March Madness upsets: Sunday's slate set up by a 1st round like no other
Here’s what should happen now in the NCAA Tournament . . . well, never mind. Why bother?
The shocks, the surprises, the mayhem came by the hour, in a tournament that had the feel of a demolition derby.
By the end of the first round, the higher seeded teams were only 19-13. Eight underdogs seeded No. 11 or lower had survived, something never seen before in the first round. Six of them won by at least eight points.
The Pac-12 had already lost five teams, all defeated by lower seeds.
The Big 12, considered the premier conference this season, had seen four teams knocked out, including three of the top five in its league standings.
Friday was an explosion of the inexplicable.
Michigan State, a hot choice for the national championship, trailed all but 19 seconds against Middle Tennessee. Denzel Valentine, a national player of the year candidate because of his consistent production, had one more turnover than field goal.
Texas was beaten at the buzzer by a Northern Iowa halfcourt Hail Mary, the second game in a row the Panthers had won with no time on the clock.
VCU, long renowned for its ability to get offense by forcing opponent mistakes, was outscored 20-4 by Oregon State in points off turnovers. The Rams won anyway.
Iowa shot 29.7 percent after halftime and was outrebounded by 11 by Temple. But the Hawkeyes won in overtime, partly because of an Adam Woodbury putback at the buzzer and partly because they committed three turnovers in 45 minutes.
Hawaii won its first NCAA Tournament game ever. Consider the Rainbow Warriors have been playing basketball four decades longer than Hawaii has been a state. Their Quincy Smith scored 11 points in three games in the Big West tournament. He scored 19 against California.
Wisconsin shot 32.1 percent, scored 47 points, and won.
Cincinnati appeared to tie Saint Joseph’s with a last-second dunk. A replay review wiped it out.
West Virginia, one of the most feared defenses in the nation at forcing turnovers, lost the TO battle 22-7 (and the game) to Stephen F. Austin. In practice, the Lumberjacks had tried to bring the ball up against seven defenders to simulate the Mountaineers pressure.
Clearly, this tournament was marching to its own beat. Since the First Four was created in 2011, the Tuesday at-large game winner had been 0-5 on Thursday. But this year, Wichita State won. The Wednesday at-large game winner had been 5-0 on Friday. But this year, Michigan lost.
What to make of it all?
From West Virginia’s Devin Williams, trying to explain the loss to Stephen F. Austin. "That’s what happens in this tournament when you don’t take people serious."
To Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, having escaped with a victory over Temple.
"There’s no such thing as an upset, and I mean that sincerely."
From Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, after the replay review yanked away the dunk, and the Bearcats’ last chance. "I feel terrible for my team."
To Tom Izzo, trying to cope with Michigan State’s stunning demise. "One bad day, and you’re going home.
"There was pressure. They put it on me and I put it on them. Isn’t going to change as long as I’m here. That’s why you come here. You come here to win a few games, you do that at Northern Michigan. Come here to try to win a championship, and that’s the pressure."
To Izzo’s star, Valentine, already understanding how long this disappointment will last. "I didn’t come through today, and I’ll remember that for the rest of my life."
And to the other side, the winning side, the surviving side. The bracket wreckers from Hawaii, for instance, after knocking off California. "Well, I think (President) Obama’s bracket is still intact," Stefan Jankovic said. "I think he picked us."
"It’s just, the whole world watches, the whole world stops for two or three weeks or however long it is, and just to be a part of that is really kind of special."
The carnage created second-round games Sunday of every stripe.
There is, for example, Syracuse-Middle Tennessee. Yes, just another routine 10-15 seed game for the right to get to the Sweet 16.
Watching the Syracuse defense at work is sometimes like watching lions bring down a zebra, as in the 70-51 win over Dayton. The 51 Flyer points Friday matched their low in the past four years and 147 games. They had to fight to stay above 30 percent shooting.
Middle Tennessee looked not the least fazed by Michigan State’s high profile defense Friday, so will the Blue Raiders came out shooting with similar abandon against another big name? And then there’s always a question of coming down off the cloud in 48 hours.
Middle Tennessee achieved rare ground by beating a No. 2 seed, but rarer still would be a push into the Sweet 16. Florida Gulf Coast is the only No. 15 seed to do it. "I feel like me and my teammates, we’re straight hungry," Blue Raider Perrin Buford said. "And we have work to do."
There’s Villanova-Iowa. Villanova’s moment of truth. The Wildcats’ failure to get past the first weekend since 2009 has become a scarlet letter that clashes with Villanova blue. To their credit, they don’t dodge the issue. Not now that they’re face-to-face with it.
"We’ve got to go do it. That’s the bottom line," coach Jay Wright said. "If we don’t do it, it’s failure. But there’s nothing wrong with failure in sport if you give your best effort."
There is Maryland-Hawaii, a No. 5 seed vs. a No. 13. It’s not just in the seedings that these two are far apart. They’re also about 4,800 miles from one another. The Warriors, hitting the mainland for the end of their regular season and conference tournament, are in their third week on the road.
There is Oklahoma taking on VCU, so it is up to Rams coach Will Wade to try to cook up something to defend Buddy Hield, who had a customary day’s work for the Sooners in the first round – 27 points in 39 minutes against CSU Bakersfield.
"If he has 40," Wade said, "it’s on me."
It will be Notre Dame’s turn to try to stop Stephen F. Austin’s 21-game winning streak, and Thomas Walkup, who destroyed West Virginia with 33 points. He was asked to describe his own team, to a nation just getting acquainted with it. "Very good. Very dangerous," Walkup said. "I think people realize we’re the real deal."
There is Xavier-Wisconsin, who between them gave up 96 points Friday night. Wisconsin started the season in the rankings and fell out. Xavier started unranked and charged into the top 10.
There is Oregon-Saint Joseph’s, the Ducks, along with Utah, now charged with restoring some Pac-12 respectability. "If you don’t perform in the tournament, then it gives the opportunity for people to attack your league," Oregon coach Dana Altman said, "Unfortunately, that’s happened. So the same will be true if Utah and us don’t advance. We know that. It’s just the reality of it."
And there Texas A&M-Northern Iowa. If the Aggies worry they’re up against a team of destiny, no wonder. The Panthers were once 10-11 and have gone 13-1 since. They won the Missouri Valley Conference on Wes Washpun’s last second jumper from the top of the key that bounced high off the rim and dropped back through.
They beat Texas Friday with Paul Jesperson’s half-court banker, just seconds after the Longhorns had tied the game.
"I don’t have a way to describe it,’’ Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "And I don’t have an answer.’’
One of the players his team beat does.
"It’s March Madness,’’ Texas’ Isaiah Taylor said. "It’s going to happen this time of year.’’
But rarely, if ever, quite like this.