Sweet 16 Field Is Set After Wild Opening Weekend of March Madness
After a tumultuous year in college basketball that saw no outright powerhouse emerge, the first rounds of the NCAA tournament were fittingly filled with huge shockers and plenty of intense action, and now the field has been set for the Sweet 16 next weekend.
Of the weekend’s brightest spots were impressive upsets by 15-Seed Middle Tennessee, 14-Seed S.F. Austin, 13-Seeded Hawaii and AR Little Rock, as well as 12-Seed Yale winning its first-ever NCAA tournament game. Unfortunately, none of those teams could continue their Cinderella run in the second round and were ousted on Saturday and Sunday.
But just because they were underdogs in their second-round matchups, doesn’t mean they were all outplayed.
S.F. Austin came just inches away from joining an exclusive club of only four teams ranked 14 or above to advance to the Sweet 16, but No. 6 Notre Dame ended their bid with a go-ahead tip-in with less than two seconds remaining to beat the Lumberjacks 76-75.
While none of these higher-seeded squads could make a run toward an unlikely championship, the 11-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs surprised analysts and bracketers alike with huge upsets over Big East champ Seton Hall in the first round, and third-seeded Utah, a team that had won 10 of its previous 11 games. On Friday, Gonzaga will play 10-seed Syracuse, who beat N0. 7 Dayton in the opening round, and then benefitted by No. 15 Middle Tennessee’s stunning upset of Michigan St. for a favorable second-round matchup. Few predicted the Orangeman or Gonzaga would see the second weekend of the tournament this year.
Michigan St. wasn’t the only No. 2 seed to fall early as Xavier was ousted in stunning fashion when No. 7 Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig hit an incredible fall-away three-pointer as time expired to lift the Badgers 66-63 and into the Sweet 16.
While two No. 2 seeds fell, the tournament’s No. 1 seeds all moved into the Sweet 16 in dominating fashion, with only Oregon facing stiff competition in a tough St. Joseph’s team on Sunday night. Two of those teams – North Carolina and Virginia – were part of the ACC’s overall dominance over the opening weekend.
“Of the seven ACC teams that reached the NCAA tournament, only Pittsburgh has been eliminated. The ACC went a remarkable 12-1 in the opening two rounds and sent six teams to the Sweet 16, eclipsing the previous record of five it shared with the Big East,” according to Yahoo! Sports.
Yet all this pales in comparison to the history-making ending that was the No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 Northern Iowa game on Sunday. In what is now the greatest comeback in college hoops history – and rightfully will be considered one of the best all-time – the Aggies stunned Northern Iowa 92-88 in double-overtime after overcoming a 12-point deficit in less than 40 seconds. Watch the epic moment here:
Here’s hoping the Sweet 16 and beyond is just as exciting.
(3) Miami (FL) 65-57 (11) Wichita St.
(4) Duke 71-64 (12) Yale
(4) Kentucky 67-73 (5) Indiana
(4) Iowa St. 78-61 (12) AR Little Rock
(1) Virginia 77-69 (9) Butler
(1) Kansas 73-61 (9) UCONN
(3) Utah 59-82 (11) Gonzaga
(1) UNC 85-66 (9) Providence
(2) Villanova 87-68 (7) Iowa
(6) Notre Dame 76-75 (14) S.F. Austin
(2) Oklahoma 85-81 (10) VCU
(10) Syracuse 75-50 (15) Middle Tennessee
(5) Maryland 73-60 (13) Hawaii
(3) Texas A&M 92-88 (11) Northern Iowa – 2OT
(2) Xavier 63-66 (7) Wisconsin
(1) Oregon 69-64 (8) St. Joseph’s