The Craziest Weekend of the Year


Ben Auten, Staff Writer

Last weekend, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, or, “March Madness,” lived up to its name yet again. After 4 play-in games during the mid week, the Madness began on Thursday afternoon when 64 teams fought to keep their season alive against the best of the best.

The tournament opened in Providence, Rhode Island when the 4 seed Duke Blue Devils looked to defend their title against in-state foe UNC-Wilmington. And the madness began from opening game, as the upset-minded Seahawks led by 3 at the half, but Blue Devils senior Marshall Plumlee and sophomore star Grayson Allen fended off a pesky Wilmington team on their way to a 93-85 victory. That was followed by a couple of 11 vs 6 seed upsets after mid majors Wichita State and Gonzaga continued their successful ways in March. Additionally, as per usual there were a couple of 12 seeds, Arkansas-Little Rock and Yale, who knocked off 5 seeds Purdue and Baylor, respectively. Little Rock used a late, miraculous comeback over the Boilermakers. Little Rock guard Josh Hagins and Bulldogs guard Makai Mason each scored 31 points to lead their team to their first ever tournament victory. Top seed in the East region, UNC, ran away from an athletic Florida Gulf Coast team who were hoping to replicate their Cinderella story in the 2013 tournament, behind a strong second half performance from senior All-American Brice Johnson, after the Heels led by just 1 point at the break. Then, in the nightcap, 8 seed USC and 9 seed Providence came down to the wire. Friar duo Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil kept Providence in the game, but the real star was forward Rodney Bullock who got open under the basket and scored the game winning layup on inbounds play with 1.5 seconds left as Providence squeezed past USC to finish off a hectic first night of the NCAA Tournament.

However, the Madness had only begun. There were 16 more first round matchups on Friday as well, and the upsets kept rolling in. 13 seed Hawaii knocked off a California team that was considered by some to be the most talented team in the field, to give the Rainbow Warriors a tournament win just before NCAA sanctions will keep them out of the postseason the next few years. Then, in the biggest surprise of the tournament thus far, 15 seed Middle Tennessee took down a senior-laden Michigan State team that looked prime for a national championship run. If your bracket had made it that far rather unscathed, the Blue Raiders spoiled your hopes and dreams of a perfect bracket. Led by the NCAA leader in three point percentage, Giddy Potts Jr. and forward, Reggie Upshaw, Middle Tennessee put on an offensive clinic while holding Spartan guard and National Player of the Year candidate, Denzel Valentine to just 13 points. The glass slipper appeared to fit for the Blue Raiders, but their Cinderella run ended Sunday against 1o seed Syracuse. 5th seed Maryland held off a South Dakota State comeback in the first round and took down 13 seed Hawaii to advance to their first Sweet 16 in thirteen years. But the real star of Friday was Stephen F. Austin guard Thomas Walkup who scored 33 points, grabbed 9 rebounds, and dished out 4 assists to lead the upset-minded Lumberjacks over 3 seed West Virginia. Later that night, similar to the way Thursday ended, Friday night was capped off with two game winners in the span of 10 real-time minutes. First, 11 seed Northern Iowa was clinging on to an upset victory over Texas with under 30 seconds left and 2 point lead. With the game clock running down, Longhorns guard Isaiah Taylor drove to his right and hit a contested, acrobatic layup to tie the game with 4.5 seconds left. The Panthers were out of timeouts, so senior Matt Bohanon grabbed the ball for the inbound pass, and threw to fellow senior Paul Jesperson around the opposite three point line. Jesperson took a few dribbles toward midcourt and banked in a heave from halfcourt at the buzzer to send Northern Iowa to the next round. Immediately after that one ended, 8 seed St. Joseph’s and 9 seed Cincinnati were the final moments of a thriller. The Bearcats had just a 1 point lead until Hawks forward Isaiah Miles drilled a clutch 3 with 9 seconds remaining. After a Cincy timeout, guard Troy Caupain brought the ball up the floor and attacked the rim and through up a shot, or maybe a pass, that fell right to a leaping Octavius Ellis who slammed it home in what appeared to be a game winner. However, the officials went to the monitor, and correctly called off the shot as Ellis’ fingers were still on the ball when the clock hit double zeroes. Even college basketball can be a game of inches.

On Saturday, ACC ¬†powerhouses UNC, Duke, Miami, and Virginia all held off upset bids by pulling away late, as the ACC went on to send an unprecedented six teams to the Sweet Sixteen. 11 seed Gonzaga reached another Sweet 16 after a dominating performance against Utah. The Zags were led by guard Eric McClellan who scored 22 points and a defense that held Utes’ All-American Jakob Poeltl to just 5 points. However, the most exciting matchup of the day was the highly anticipated game between Indiana and Kentucky. These two have had some incredible previous meetings, most notably, when the Hoosiers knocked off top ranked UK a few years ago with a buzzer beater. Also, this game pitted two of the top point guards in the nation, Wildcats sophomore Tyler Ulis and Hoosiers senior Yogi Ferrell. And it certainly lived up to the hype. Ulis scored 27 points while holding Yogi Ferrell to 18 points to win the individual matchup, but it was the Hoosiers who got the victory. IU freshman center Thomas Bryant hit some clutch free throws down the stretch, and the fellow Indiana guards shut down freshmen phenom Jamal Murray, who shot just 7-18 from the field and 1-9 from three.

On Sunday, 2 seeds Villanova and Oklahoma booked their tickets to the Sweet 16 with comfortable wins over Iowa and VCU, respectively. Nova’s balanced offense proved to be too much for the Hawkeyes, as the Wildcats had 4 players score in double digits. On the other hand, the Sooners relied on senior Buddy Hield, a Player of the Year candidate. After scoring 27 points in the first round game against Cal State Bakersfield, Hield followed it up scoring 29 of his 36 points in the second half of the VCU game to send the Sooners to the Sweet 16. Also, true to rest of the weekend, there were two buzzer beaters on Sunday as well. Notre Dame freshmen Rex Pflueger tipped in a Demetrius Jackson miss as time expired, and the Irish joined 5 other ACC teams in the Sweet 16. Then, later that night, Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig “channeled his inner Steph Curry” as he hit a fadeaway three from the corner as time ran out to knock off 2 seed Xavier. However, the most exciting moment of the weekend was saved for Sunday night. 11 seed Northern Iowa, coming off a 47 feet buzzer beater, were looking to continue their run as they took on Texas A&M. And they appeared to had done just that. The Panthers had a 12 point lead with 35 seconds left, while the Aggies’ leading scorer, Danuel House, had not made a shot yet all night. Then, in an unbelievable, indescribable, course of events, the Aggies tied the game and sent it to OT. A&M went on to win in double overtime, stunning Northern Iowa and the world. The game was over, even the announcer had said that no SEC will be making it out of the first weekend and a fair amount of Aggie fans had headed for the exits. But Northern Iowa struggled to handle A&M’s press, and made some awful mistakes which Texas A&M capitalized on. That game, or even just the final 35 seconds, is the definition of what March Madness is.¬†All in all, last weekend truly is the craziest 4 days of the year.