As the first two days of the NCAA Tournament proved to be mostly chalk, Saturday decided to shake things up a bit.
The overall number one Villanova Wildcats were the first top seed to go down, falling to the 8-seeded Wisconsin Badgers 65-62. Veteran leaders Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig poured in 19 and 17 points respectively for the Badgers, two veterans who should be quite familiar to Arizona Wildcats fans. Josh Hart scored 19 for Villanova, but committed a turnover in the final seconds that sealed the victory for the Badgers.
This marks the fourth straight year that Wisconsin will be in the Sweet Sixteen. Villanova continues the 10-year drought of a repeat champion in college basketball, last accomplished in 2007 by the Florida Gators. Wisconsin will actually face the Gators in the Sweet Sixteen; more on that later.
Out West, the 11-seeded Xavier Musketeers joined the bracket busting party by upending the 3-seeded Florida State Seminoles in a lopsided 91-66 affair. Trevon Bluiett continued to light up the scoreboard, putting in 29 points for Xavier.
The Musketeers were unfazed by Florida State’s size and length inside, opting instead to attack from outside with a barrage of three-pointers. The Musketeers shot a ridiculous 64% from beyond the arc, with the majority of the damage being done by Bluiett (3-5) and Kaiser Gates (4-5).
Next up for the Musketeers? Your own Arizona Wildcats.
Over in the Midwest, the 5-seed Iowa State Cyclones and the 4-seed Purdue Boilermakers took an odd route to a close 80-76 Purdue victory. The Boilermakers nearly blew what was, at one point, a 19 point lead, only to hang on for the narrow victory.
Purdue will go on to play the winner of the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks and the 9-seed Michigan State Spartans. It’s a stretch to call a 4-seed over a 5-seed an “upset”, but we’re going to go with it purely by the math. This was the only game in the Midwest region on Saturday, so much of that bracket will be determined after tomorrow’s games.
Outside of these three match-ups, the chalk line continued to hold. That said, no upsets did not equal no drama.
In the West, the 1-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs brought to an end the magical season of the 8-seed Northwestern Wildcats, edging the first-time entrant to the tournament by a score of 79-71. Gonzaga put some distance between themselves and the Wildcats early, but Northwestern crept back to within five late in the game.
Then all hell broke loose.
On a dunk attempt by Northwestern’s Derek Pardon, a blatant goaltending violation on Gonzaga’s Zach Collins went uncalled by the officials. The replay showed that Collins literally had his hand up through the basket. Northwestern coach Chris Collins (defensibly) went berserk on the officials, earning himself a technical foul. Gonzaga made both free throws and a basket on the ensuing possession, essentially completing a six-point swing at a critical juncture in the game. Northwestern would never fully recover.
The NCAA has since released a statement stating what everyone already knew, that you still aren’t allowed to do that in a basketball game. That said, a win is a win, and Gonzaga survives to play West Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.
The remaining game in the West region (outside of Arizona and St. Mary’s) saw the 4-seed West Virginia Mountaineers defeat the 5-seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish by a score of 83-71. The game opened with a 10-0 run by the Mountaineers, and the Irish never mounted much of a comeback after that.
Though it might be fair to call Xavier a bit of a surprise, the West region has produced four incredibly talented teams in the Sweet Sixteen. Expect both games to be competitive, and the added layer of Xavier and Sean Miller is a cherry on top.
Finally, the remaining two games provided the least amount of real drama. In fact, one was downright ugly.
Though the 12-seed Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders were a trendy pick to win their first round game, they met their end at the hands of the 4-seed Butler Bulldogs by a score of 74-65. The Blue Raiders lost their touch from beyond the arc, shooting a meager 21% on the night, while Butler’s Kelan Martin chipped in 19 points off the bench for the Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, in the East region, the 5-seed Virginia Cavaliers completely forgot what a basketball is, putting up 17 total points in the first half and 39 points overall in a losing “effort” to the 4-seed Florida Gators, falling 65 - 39. The Cavaliers made one total three point shot and went 16-of-54 from the field. Everyone is glad this game is over.
Butler will face the winner of 1-seed North Carolina Tar Heels vs. 8-seed Arkansas Razorbacks, while Florida will play the aforementioned victorious Wisconsin Badgers.