March Mayhem! Bracket Busting at it’s Finest

Posted: March 20, 2012 by Kodi in BBall, NCAA

For the first time in NCAA History 3 teams ranked #13 or lower won on the same day

Duke, Missouri and Michigan were all bounced in the Second Round (really the first)

I don’t know about you guys but my bracket was busted . . .

The Big Dance kicked off in a new way this year with the NCAA implementing it’s new format for March Madness. There used to be a play-in game to see who would be the final 16th seed and face the #1 overall seed of the tournament. This year there are four of these play-in games and they weren’t just for 16 seeds, two of them were, but there other two were for a 12th seed and a 14th seed. This is now officially known as the first round of the tournament and if a team wins one of these play-in games it counts as a tournament victory. Western Kentucky and Mississippi Valley State were the kickoff game to the 2012 tourney and it was an incredible game.

The Hilltoppers finished the regular season 2 games under .500 and with a 7-9 conference record and were facing the MIss. Valley St. Delta Devils who had lost just 1 game in the SWAC conference and finished the year 8 games above .500. The Devils were up by 16 in the 2nd half  with 5 minutes to play but Western Kentucky came back with hot shooting and a full-court press. Western Kentucky would win the game 59-58 and became the first team with a losing record to get into the tournament since Coppin St. did it in 2009.

The other game on Tuesday was 14 seeds Iona and BYU battling each other for the right to play #3 Marquette in the 2nd round. Iona was a team that talked a lot about before selection Sunday due to their potent offense but a 15-3 record in the MAAC was only good enough to battle in the play-in game of the first round. Iona showed exactly what people were talking about when they dropped 55 points in the first half and had a 15 point lead at the break. They came out hot early in the 2nd half and pushed their lead to 25 points but then they just couldn’t score. The BYU Cougars led by Noah Hartsock outscored the Gaels 38-17 and made the biggest comeback in March Madness history by overcoming their 25 point deficit.

The opening two games were literally everything that fans were expecting from the Big Dance but the other two first round games weren’t nearly as entertaining.  In the other battle of the 16 seeds, Vermont would beat the University of Lamar by 12 points and never let the game get very close. Southern Florida and California were the highest seeds involved in a play-in game battling for the 12 seeds and a chance to play #5 Temple. South Florida would hold the Golden Bears to just 13 points in the first half and they never looked back defeating California by 11, 65-54.  After USF defeated Cal March Madness was officially ready to start, no more bullshit play-in games.

Thursday’s games of the 2nd round were pretty uneventful as the higher seeds went 14-2 with upsets by 11 Colorado and 12 VCU. The biggest story on Thursday may have been the refereeing that occurred in the #1 Syracuse vs. #16 UNC-Asheville game. The Orangemen have already had enough controversy circling them as their assistant coach was fired due to sexual assault allegations, they didn’t inform the NCAA of marijuana use on the team and multiple positive drug tests, the ruling of C Fab Melo being ineligible due to academics and now the calls that led to Phil Donaghue’s name to trend on Twitter. There were questionable calls made on plays where the ball went out of bounds as well as some foul calls in favor of Syracuse late in the game. There was a potential 6 point swing when UNC-Asheville’s player was called for an offensive foul and then the Orangemen came down and sank a huge bucket. Syracuse would go on to win the game 72-65 but not without extreme scrutiny from a lot of basketball fans.

Although Thursday’s games were extremely lackluster the 16 games played on Friday was everything that March Madness love. The higher ranked team won just 8 of the 16 games played and for just the 5th and 6th time ever (first ever tournament where it occurred twice) a #15 seed defeated a #2 seed. In the highest scoring game of the day the Norfolk St. Spartans would defeat the Missouri Tigers 86-84 after Mizzou was unable to hit a game-winning buzzer beater three pointer. The LeHigh Mountain Hawks of the Patriot League went into Greensboro, North Carolina and beat the Duke Blue Devils 75-70 and became the 2nd #15 seed to win that day. Not to be outdone the #13 Ohio Bobcats beat the #4 Michigan Wolverines 65-60 shocking a lot of people.

Brackets were officially busted but March Madness wasn’t done there. The #12 South Florida Bulls won their play-in game with tough defense and that continued when they beat the #5 Temple Owls 58-44. The #11 North Carolina St. Wolfpack beat the #6 San Diego St. Aztecs and moved on to play again on Sunday. The #9 Saint Louis Billikens may have gotten a few selections because of their awesome team name but their defense shut down the #8 Memphis Tigers winning 61-54. Purdue jumped out to an early lead and allowed Saint Mary’s College to come back in the 2nd half. The #10 Boilermakers were able to recover late in the game and beat the #7 ranked Gaels. The last upset of the day came when #10 Xavier defeated the #7 Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish 67-63 allowing the boys from South Bend to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day back at home.

3 of the NCAA’s top 12 teams were beaten by lower seeds the day after just 2 mediocre upsets occurred on Thursday. On Saturday and Sunday the 32 teams left standing would battle for a spot in the Sweet 16 and a ticket to play next weekend. The #3 Baylor Bears faced the #11 Colorado Buffalo who upset the Runnin’ Rebels but they boys from the Pac-12 felt content with their victory and rolled over for the Bears to advance. Transfer Brady Heslip scored 27 points in his teams 80-63 win but what’s more impressive is that they were scored by hitting a career high 9 three pointers. It was just two years ago that the Baylor Bears made their way to the Elite Eight before being knocked off by Duke. Now instead of facing Duke to get back to the Elite Eight they have #10 Xavier who defeated LeHigh after their historical upset.

Norfolk State and everyone in the nation expected the #15 seed to be one and done but the fact that they knocked off a National Champion contender in Missouri will be celebrated for many years to come. They tried to extend their Cinderella story against #7 Florida but the sharp shooting Gators absolutely dominated the game nd won 84-50 to advance to the Sweet 16. The Gators will face the #3 Marquette Golden Eagles who surprisingly have flown under the radar regarding national attention. Marquette beat a good Murray State team behind Big East player of the year Jae Crowder and the Golden Eagles have now made it to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons.

#12 VCU is returning with just 2 starters from last year’s Final Four team but they were able to knock off #5 Wichita State in the first round to face the #4 Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers were able to end VCU’s story early knocking them off by just a single basket 63-61. The #1 seeded Kentucky Wildcats beat Western Kentucky by 15 points in the first round and beat #8 Iowa State by 16, 87-71. Now the Kentucky Wildcats will get the ability to redeem their buzzer beater loss to Indiana on the Hoosiers home court early in the season.

Michigan State breezed through their first round match-up but were challenged by Rick Majerus’ St. Louis squad. The Spartans are a #1 seed and their success is all because of one player, Draymond Green’s. Green’s shoulders have to hurt from holding this team up all year but he continues to dominate putting up his 2nd triple double of his career in the 65-61 win over the Billickens. The Spartans are going to face the #4 Louisville Cardinal after Rick Pitino’s squad squeaked by the  #5 New Mexico Lobos. Louisville came into the season with lofty expectations and if they force someone other than Green to step up against them in the Sweet 16 I think they could move on to the Elite Eight.

The two lowest seeds left in the Big Dance are both in the Midwest bracket although just one team may be a true underdog. That’s because the North Carolina State Wolfpack are an incredibly talented team that has turned it on late in the season after a difficult start. The #11 Wolfpack beat #3 Georgetown in the round of 32 and it is the 4th consecutive season that the Hoyas have been knocked out by a double digit seed. The #13 Ohio Bobcats beat the #4 Michigan Wolverines but they weren’t done there. After the University of South Florida beat Cal in the play-in game they defeated the #5 Temple Owls to reach the round of 32 game against the Bobcats. Ohio persevered against the Bulls and beat South Florida 62-58 to face the #1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels who advanced despite Kendall Marshall breaking his wrist in his non-shooting hand. Can the Cinderella story continue?

Another team that started the season off slow despite big expectations was the #6 Cincinnati Bearcats but they have hit their stride at the right time. They beat Texas and in a great game against the #3 Florida State Seminoles Cincy made key plays late in the game to allow them to win 62-56 after a hard fought battle. They will face the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes who have yet to be challenged in the tournament. If Thad Matta and the Buckeyes aren’t careful they could be caught off guard by Cincinnati and fail to reach the Elite Eight. Cincinnati needs to realize that the Buckeyes aren’t just Jared Sullinger despite his ability to be a black hole under the hoop.

#1 Syracuse had a lot of controversy surrounding them going into the tourney and it grew even larger after a disappointing performance by the referees. The Orangemen were almost the first #1 seed in history to lose to a #16 seed but with a little help from the zebra’s they held on to be victorious. After losing Fab Melo for the tournament Syracuse’s 3rd round match up #8 Kansas State lost their best player for similar reasons. Syracuse came out and proved that they are still a great team despite all the drama. They absolutely throttled the Wildcats beating them 75-59 to advance to the Sweet 16. They will battle against the #4 Wisconsin Badgers who aren’t flashy but are solidly consistent and big down low. The Badgers beat #13 Montana and then slid by the #5 Vanderbilt Commodores 60-57 to get the right to play the #1 seed.

March Madness is always unpredictable which is one of the characteristics fans love about the Big Dance. Upsets and Underdogs is what makes this time of year so special but when you look at it 11 of the Sweet 16 teams are ranked #4 or higher. I’m not going to attempt and persuade someone into thinking that the higher seeds are more likely to advance to the Elite Eight but I don’t think any double digit seeds will be left. We will have to wait for an entire week until we are able to see who advances and which teams will make it to the Final Four but all that anticipation makes for a better experience.

 

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