Last night, Duke played Virginia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. For the second time in five days, Duke looked beatable and won by virtue of the basketball skirting the rim at the buzzer.
While Tre Jones had himself a night–22 points and 5-of-7 from 3–Zion Williamson was still the story of the game.
Despite being the leading scorer of the game with 23, Zion’s most memorable play came on defense and resulted in a four-point swing. With under six minutes remaining, Duke had a 3-point lead. The Hokies got the ball after an abysmal possession by the Blue Devils. Hokie guard Justin Robinson stormed to the basket, thought he had Zion beat, but Zion recovered quickly, jumped up and still made the block. This allowed Jones to grab the ball and make a pull-up 2, bringing the score to 66-61.
Earlier in the game, Zion also did this:
You can watch all Zion related highlights here:
While it brings no pleasure to most of the country to watch Duke win games in March, it’s hard not to enjoy watching Zion play. Pitt head coach Jeff Capel, who helped recruit Zion while still an assistant at Duke, said earlier this year off Williamson’s play, “I don’t know if I’ve seen anything like it in my time of coaching.” It’s hard to recall anyone dominating the college game in quite the way Zion has done this season.
If you are a functioning human being and have even the slightest knowledge of sports you are probably aware the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament kicked off this past weekend across the United States.
Known simply as March Madness, the month long tournament pits 68 college basketball teams against each other and the last one standing is crowned the national champion of the sport.
If the first weekend of action is any precursor of what is to come then we are in for one heck of a ride over the next few weeks. Through two rounds of play, the tournament has lived up to its name and brought the madness we all crave when tuning in.
Let’s break it down and recap what happened in a crazy weekend of hoops.
An Upset for the Ages
Coming into the 2018 NCAA Tournament, No. 1 seeds had an all time record of 132-0 over No. 16 seeds. When top overall seed University of Virginia tipped off against University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in their 1 vs. 16 matchup, that record had expanded to 135-0. When the final horn sounded in Charlotte that record stood at 135 AND 1.
For the first time ever, a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament. This was an upset so massive most brackets were set ablaze the moment the game went final. Nobody picks 16 seeds unless they are family, alumni, or simply messing around.
Just to show how big this is, Seth Davis of CBS was so confident in a Virginia victory he tweeted this a minute into the game.
Even more to the credit of UMBC this was not simply just a massive upset, it was a full throttle beat down of the TOP OVERALL SEED in the tournament. A 74-54 dismantling of one of the best teams in college basketball.
People loved the upset so much, they just started randomly tweeting pictures of their own dogs at the official UMBC Athletic Twitter account.
Sadly, UMBC’s run ended in the next round at the hands of No. 9 seed Kansas St. but they will forever live on in the hearts of millions who watched them do the impossible.
(It probably didn’t hurt that their mascot is a very lovable doggo.)
It’s hard to say when (if?) we will ever see this happen again but one thing is for sure, no No. 1 seed will ever take a No. 16 lightly again. They are all on watch now for the rest of history. It’s happened once and it can happen again.
Really There Were Upsets Galore
UMBC was the biggest upset of opening weekend but it was in no way the only upset that went down. Top seeds were dropping left and right all weekend and as a result, the average seed moving onto the Sweet 16 is 5.13.
Here are the upsets that took place in the first two rounds:
No. 13 Buffalo over No. 4 Arizona
No. 11 Loyola-Chicago over No. 6 Miami
No. 16 UMBC over No. 1 Virginia
No. 13 Marshall over No. 4 Wichita State
No. 10 Butler over No. 7 Arkansas
No. 11 Syracuse over No. 6 TCU
No. 11 Loyola-Chicago over No. 3 Tennessee
No. 9 Florida State over No. 1 Xavier
No. 11 Syracuse over No. 3 Michigan State
No. 7 Nevada over No. 2 Cincinnati (Nevada trailed by 22 in the second half)
No. 7 Texas A&M over No. 2 North Carolina
No. 5 Clemson over No. 4 Auburn (Yes, it is only a one seed difference but Clemson won by 31)
(Note: No. 9 over No. 8 does not count as an upset)
Loyola-Chicago and Syracuse are the only teams to appear here twice meaning as 11 seeds they pulled off two upsets and will be playing in the Sweet 16 next weekend.
There Was Still Some Chalk
With all the talk about upsets we would be remiss if we did not discuss the title favorites who navigated the carnage and took care of business during the opening weekend to book a spot in the Sweet 16:
While Virginia and Xavier fell, fellow No. 1 seeds Villanova and Kansas fared much better. Villanova won by an average of 26 points over Radford and Alabama in the East region. Kansas cruised in their first game but had to survive a scare in the Round of 32, defeating No. 8 seed Seton Hall 83-79.
Same scenario for the No. 2 seeds took place. North Carolina and Cincinnati were both bounced in the Round of 32 but Duke and Purdue both advanced to the Sweet 16. Duke rolled in both of their games while Purdue had to overcome the loss of big man Isaac Haas to squeak past Butler.
Matching up against the Boilermakers in the Sweet 16 will be No. 3 seed Texas Tech who knocked off Stephen F. Austin and a strong Florida team to make it through.
Big Ten champion Michigan knocked off Montana in the first round then survived an upset bid by Houston in the Round of 32 thanks to a buzzer beating three pointer from freshman Jordan Poole.
2017 national runner-up Gonzaga survived two close calls over the weekend with wins against UNC Greensboro and Ohio State.
Nobody had any idea what to make of a streaky West Virginia team coming into the tournament but comfortable victories over Murray State and in-state rival Marshall give the Mountaineers a date with No. 1 Villanova in the Sweet 16.
Looking Ahead: Sweet 16 and Elite 8
Now that the Sweet 16 is set, let’s look ahead to the Regional Finals set to get underway on Thursday night.
(Winners of Sweet 16 matchups play in Elite 8 to determine regional champions and Final Four participants)
East Region (Boston)
No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 5 West Virginia
No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 3 Texas Tech
This is by far the chalkiest region remaining after the opening weekend. Villanova and West Virginia both rolled in their opening games and should make up for a tasty matchup. Purdue will not rule out Isaac Haas but it’s hard to see him playing going forward with a fractured elbow.
Outlook: Villanova is the slight favorite to win the East region but you can make a case for any of the four teams to book a spot in San Antonio.
Midwest Region (Omaha)
No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Clemson
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 11 Syracuse
A lot of marquee names in the Midwest region with Kansas, Duke, and Syracuse all in play. The Orange used stifling defense to upset Michigan State but it’s hard to imagine they can score enough to keep up with Duke. Kansas will be a favorite over Clemson but the Tigers are coming off a mauling of a very good Auburn team.
Outlook: The smart money is on either Kansas or Duke to advance to the Final Four but considering how this tournament has played out so far there may not be a safe pick here.
South Region (Atlanta)
No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State
No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago
UMBC’s victory over Virginia turned this region on its head. Further upsets by Loyola and Nevada sent it into complete chaos. For the first time in tournament history a region will not send one of its top four seeds to the regional finals. It’s historic powerhouse Kentucky and three cinderellas.
Outlook: Kentucky’s path to the Final Four went from Arizona, Virgina, Cincinnati/Tennessee to Buffalo, Kansas State, Nevada/Loyola. Pretty good luck for Calipari’s squad but this is a mediocre Wildcats teams that could easily be toppled.
West Region (Los Angeles)
No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas A&M
No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State
This is a very underrated Sweet 16 scenario. Michigan came into the tournament on a roll and it has continued. Texas A&M laid waste to the defending national champs in the Round of 32. Gonzaga is quietly playing good basketball. Florida State is a true wild card after upsetting No. 1 Xavier.
Outlook: Michigan and Gonzaga are the two favorites to represent the region in the Final Four but Texas A&M is healthy and playing to their potential. Florida State could crash the party and play cinderella.
The opening weekend of the tournament was complete chaos that saw brackets busting left and right due to countless upsets. That leaves us with the matchups above and as a basketball fan you should be excited. you have your annual favorites like Duke and Villanova mixed in with cinderella stories like Loyola and Nevada.
This upcoming weekend of basketball should be a great show as the field narrows down to its Final Four by Sunday night.
On the ropes in their first round game of the 2018 NCAA tournament, the 11th seeded Loyola-Chicago Ramblers gave us the perfect example of what makes this time of year so great.
Trailing the 6th seeded Miami Hurricanes 62-61 with 9.3 seconds to go, the Ramblers grabbed a rebound off a missed free throw and rushed back up the court. All the Ramblers needed to advance was a two point bucket but Donte Ingram had a different idea.
With seconds bleeding off the clock, Ingram received a pass and pulled up from Mars to take a shot for the win.
This is just a small sample of what makes this tournament so great. While it may be fun to watch the really good teams rewarded for their excellence, there is just something so satisfying about seeing an underdog pull off an upset. It doesn’t hurt when they do it in dramatic fashion such as this either.
Loyola-Chicago will look to pull another upset on Saturday when they take on the No. 3 seed Tennessee Volunteers in the Round of 32.
We almost had another 6/11 upset later in the evening when the Houston Cougars were taken down to the wire by the San Diego State Aztecs.
The Aztecs rallied from a 10 point halftime deficit to knot the game at 65-65 but Rob Gray was not going to be denied for Houston. Holding on for the final shot, Gray let the clock tick down before driving hard into the lane and finishing off an athletic lay in with just a second remaining to give the Cougars the win.