May 19, 2024

Round of 64 roundup

Assistant sports editor David Bradford recaps the wild opening round games of March Madness.

Photo obtained via creativecommons.org. No changes made.

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Everyone can relate to this scene: a trash can, crumpled-up piece of paper, and damp tissues.

No, you aren’t throwing away a breakup note from your girlfriend of a few months. You’re tossing away something you’ve developed an even stronger bond with:

Your bracket.

Face it, your bracket is probably busted at this point and your room is now an indoor pool after shedding so many tears (thank you, Midwest Region).

And that’s because this March Madness has been especially mad thus far. After two days, not a single registered bracket is mistake free. A record 10 double-digit seeds advanced to the round of 32. Overall, 13 teams seeded higher than their round-of-64 opponent advanced.

Just when you think you’ve cracked the March Madness code, a new series of puzzling buzzer-beaters and upsets further validates that the only word that perfectly describes the NCAA Tournament is unpredictable.

Throw out your thinking caps for the rest of the tournament. Based on what has transpired, the madness has only begun.

Here’s a quick recap of the chaos.

Midwest Region

No region caused the abrupt downfall of more brackets than the Midwest. No. 1 seed Virginia had its way with Hampton. No big deal. No. 9 Butler trailed early against Texas Tech, but pulled out the 71-61 victory. No big deal.

Then, the inevitable 12-over-5 upset happened.

No. 5 Purdue had a 14-point lead late in the second half over the Trojans of Little Rock before Josh Hagins decided to etch his name in March Madness lore. With Little Rock down 70-67 in the game’s waning seconds, Hagins launched a rainbow three from the March Madness logo… and drilled it. Then, in overtime, with the Boilermakers searching for every way possible to maintain their slim lead, Hagins kissed a layup off the backboard to tie the game at 75 with 18 seconds remaining. Eventually, Purdue’s lack of offensive composure caught up with them in the second overtime. Trojans 85, Boilermakers 83.

But the bracket killer of all bracket killers was Middle Tennessee’s historic upset over the Michigan State Spartans, 90-81. Despite being slotted as a No. 2 seed, the Spartans were the Midwest’s prohibited favorite to advance to Houston. A third-straight tournament battle with Virginia in the Elite Eight was set up perfectly… until the Blue Raiders quickly established a 15-2 lead over the 16.5-point favorites. It’s hard to believe this, especially from a Tom Izzo coached team, but the Spartans never led against Middle Tennessee. They came close on several occasions, but could never string together enough quality offensive possessions and defensive stops. The Blue Raiders caught fire from beyond the arc (11-of-19) and held Denzel Valentine to 13 points and six turnovers.

South Region

The South region was fairly tame compared to the rest of the field. No. 13 Hawaii upset a short-handed Cal team, Iowa survived against Temple after an inexplicable foul on a three-point shooter with two seconds remaining sent the game into overtime, and Wichita State had no sweat beating Arizona (although Sean Miller certainly did). Other than those games, everything went according to plan.

East Region

If there was ever a chance for a No. 16 seed to stun a top-seeded team, it belonged in the hands of Florida Gulf Coast after trailing by one to the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels at the half. Of course, the Heels turned on the heat in the second half and won convincingly.

USC lost in embarrassing fashion. Up 69-68 with three seconds remaining, the Trojans thought it was the proper time to play head-in-the-clouds inbound defense. The Friars’ Rodney Bullock found an opening under the basket, received the inbound pass, and calmly converted on the game-winning layup.

Notre Dame trailed Michigan 41-29 at the half before outscoring the Wolverines 41-22 in the second half en route to a 70-63 victory. No. 14 Stephen F. Austin’s defense outperformed “Press” Virginia, forcing 22 turnovers. Not too surprising considering the Lumberjacks finished the season first in forced turnover percentage.

West Region

Beware everyone, there’s a baby-faced assassin on the loose. In Yale’s 79-75 upset over Baylor, Makai Mason scored 31 points and consistently hit clutch free throws that derailed the Bears’ comeback efforts. The Bulldogs’ win sets up a favorable match-up against Duke, who lack depth and struggled mightily on defense against UNC-Wilmington.

Think it’s tough to be Baylor right now? What about Cincinnati? The Bearcats entered their first-round match-up against St. Joe’s fresh off a heartbreaking quadruple-overtime loss to UConn in the AAC quarterfinals. Rather than falling victim to a miraculous 75-foot shot, Cincinnati’s Octavius Ellis’ game-tying dunk was a hair too late.

What had been missing from all the memorable games and performances was a classic buzzer beater. Thanks to Paul Jesperson, college basketball fans were spoiled at the tail end of the opening-round games. In an instant classic, Northern Iowa and Texas traded blow after blow, most notably during the final sequence of the game. Texas’ Isaiah Taylor’s tied the game at 72 with under three seconds remaining after a tough contested floater, but was outdone by Jesperson’s ensuing half-court bank shot, sending the Panthers to the round of 32.

There you have it, folks. A quick rundown of a historically-mad opening round to March Madness. Stay tuned here at TNJN for further March Madness updates.

Featured image courtesy of Hillel Steinberg

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Follow me @DavidJBradford1 on Twitter, email me at dbradfo2@vols.utk.edu for any questions.