For the three weeks from mid-March to the first weekend of April, it seems as if the whole world stops to appreciate the buzzer beaters, Cinderella stories and busted brackets of the NCAA men’s basketball championships. Competition began with 68 teams, and as of Thursday, March 23, only 16 teams remain.
On Thursday, March 16, the true March Madness began. The first game of the tournament pitted No. 5 Notre Dame versus No. 12 Princeton. Princeton missed a three to win the game as time expired, and Notre Dame pulled out the victory 60-58.
There were only two major upsets on day one. The first came from No. 12 Middle Tennessee State, who beat No. 5 Minnesota 81-72. The other upset occurred when No. 6 Maryland fell to No. 11 Xavier 76-65.
In arguably the most exciting game of the day, No. 8 Northwestern managed to hold off No. 9 Vanderbilt for their first ever NCAA tournament victory. Northwestern was down by one with 15 seconds remaining and was on the path to be sent home, but luckily, a Vanderbilt player fouled Northwestern’s Brian McIntosh, who sunk a pair of free throws to put the Wildcats ahead. A missed three-pointer by Vanderbilt as time expired sealed the victory for Northwestern in the first of many March miracles.
Overall, the day was (relatively) boring, with little upsets and few close games.
Day two of March Madness felt similar to the first. In one of the earlier games, No. 7 Michigan prevailed over No. 10 Oklahoma State 92-91. The game went back and forth until the last minute, when Derrick Walton Jr. converted a two-pointer to give Michigan the lead. This game was the highest scoring game through the first weekend of the tournament.
In a game between No. 8 Arkansas and No. 9 Seton Hall, a questionable call late in the game may have changed the game’s outcome. With 24 seconds left, Seton Hall was trailing by just one point, and it seemed as if the game would come down to the wire. A travel by Seton Hall gave Arkansas the ball, and afterward, a few Seton Hall and Arkansas players got tangled up in what was called a flagrant foul. Seton Hall ended up losing the game 77-71. Many fans and commentators complained about the call that potentially cost Seton Hall the game.
No. 11 University of Southern California pulled off one of the wins of the day against No. 6 Southern Methodist University. After the first half, Southern Methodist led the Trojans by 12. USC took their first lead with two minutes left, and Elijah Stewart hit a three with 36 seconds left to secure the upset 66-65.
Rhode Island, also seeded 11, pulled off the upset against No. 6 Creighton 88-72 in their first tournament appearance in 18 years. Additionally, No. 10 Wichita State upset No. 7 Dayton 64-58.
Round one of the tournament had some of the fewest surprises of a round one in recent memory, with all of the top 16 teams advancing. Round two, however, easily made up for this.
No. 4 West Virginia was the first team to advance to the Sweet 16, defeating Notre Dame 83-71. They were followed by No. 8 Wisconsin, who shocked the nation by defeating reigning champions and top-seeded Villanova 65-62 in one of the most exciting games of the first weekend. Northwestern came close to giving No. 1 Gonzaga the same fate, but Gonzaga prevailed 79-73.
No. 11 Xavier continued their run by routing No. 3 Florida State in a 91-66 landslide victory. They are the only double-digit seed remaining. Second seed Arizona and No. 4 seeds Butler, West Virginia and Purdue also advanced.
The last day of the Round of 32 was a rough day for No. 2 seeds. Kentucky advanced by defeating Wichita State, but both Louisville and Duke fell on Sunday. Louisville was leading by as much as nine points in the second half but was unable to hold on as they fell 73-69 to Michigan.
On the other hand, Duke’s loss to No. 10 South Carolina was one that nobody saw coming. After scoring just 23 points in the first half, the Gamecocks came out on fire in the second half, scoring 65 points on 70-percent shooting. This was good enough to give them the upset of the tournament thus far, 88-81.
The rest of Sunday went pretty much according to plan. It was a great day to be a three seed: UCLA defeated No. 6 Cincinnati; Oregon hung on to beat Rhode Island, and Baylor squeezed past USC. Top seeds Kansas and North Carolina also advanced, defeating No. 9 Michigan State and Arkansas, respectively.
As usual, most March Madness brackets are busted after the first weekend. According to ESPN, only two perfect brackets remain. One has Wisconsin winning it all, while the other has the University of North Carolina dancing on April 3. Nobody knows how the rest of the tournament will go, but there will most certainly be madness as the tournament continues with Sweet Sixteen action.