Wrapping up a wild first weekend
There’s a good chance by now your NCAA Tournament bracket is busted.
Mine sure is.
But isn’t that what makes March Madness so great?
The upsets, the buzzer beaters, the teams that you don’t even know what their acronym stands for. I’m looking at you Stephen F. Austin – the Lumberjacks that are the pride of Nagadoches, Texas.
Ten double-digit seeds won first-round games on Thursday and Friday.
That’s a record.
No. 10 seeds VCU and Syracuse, No. 11 seeds Gonzaga and Wichita State, No. 12 seeds Yale and Arkansas Little Rock, No. 13-seeded Hawaii, No. 14-seeded Stephen F. Austin and No. 15-seeded Middle Tennessee all toppled its higher-seeded foes.
The number of upsets prompted ESPN.com to – for the first time – promote picking a sweet 16 bracket to allow fans who’s original bracket appeared like a dumpster fire to give it another shot.
After my championship game prediction went up in flames after the first day of the dance – thanks Baylor and Seton Hall – I’ll gladly pass.
But I couldn’t be happier.
Who doesn’t love the underdog? Who doesn’t love seeing David slay Goliath?
Tom Izzo – who has been anointed the king of March because of his success on the dance – got bounced along with his senior-laden Spartans, which were a trendy pick to not only make is to the final four in Houston, but to cut down the nets as well.
The Blue Raiders were simply the better team from the opening tip.
Middle Tennessee led wire-to-wire and hung 90 points on the Spartans vaunted Big 10 defense and Izzo’s golf game can get an abnormally early start this year. The Blue Raiders jumped out to a 15-2 lead and even though Michigan State cut that deficit to a single possession on numerous occasions, Middle Tennessee always had an answer.
Stephen F. Austin carved up West ‘Press’ Virginia’s suffocating full-court press en route to a first-round upset and nearly followed that up with a win over Notre Dame.
Hawaii simply out-played Cal en route to a double-digit win.
Yale out rebounded a much more athletic and bigger Baylor team. If you took the seeds away from the two clubs names you wouldn’t have been able to tell which team was the 5 seed and which was the 12 seed. Yale was that authoritative.
Never-say-die Arkansas Little Rock rallied from 13 down with under four minutes to play to force overtime and eventually top Purdue.
However – as is the case in most years – these Cinderellas don’t wear the slipper for long.
The five aforementioned teams lost by an average of 12.6 points in their round of 32 games with Stephen F. Austin as the exception – losing by just one against Notre Dame.
So now with the first weekend in the books what are we left with?
A whole lot of chalk.
For as unpredictable and chaotic as the entire college basketball season was – and consequently the first two days of the tournament – we are left with some brand names and top seeds in the sweet 16.
Gone are the Middle Tennessee’s and Stephen F. Austin’s of the world and left are bluebloods such as North Carolina, Kansas, Duke and Indiana to name a few. 15 of the 16 teams remaining in the field are from ‘major conferences’ with the exception being Gonzaga, which has been a tournament mainstay the past two decades.
All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the second weekend for the first time since 2012.
So as we reflect on the weekend that was – which could quite possibly be the best four days of college basketball ever – we are left asking what’s next?
Will Gonzaga finally make the final four in a year that they most likely needed the West Coast Conference automatic bid to even make the dance?
Can Syracuse – which didn’t belong in the field as an at large – continue to prove the doubters, like myself, wrong and keep advancing?
Will Duke make a push for a second straight national title or will a team that hasn’t been highly seeded in recent memory, Oregon, dash those hopes?
All of the questions and many more will be answered in the next two weeks as the tournament winds down.
This is the opinion of John Denega a sports reporter who covers Minot High athletics, and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @JohnDenega_MDN.