There is no denying that the first weekend of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has lived up to its name of “March Madness.” After two rounds, only four of the top eight overall seeds remain and a number of higher-seeded teams appear poised for deep runs this March. The 2018 tournament’s opening weekend will forever be defined as the year of shocking upsets over the nation’s top teams.
The first major upset came on Thursday night when 13-seed Buffalo embarrassed four-seed Arizona. The highly-talented Arizona team was a popular pick to make a deep run in the tournament. Buffalo, however, had something to say about that and dominated the heavily-favored Wildcats 89-68, exposing the defensive limitations of DeAndre Ayton, the likely first pick in the NBA Draft, along the way.
Then on Friday night came what may go down as the greatest upset in the history of college basketball. The University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) defeated the tournament’s top-ranked overall team, the University of Virginia (UVA). Not only did the UMBC Retrievers defeat the Cavaliers, but they dominated them to the tune of a 74-54 victory en route to becoming the first-ever 16-seed to defeat a one-seed. This was easily the most shocking outcome of the weekend and will be remembered for decades to come.
UMBC was lucky just to reach the tournament this year after earning a remarkable comeback victory over Vermont on the road in the American East Conference Championship a week prior. Virginia, meanwhile, had been the nation’s most consistently dominant team all season long, entering the game with a 31-2 record having earned both the ACC regular season and tournament titles.
The game, however, went slightly differently than expected. After a low-scoring first half which saw the game tied 21-21 at the break, the Retrievers cracked UVA’s famed pack-line defense and dismantled the Cavaliers.
Led by Jairus Bird’s 28 points, UMBC outscored UVA 53-33 in the second half, scoring the same number of points in the half as UVA averaged surrendering to its opponents over the course of its season (53.8). Remarkably, this was the first game all season in which Virginia gave up more than 70 points.
Virginia gravely missed DeAndre Hunter, arguably the team’s best offensive player, who was unavailable to play due to a fractured wrist he suffered in the ACC Tournament. The most impressive aspect of the game was the attitude UMBC possessed entering the game.
After a dramatic opening round to the tournament, it seemed the second round could not possibly be as crazy, but that was the opposite of the case. Many of Saturday’s games went as expected, with Villanova, Duke and Kentucky all putting their opponents away easily. Many of the other games, however, were quite exciting.
The Houston-Michigan game was the day’s especially thrilling matchup. The game was tied at 28 at the half and continued to go back-and-forth throughout the second half. Much like in Houston’s prior game, Rob Gray led the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Michigan got a balanced offensive attack. The game came down to the wire and after Houston’s Devin Davis missed two potential game-icing free throws with four seconds remaining, Michigan had an opportunity to tie or win the game down 63-61.
Michigan inbounded the ball to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, who dribbled and passed to freshman Jordan Poole, miraculously drilling a highly-contested desperation heave from thirty feet to win the game for Michigan and send them on to the Sweet 16.
It may be hard to believe, considering all the madness of the opening weekend, but Sunday was arguably the tournament’s most exciting day. In the early part of the day, No. 11 Syracuse defeated No. 3 Michigan State in easily the ugliest game of the tournament. Syracuse was outrebounded 51-30, made just one three-pointer and only had three assists but still managed to defeat the Spartans 55-53 thanks to Michigan State’s 25.8 percent overall shooting percentage for the game.
No. 7 Texas A&M shockingly routed No. 2 North Carolina in a practical home game for the Tar Heels in Charlotte, NC. Thanks to dominant play from its big men and great three-point shooting, the Aggies got up 20 early in the second half and never looked back from that point.
Sunday’s madness truly started during the Cincinnati-Nevada game. No. 2 Cincinnati was up 22 points with 11 minutes left and then somehow forgot how to score the basketball and protect a lead. Cincinnati did not connect on a field goal in the game’s final six minutes and blew a massive lead, allowing Nevada to pull off the unbelievable upset 75-73.
The other shocking upset of the night was between No. 1 Xavier and No. 9 Florida State. Xavier was in control most of the second half but got into serious foul trouble late. The turning point of the game came with about three minutes left when Xavier star J.P. Macura fouled out on a questionable charge call.
After Macura fouled out, Trevon Bluiett surrendered a couple of costly shots that allowed Florida State back into the game to retake the lead and eventually win the game.
With four of the top eight-seeded teams already out, it is truly anyone’s tournament moving forward. Fans can only hope the final two weekends are half as exciting as the opening weekend.