Starting with 64 teams just a few days ago, I can now say the Sweet 16 field is set.
Tipping-off early on Thursday, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament certainly hasn’t disappointed. Four days of college hoops insanity has the nation salivating for more orange roundball this upcoming Thursday. Upsets galore, nail-biting endings, buzzer beaters, and a historic victory by the No. 16-seeded UMBC Retrievers over the No. 1-overall seed Virginia Cavaliers have captured America’s hearts and minds.
Never has a No. 16-seed knocked off a No. 1. . . Until this past Friday night! Yes, the Retrievers from the University of Maryland Baltimore-County completed an epic upset of UVA in resounding fashion. A close win would have sufficed. However, UMBC took down the No. 1-overall seeded Cavaliers by 20 points. They simply dominated. Busted brackets, heartbreak for Virginia fans, and love for that underdog Cinderella that the country was waiting for came quickly. So, say goodbye to the 135-0 record the No. 1-seeds had over the No. 16-seeds all these years. Say hello to 135-1, folks.
Mar 16, 2018; Charlotte, NC, USA; UMBC Retrievers guard Jairus Lyles (10) celebrates beating the Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
It wasn’t a good thing to be a No. 4 this past Thursday and Friday. Two No. 4-seeded teams got straight dropped by No. 13-seeds, and the other two barely survived the First Round of the Tournament. Congrats to the Buffalo Bulls and the Marshall Thundering Herd. Buffalo completely dismantled the Arizona Wildcats by 21. And Arizona came into the Tourney playing great basketball. What about Marshall? Well, they shocked the Shockers of Wichita State by six points. Meanwhile, the Auburn Tigers and Gonzaga Bulldogs both scratched and clawed their ways to measly four-point victories over those pesky No. 13 squads.
It’s the best sporting event in the galaxy because of its one-and-done format. And, the 2018 NCAA Tourney has given all of us a taste of how difficult reaching the Final Four and winning a national championship can be.
How about Loyola University Chicago? The No. 11-seed utilized a dagger from Donte Ingram at the buzzer from the land of plenty to sink Miami’s ship in their opener, 64-62. That wasn’t enough for this extremely talented mid-major team. The Ramblers from LUC played an absolutely fantastic game against the No. 3-seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the Second Round. LUC took the lead on a Clayton Custer runner that bounced on the rim several times and even hit glass before it found the bottom of the net with 3.6 seconds remaining. Tennessee was able to jack-up one last heave at the hoop from the land of plenty as the horn sounded. The shot drew back iron, and the Ramblers marched on with their 63-62 “W” to the Sweet 16.
The fun and excitement that is March Madness didn’t stop here. A second No. 1 went down, this time in the Second Round on Sunday when No. 9-seeded Florida State finished off a big-time rally to upset the Xavier Musketeers. A miraculous 22-point comeback from the Nevada Wolf Pack against the Cincinnati Bearcats found yet another higher seed falling to a lower seed. In this one, a No. 7 brought down a No. 2. Another buzzer beater had the No. 3-seed Michigan Wolverines defeating the Houston Cougars. Freshman Jordan Poole’s release from the deep, deep right wing with his legs scissored in the air splashed down to crush Houston’s hearts, sending Maze and Blue Nation into an absolute frenzy.
That brings me to the No. 3-seeded Michigan State Spartans. Such a trendy pick to win the national title that even former President Barack Obama, had Sparty going all the way in his bracket. But in the Second Round, they found themselves facing the No. 11-seed Syracuse Orange and Head Coach Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone defense. In the end, the Orange secured the orange to advance to the Sweet 16 with an ugly 55-53 upset of MSU.
What about the defending champion North Carolina Tar Heels? As a No. 2, they faced a No. 7 in essentially a home game in front of a pro-Tar Heel crowd in Charlotte, NC. Trailing 20-13 in the first half, the Texas A&M Aggies found their stride with an absurd 29-8 run to close the opening half. Tyler Davis & Co. played solid defense and buried a bevy of triples to stun UNC, 86-65, punching their ticket to the Sweet 16. But the highlight of the evening was Robert Williams III’s windmill deluxe slam that delivered the exclamation point to the Aggies’ stunning victory.
I can’t wait to see what unfolds when the Sweet 16 gets underway on Thursday. And by Sunday evening, the Final Four will be set to travel to the Alamodome in San Antonio, TX.