how one should wager, one should watch. And as long as one is watching, well, one might as well wager. 

Other than Caitlin Clark’s popularity, how much do you really know about the Iowa-Colorado matchup? These two teams met last year – Colorado seeded 6th, while Iowa was a No. 2 – and Iowa emerged victorious en route to the national championship game. And while Clark’s Hawkeyes are indeed deserving of a one-seed, Colorado might be slightly undervalued as a No. 5. The Buffs spanked No. 12 Drake in the first round by 14 and upset No. 4 Kansas State 63-50 in Round 2.

Meanwhile, Iowa hasn’t necessarily shined. In fact, they thought about blowing it against No. 8 West Virginia, who held the Hawkeyes to their lowest point total of the season (64) in Round 2.  Clark was amazing per usual, scoring half of Iowa’s points, but still, it wasn’t the route most expected.

Colorado was ranked as high as the No. 3 team in the country this season – at times ranked higher than Iowa – and is certainly capable of an upset. While rankings and seeds are subjective, the scoreboard is not. Can the all-time leading scorer in college basketball (men’s and women’s) keep her Hawkeyes rolling? Or does Colorado have other plans?

Hoops Harlan’s Pick: Colorado ML +275 

Warning: If you’re a conspiracy theorist, stick with Iowa, as there’s no doubt that the networks and NCAA would love to keep riding the Caitlin Clark Train. She’s good for business, and there’s no denying it. But if you’re a purist, and you just like basketball and betting, this game feels like a good time for zaggin’ since everyone else is ziggin’. Translation: Clark’s popularity surely has the money pouring in on Iowa; as such, there’s a ton of value to be had by going with Colorado. But it’s not just the flow of dough that matters; Colorado is a legitimate title contender. West Virginia provided a blueprint on how to handle the Hawkeyes – physical perimeter defense that begs anyone other than Clark to score. In fact, excluding Clark, Iowa was 0-for-17 from beyond the arc against West Virginia…zero! Colorado has the ability to play a similar defense, but the Buffs are a better all-around team. At the very least, the Buffs keep this one close (making Colorado +7.0 a good bet, too), but you might as well go for broke and cash in on the +290 should CU pull off the upset. Catch Caitlin Clark at the next level, as this could be her last NCAA game.


NCAAM: (6) Clemson vs. (4) Alabama 

8:49 p.m. ET, CBS

Alabama -3.5 (-110) | O/U 164.5 (-110)

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Paging Mr. Saban…

Paging Mr. Swinney…

Can anyone explain how Alabama and Clemson are matching up in a game of national importance and there’s not a football in sight? Nick Saban has retired? Dabo Swinney is merely watching? And the winner of this game has a legitimate shot at a national title…

…in basketball?

It’s all true, as the Tide and Tigers are fixin’ to square off in the Elite Eight with a trip to the Final Four on the line. In March, both of these “football schools” have been damn good at Dr. Naismith’s peachbasket game.

Alabama’s dramatic win on Thursday night bounced blue-blood North Carolina – a No. 1 seed – and sent the Tide to the Elite Eight for only the second time ever. ‘Bama bigman Grant Nelson seized the national spotlight with a clutch second-half performance, where he scored 19 points, including a three-point play with 38 seconds left to put the Tide up for good. Nelson’s 12 rebounds and 5 blocks makes him Clemson’s biggest concern since Tua Tagovailoain the 2019 CFP National Championship Game.

The Clemson hoops squad may not have a Trevor Lawrence equivalent, per se, but it might boast one of the most balanced and experienced starting fives left in the tourney. Like Alabama, the Tigers sent one of the tournament’s blue-bloods home, taking down No. 2 Arizona on Thursday. Like ‘Bama, Clemson also reaches the Elite Eight for just the school’s second time, although their last appearance came clear back in 1980. Clemson is built on a tenacious defense, as they’ve limited every one of their tournament opponents to below a below 40 shooting percentage; they’re even tougher on three-point shooters, having held both Arizona and New Mexico to below 20 percent from beyond the arc.

It’s a classic offense versus defense matchup, as Alabama averages an impressive 90.7 points per game, while Clemson’s defense gives up just 70.7.

It should be a doozy of a basketball game involving two football schools.

Hoops Harlan’s Pick: Alabama -3.5 (-110) 

Historically speaking, March Madness is often where stars are born. Call it a hunch, but Grant Nelson feels like a star on the rise. His clutch performance against North Carolina – his best game of the season – feels like it could be the opening chapter to a storybook run. Perhaps that’s more fantasy and hyperbole than fact – especially considering that Nelson only scored three in his previous two games – but on Thursday, Nelson emerged as a household name and a potentially big problem for the Tigers. Clemson is scrappy and tough, but in the end, Alabama simply has more firepower – especially if Nelson has truly come into his own at the exact right moment. Sorry Trevor Lawrence, this time the Tide will roll.