16 games in to the NCAA Tournament, the common theme was that lower seeds could not and would not be denied. Seven lower seeds were victorious on Thursday.
There wasn't necessarily a lack of excitement on Thursday but it certainly felt like the calm before the storm. Plenty of good games were played but it felt like we had only scratched the surface of March Madness. We had to wait to see if Friday had some madness in store for us.
Boy, did it ever.
In one of the wildest days in tournament history, Friday saw six more lower seeded teams advance to the second round. For the first time ever, a 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15-seed all won on the same day. In addition to that, we had buzzer beaters, near misses, and perhaps the greatest upset in tournament history.
Down goes Sparty
The Michigan State Spartans entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the undisputed favorites to win it all. Other than Kansas, no other team was garnering more attention as a title contender than MSU, led by senior forward and National Player of the Year candidate, Denzel Valentine. Some were even upset that the Spartans were given a 2-seed instead of a 1-seed.
If they had been a 1-seed, today would have been historic for even more reasons. Instead, the Spartans became the eighth 2-seed in tournament history to lose to a 15-seed, falling to Middle Tennessee State, 90-81. Although this 15 over 2 upset has happened eight times, this was perhaps the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State entered the day a 11/2 favorite to win the championship. And brackets were lit on fire across the country as they were picked in 22.3% of ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets to win the national title. (Unfortunately, including mine.)
This incredible defeat can't be accredited to a major failure by the Spartans, but instead must all be given to the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee State jumped out to, ironically, a 15-2 lead and never looked back as they would lead wire-to-wire. They shot a ridiculous 56% from the field, forced the Spartans to turn the ball over an uncharacteristic 14 times and nailed 11 three pointers. It was the national arrival of Blue Raiders forward, Reggie Upshaw, who finished with 21 points. They'll face off with the tenth-seeded Syracuse Orange on Sunday.
Walkup walks all over "Press Virginia"
Speaking of national arrivals, there were whispers before today's game between West Virginia and Stephen F. Austin that the best player on the floor would be Lumberjacks guard/forward, Thomas Walkup. Those people that were whispering are now screaming to the heavens.
Walkup finished with 33 points, nine rebounds and four assists as Stephen F. Austin decimated West Virginia's press defense and eliminated the East Region's 3-seed, 70-56. It was a well-coached and well-played effort that saw one of the best defenses in the country running around in circles. Stephen F. Austin beat West Virginia at their own game, forcing 22 Mountaineer turnovers to SFA's seven. 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin will play the sixth-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Sunday.
Buzzer beaters everywhere
Early on in the day, the Iowa Hawkeyes controlled the Temple Owls for the majority of their contest, with a shot at 2-seed, the Villanova Wildcats on the line. But after Iowa nearly gave the game away, they headed to overtime. At the end of overtime, tied at 70, Hawkeyes guard, Mike Gesell threw up a wild 10-footer that completely missed the rim but Iowa big man, Adam Woodbury, was there to catch the airball and get a putback at the buzzer to send Temple home packing.
That was great but what would come at the end of the night was even better.
In the two final finishes of the evening, the end of round 1 of the NCAA Tournament left March Madness fans with something to remember.
Northern Iowa and Texas engaged in an intense back-and-forth contest. After Longhorns guard, Isaiah Taylor, rushed to the rim and tied the game with a layup with only 2.7 seconds remaining, everyone assumed we were getting another overtime game. Unfortunately for Texas fans, that was not the case. Panthers forward, Paul Jesperson, caught a pass around 50 feet from the basket, took one dribble and put up a half-court heave as time expired. Naturally, with it being March, he banked the shot in. 11th-seeded Northern Iowa defeated Texas, 75-72, and will move on to face 3-seed, Texas A&M.
Shortly after that, the Cincinnati Bearcats thought they had St. Joseph's eliminated in their 8-9 matchup. But Hawks senior leader, Isaiah Miles, sank a three pointer with seven seconds remaining to take a 78-76 lead. That's when things get wild. With the game on the line, the Bearcats were able to get Octavius Ellis an easy play at the rim. Ellis took the opportunity and slammed the ball home, appearing to tie the game. But, upon further review, the ball didn't leave Ellis' hands in time and St. Joe's escaped with the victory. They'll play the Oregon Ducks next.
The Pac-12 set a record! Oh, it's not a good one
The Pac-12 had seven of its 12 members receive NCAA Tournament bids, a wonderful achievement for the conference. Unfortunately, what they did with those bids wasn't so wonderful.
For the first time since the tournament was extended to 64 teams (1985), a conference had five teams lose in the first round as the higher seed. The Arizona Wildcats, USC Trojans and Colorado Buffaloes all lost on Thursday. And the 4-seed California Golden Bears and 7-seed Oregon State Beavers joined them on Friday, both falling to lower-seeded opponents. Cal was setback by injuries and fell to Hawaii, 77-66. And the Beavers, making their first tourney appearance since 1990, lost to VCU, 75-67. Hawaii will play Maryland next and VCU will take on Oklahoma.
After a 2-5 first round record, The only two Pac-12 teams remaining are Oregon and the Utah Utes.
64 has been cut to 32. But we still have an entire weekend of basketball in what has already been one of the wildest tournaments ever.