Ryan Mayer & Bryan Altman
While the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament might have lacked some of the typical “madness” associated with this time of year, there were some “mad” moments worth looking back on.
1. Down Goes ‘Nova
A late season swoon knocked the Badgers a down a few rungs on the NCAA committee’s ladder, but Wisconsin proved that they’re a better team than their No. 8 seed would indicate against the No. 1 overall seed, the Villanova Wildcats, on Saturday night in Buffalo, New York.
Wisconsin made it obvious that they could play with the defending NCAA Champions from the outset and kept pace with Villanova from the opening tip off.
The Badgers led the Wildcats by four heading into halftime, but it was a tenuous lead at best against the top team in the nation. Villanova and Wisconsin tussled over the lead throughout the second half, but last-second heroics from Nigel Hayes saved the day for the Badgers.
With the game tied at 62, Hayes channeled his inner Michael Jordan and delivered a stunning take to seal the deal for the Badgers.
It was an incredible night for Wisconsin, and a forgettable one amidst a year of unforgettable ones for Villanova.
“To me, there’s no dishonor in losing in this tournament,” Villanova’s coach Jay Wright told the media after the game. “We’ve lived through it. You are judged by how you play in this tournament and that’s the reality of it. So, you have to accept it.”
As a result, Wisconsin is on to the Sweet 16, while Villanova is on their way home.
2. Xavier Thrashes Florida State
The Xavier Musketeers barely made the NCAA Tournament, and were an afterthought even though they did. If it weren’t for a Big East Tournament win over Butler, Xavier sitting on their couch watching the Rounds of 64 and 32 would have been a very real possibility.
But, the Musketeers have made it, and Chris Mack’s squad is making the most of it, to say the least.
First, they beat No. 6 Maryland on the back of stellar shooting all around. Then, they upped the ante, taking it to No. 3 seed Florida State — one of the nation’s top offensive teams all year long — and beating them by a 25 points, 91-66, in absolutely stunning fashion.
Trevon Bluiett has been sensational and coach Mack is somehow getting the most out of a team that looked all but finished when it lost starting guard Edmond Sumner back in January for the season to a torn ACL.
Now, like the Badgers, the Musketeers live to shock and bust brackets for another day. They’ll face the No. 2 seeded Arizona Wildcats in the Sweet 16. This will be Xavier’s second Sweet 16 appearance in the last three years.
3. No Love For Northwestern/Chris Collins Becomes A Meme
In today’s digital age, it doesn’t take much to become an overnight internet sensation. Just ask Northwestern Wildcats coach Chris Collins, he’ll tell you.
Collins’ exasperated expression(s) as he listened to a reporter relay the NCAA’s detailed explanation of the sequence of events that led to the Northwestern coach’s technical foul, which inevitably changed the complexion of his team’s game, has already gone viral.
Collins’ Wildcats looked over matched in every way when they faced the No. 1 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs on Saturday night.
That is, until the second half started.
Then, the Wildcats stormed back and gave the Bulldogs all they could handle, cutting the Bulldogs’ one-time 22-point lead to just five points as the final minutes of the game.
Then, Zach Collins (no relation) of the Bulldogs defended a Northwestern shot attempt that would have cut Gonzaga’s lead to three by putting his hand through the basket, which is illegal.
It wasn’t called, but, as you may have gleaned, Collins’ technical was.
Sure, it was an incredible run by an underdog of the highest order (Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament in its 78 year history), but what a brutal ending.
Collins and his kids deserved better on this play. Officials are only human, but this was an unfortunate series of events.
4. Michigan’s Magical Run Continues
The Wolverines were one of, if not the best, stories coming into the tournament. The team had rallied from a scary plane crash prior to the Big Ten tournament to win the conference’s postseason title. That run earned them a 7-seed in the tournament and a dangerous first round match-up against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys and Wolverines put on an offensive showcase, but it was the hot shooting of Michigan in the second half that allowed John Beilein’s group to advance.
That set up a date with Rick Pitino’s Louisville team for the right to advance to the Sweet 16 on Sunday afternoon. Michigan once again got hot in the second half and they were able to weather a furious Louisville attempt at a rally late to win 73-69 in order to move on to the second week of the tournament for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
The best moment? The celebration afterwards. If you’ve watched the tournament coverage, you’ve likely seen the teams douse their coaches with water in the locker room after a big win. Well, Coach Beilein came prepared to fight back with a water gun in a clip that you’ll likely see a lot of in the next few weeks.
5. A Win-Win For North Carolina Fans
Tar Heels fans are probably feeling pretty good after the way everything played out on Sunday. First, Roy Williams’ group survived a scare from 8th seeded Arkansas, 72-65, thanks to a late game defensive stand that saw the Tar Heels hold the Razorbacks scoreless for the final 3:30 of the game. The win means UNC advances to the Sweet 16 to face Butler as they continue their quest to return to the national title game following last year’s heartbreaking ending.
To make things better, in the night session at the same arena, UNC’s biggest rival, Duke, lost to 7th seeded South Carolina 88-81. There were some UNC fans in attendance from the earlier game who were delighted by the events that unfolded and were cheering on the Gamecocks.
So, to recap:
Beat Arkansas and advance to the Sweet 16? Check.
Watch Duke lose to South Carolina? Check.
Yep, Sunday was a pretty good day to be a Tar Heels fan.