The chatter amongst bracketeers, analysts, and experts going into this tournament season was how much parity there was during the regular season. Rightfully so, as there were six different teams ranked #1 in the AP Poll, including the preseason (Kansas on two separate occasions). But nobody could’ve predicted what we’ve all witnessed thus far. 2016 is bringing a whole new meaning to the moniker “March Madness.”
The First Round saw four, yes four, buzzer beating (or near-buzzer beating) games:
1) Iowa-72 Temple-70 OT – Iowa seemingly attempted to give the game away, missing free throws down the stretch of regulation. However an offensive tap in by Adam Woodbury at the buzzer gave Iowa the win.
2) Northern Iowa-75 Texas-72 – UNI, as a #11 seed, continued to be a dangerous non-power conference team come March as Paul Jesperson sunk an unworldly half-court shot for the win.
3) Providence-70 USC-69 – Again, free throws were a factor in this game, with USC missing some important ones. Rodney Bullock canned a layup moments before the buzzer to give the Friars their first tournament win since 1997.
4) St Joes-78 Cincinnati-76 – This wasn’t technically a buzzer beater, but was an unbuzzer-beater. Octavius Ellis appeared to tie the game with a dunk at the end of regulation but was called back after he didn’t get the shot off in time.
Also in Round 1, we saw the upsets of some prominent basketball programs. The likes of Baylor, Purdue, Arizona, West Virginia and Michigan State were all eliminated.
The Spartans, which many were slotting to win the National Championship, were outclassed by a high-flying Middle Tennessee State team. The Blue Raiders shot 58% from 3-point range en route to a 90-81 shocker against a Michigan State team that gave up more than 80 points just twice all season.
One of the most talented and supposed “dangerous” teams in Baylor was ousted by a Yale side making their first tournament appearance since 1962. They had never won a tournament game before their ousting of the Bears.
Wichita State thoroughly dominated Arizona wire-to-wire and handed the Wildcats a perplexing loss in a game that was never even close. Although upon closer inspection, this matchup shouldn’t have even happened in the first place as, according to their kenpom ranking*, Wichita State was the 12th best team in the country (Arizona came in at 16th).
West Virginia (a highly touted team this year which finished 2nd in an extremely competitive Big 12 conference) laid an egg against Stephen F Austin and was crushed by the Lumberjacks. Many analysts picked West Virginia to possibly match up with UNC in their regions final (much like us).
As for Purdue, the Boilermakers coughed up a 13 point lead with 3:33 left in the game and ended losing in double overtime to the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans who last won a tournament game back in 1986.
Round 2 continued to impress the viewers with a handful of close decisions. Wisconsin shocked #2 seeded Xavier on a Bronson Koenig buzzer beating 3 pointer, as the Badgers added to their recent tournament dominance.
Ironically, 2016’s tournament also had two teams deemed unworthy of even receiving tournament invites moving into the Sweet 16 (Gonzaga and Syracuse). ‘Cuse defeated an average Dayton team and Middle Tennessee on route to their arrival in the final 16 while the Zags beat Big East tournament champions Seton Hall in Round 1 and then trounced Utah 82-59. Also, ironically, these two teams were then slotted to play one another. #11 Gonzaga and #10 Syracuse are looking to become the lowest seeded team to make the Final Four since #11 VCU made it in 2011.
Lastly, the highlight of the tournament to date has to be the comeback Texas A&M mounted to take down Northern Iowa. Coming back from this type of deficit, in any level of organized basketball is simply unheard of. Down by 12 (57-69) with 44 seconds to go, Texas A&M went;
3 Pointer (69-66)
Conceded dunk (71-66)
Layup and 1 (71-69)
To tie up the game at 71-71.They then went on to win 92-88 in double OT. Epic. Check out the madness below:
With the upsets, Cinderellas, and buzzer beaters that we’ve illustrated here, this year’s edition of the NCAA Basketball Tournament has had a little bit of everything. And while you’ll find a more polished game at the NBA level, the excitement and action that is evident in every March Madness is unparalleled in sport.
Carter is hockey player, formerly in WHL for the Vancouver Giants. You can follow him on Twitter @carter_popoff.
Adam is a student at McGill University. You can follow him on Twitter @adam_m3318.
You can follow Hit the Cut on Twitter @hitthecutblog.
*kenpom uses a “system…designed to give you a snapshot of a team’s current level of play.” Formulated by Ken Pomeroy, these rankings have been lauded by college basketball analysts nationwide. Read more about what the rankings are all about here.