What a tremendous first week for the NCAA tournament. Double digit seeds pulling off upsets, a slew of overtime games, thrilling endings and amazing individual performances were all part of the memorable week.
Teams seeded fifth were an endangered species in the round of 64. VCU was ousted by Stephen F. Austin, Cincinnati was knocked out by Harvard and Oklahoma fell to North Dakota State. It should've been a clean sweep for the twelve seeds but North Carolina State blew a 16 point lead in the final eight minutes and lost in overtime to Saint Louis.
The success story of the double digit seeds began with the very first game of the day on Thursday and it took place here in Buffalo when 11th seeded Dayton stunned sixth seed Ohio State. 10th seed Stanford and 11th seed Tennessee were also victorious in round two but the biggest upset was produced by 14th seed Mercer who took down mighty Duke.
The upsets continued in the round of 32 and perhaps your bracket has already been busted before the Sweet 16 is even played. Dreams of a championship have been ended for top seed Wichita State, two seeds Kansas and Villanova as well as three seeds Duke and Syracuse.
The best session of the tournament, in my opinion, was Thursday night which featured four games going to overtime. By the way, thanks to whoever came up with the idea to get four different TV networks involved in tournament coverage so every game can be seen in its entirety rather than the old days of being limited to cut ins.
I gave my remote quite the workout while switching back and forth between UConn-St. Joe's, NC State-St Louis and North Dakota State-Oklahoma. If I could've stayed awake I would've seen San Diego State and New Mexico State go OT as well. The collapse by the Wolfpack was unbelievable. St. Louis was forced to foul and the strategy worked as NC State missed free throw after free throw and the Billikens charged back.
The win by North Dakota State provided one of those "one shining moments" in the tournament thanks to a freshman by the name of Carlin Dupree. He didn't play at all until he was pressed into duty one minute into the overtime when a teammate fouled out. Coming in ice cold, Dupree found himself on the foul line with the game tied at 72. Just a 58% free throw shooter, the freshman calmly hit both ends of the one and one. On the very next possession, Dupree hit a baseline jumper over two Sooners defenders to give NDSU a four point lead and the spark they needed to record the upset victory.
Whether or not you like the one game playoff format as opposed to a series format, the one and done approach can create some indelible memories in terms of the contrast of emotions at the end of a game. At the top of that list was the Dayton-Ohio State finish. Buckeyes senior Aaron Craft hits a shot with :15 left to give OSU the lead but the Flyers come right back and Vee Sanford's basket, over Craft, with :3.8 restores Dayton's one point edge. The Buckeyes race down court but Craft's shot goes off the rim and bounces away as time runs out. The TV cameras catch Craft, one of the most beloved Buckeyes ever, laying flat on the court, knowing full well his college career has just come to an end. In the background we can also see the Flyers celebrating in a pile of bodies on their side of the court.
Another contrast of emotions game took place in Stephen F. Austin's win over VCU. The Lumberjacks rallied from 10 points down with four minutes to go but were still down four with time running out when Desmond Hayman hit a three. For some reason VCU's JeQuan Lewis ran at Hayman instead of just letting him shoot and was called for a foul. Hayman sank the free throw to force overtime and the 'Jacks went on to the victory. Lewis, who committed the costly foul, had a shot for the win in OT but it didn't go down. The cameras caught him down on the floor crying after the buzzer sounded.
One of the most amazing individual performances of the first week came from Providence senior Bryce Cotton. He was out of his mind and almost willed the Friars to a win over North Carolina. Cotton seemingly couldn't miss as he scored 36 of the Friars 77 points but the Tar Heels prevailed.
Shabazz Napier's 21 second half points in the Huskies upset of Villanova was a thing of beauty. He hit some huge threes and had highlight reel drives to the basket somehow finding his way around multiple Wildcats defenders.
The first week was hopefully the start of another tournament run for Michigan under coach John Beilein. The Western New York native has shown once again why he is one of the best coaches in the country. The Wolverines lost national player of the year Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway junior from the team that was defeated in the championship game by Louisville last season and top returnee Mitch McGary missed most of this season due to an injury. But Michigan won the Big 10 regular season title, earned a two seed for the tournament and beat Wooford and Texas to advance to the Sweet 16 where they'll meet Tennessee.