March Madness 2016: Best First Weekend of All Time?


March 24, 2016

The first two rounds of the 2016 NCAA Tournament gave fans some of the best moments, endings, and heartbreaks that we have ever seen. There were a total of 13 upsets in the first round, and even though three of those were victories by 9th seeded teams, it was still a dramatic year for upsets. The most surprising upset was obviously 15 seed Middle Tennessee beating 2 seed Michigan State, who was one of the most popular picks to win the whole thing. Hawaii won their first ever tournament game against a California team who went from a sleeper pick to go far to a mediocre team filled with injuries. Yale took advantage of their first ticket to the dance in 54 years by beating Baylor in a bizarre finish. The two teams in the field with the least amount of losses, Kansas and Arkansas Little Rock, both won as well. ALR upset a Purdue squad with three 7-footers in a classic 12-5 seed victory.

Two double digit seeds remain in the Sweet Sixteen (Gonzaga and Syracuse), and they will be playing each other. Two other teams, Northern Iowa and Stephen F. Austin, came incredibly close to moving on, only to have their hearts broken late. Northern Iowa won on a miracle half court buzzer beater by Paul Jesperson against 6 seed Texas in the first round. In the round of 32, they collapsed and suffered one of the worst collapses in sports history. Down 12 points with 33 seconds left, Texas A&M looked like the next team to be upset by the Panthers. Then, madness ensued. A series of bad inbound passes and impressive three pointers and lay ups got the game into overtime with a 14-2 run. The Aggies looked like the better team moving forward with key injuries and foul trouble for Northern Iowa and won in double overtime.

The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks were not given any respect before their first match up with West Virginia. WVU was a sleeper Final Four pick for many, and even a championship pick for some. They were able to out-press “Press Virginia” and played with impressive speed and shooting. Led by floor general and all-around player Thomas Walkup, SFA continued to prove their ability against Notre Dame. The Irish were barely winning for most of the game, but SFA always kept it close. Up 5 with less than a minute left, they seemed to be ready to continue their NCAA-leading 21 game win streak and move on to their first ever Sweet Sixteen. However, freshman Rex Pflueger crushed their dreams, tipping in a lay-up with 1.5 seconds left. Those two points were the first tournament points of his career, and they might end up being the most important points of his career.

Syracuse and Wichita State were both bubble teams on Selection Sunday, and the argument could be made that there were teams more deserving than either school. Led by Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, the Shockers easily won their play-in game with Vanderbilt and then upset 6 seed Arizona. However, they fell to a very good Miami team despite a furious late game comeback attempt. Syracuse had the worst record out of all the tournament teams that did not win their league title. However, they had early wins against Duke, Texas A&M, and UConn that many people must have forgotten about. The committee remembered, and Dayton and Middle Tennessee were reminded of how good they are en route to another Sweet Sixteen appearance.

Gonzaga has made two upsets this year in terms of seeding, but really their success should not come as much of a surprise. They beat a hot and favorable Seton Hall team in the first round and then “upset” 3 seed Utah, winning 82-59. With Kyle Witjter and Domantas Sabonis, the Bulldogs have arguably the best duo in the country. In most of the games Gonzaga lost this year, Sabonis was in foul trouble throughout the game. He has been able to stay on the floor, and if he does the same against Syracuse, the Zags have a good chance of moving on to the Elite Eight.

When looking at the remaining teams in the bracket, the seeding is actually somewhat predictable. In the South, 1,2,3,5 (Kansas, Villanova, Miami, and Maryland) are left while 1-4 (Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Duke) all survived in the West. In the East, a 6-7 match up between Notre Dame and Wisconsin is a very intriguing game. Wisconsin beat Pitt in the opening round, and then they beat a very athletic and big Xavier team on an amazing fadeaway 3-pointer by Bronson Koenig. Koenig and Nigel Hayes will look to continue their journey with their first year coach against an experienced Irish team led by Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. Indiana took down Kentucky, who looked like they were getting better and probably deserved a higher seed than Utah or someone else. A Hoosiers vs. Tar Heels game could end up being one of the best all year.

The Midwest bracket is clearly the most surprising and contained one of the biggest upsets ever when Michigan St. checked out early. Virginia and Iowa State have quietly done what is necessary to put themselves in this position. Georges Niang scored 28 against Iona and did the same to Little Rock to get the Cyclones here. 1 seed Virginia scored 31 more points in the second half than in the first (54 compared to 23) to survive a scare against always dangerous Butler. This upcoming game and all the rest that will decide spots in the Elite Eight will continue to write their own stories and are set to help make this year one of the best Tournaments ever. The first weekend was packed full of excitement, and fans can’t wait for what the rest of March Madness has in store.

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