In a whirlwind of upsets and buzzer-beaters, March Madness kicked off in full swing in its first weekend. Giants of college basketball came crashing down in the first few rounds; meanwhile, audiences saw the beginnings of Cinderella stories for several schools.
How far those underdogs can carry their surprising success remains to be seen. However, most of America, having already seen brackets busted, will be rooting for upsets the rest of the way.
When discussing the first weekend of the 2018 March Madness Tournament, the obvious starting point is the biggest March Madness upset of all time. Virginia, the number one overall seed in the entire country, fell to the 16 seed University of Maryland Baltimore County.
This is the first time any 16 seed team has beaten a 1 seed since Harvard’s women’s basketball team beat Stanford 20 years ago. Furthermore, it’s the first time a 1 seed has lost to a 16 seed in the history of the men’s March Madness Tournament — a fact UMBC was quick to point out after the game.
This monumental upset gave 16 seeds an overall record of 1 – 135 against 1 seed teams in Men’s March Madness. That moment alone gives the 2018 March Madness tournament a lasting impact; it also had the added effect of busting millions of brackets.
Many had picked Virginia to be a championship favorite (including yours truly, by the way); it was an especially rude awakening for us all when UMBC beat the country’s top team by 20 points.
How in the world did the UMBC Retrievers pull off this historic upset? They pushed Virginia’s stifling defense to the brink time and again, leading to a 54 percent shooting night. In fact, out of 24 attempts at three-point shots, only 12 were successes for the Virginia team.
The Retrievers outscored the shell-shocked Cavaliers by 20 points in the second half after the game was tied at halftime; in addition, they shot almost 65 percent from the field in that second half.
Virginia was projected to be the team winning by 20 points, but UMBC etched their name in the history books by turning that projection upside down, along with the entire sports world.
However, unfortunately for underdog fans everywhere, the UMBC Retrievers weren’t able to be the first 16 seed in the Sweet Sixteen; they lost a slugfest with Kansas State in the second round.
In addition to the first ever 16 seed to make it past the first round, this year had two 13 seeds that won their first games. That hasn’t happened in at least a decade. Buffalo defeated the heavily-favored Arizona; meanwhile, Marshall beat Wichita State, a team many picked as a dark horse title contender.
Buffalo handled Arizona comfortably, winning by over 20 points and making 15 of 30 three-point attempts. Many expected Arizona to make a significant title push themselves, with potential top draft pick DeAndre Ayton leading the way.
Unfortunately, they found themselves helpless against the Buffalo Bulls’ three-point barrage. That left Arizona with yet another disappointing early exit from March Madness and another extremely talented roster which fell short of their fans’ expectations.
Like so many upstart mid-major schools who won their first game, Buffalo lost in the second round to the University of Kentucky’s Wildcats. That victory, along with countless other incredible upsets in the South Region, left the Wildcats as the highest seed and gave them a golden opportunity to make yet another Final Four appearance.
Marshall’s victory over Wichita State was far from a blowout. However, for a school seeking their first tournament win in 62 years, the margin was not important. Marshall hasn’t appeared in March Madness since 1987; also, the school had never before won a postseason game in the NCAA Tournament.
Jon Elmore of the Thundering Herd led the game in scoring with 27 points; this gave Marshall a consistent scoring option every time down the court. Wichita State could never pull away from the scrappy underdogs from Marshall; even with a deficit of tournament experience, the Thundering Herd pounded out a victory.
Similar to Buffalo and UMBC, Marshall finished quickly in this year’s March Madness; still, this year may point to a brighter future for the team. Though they’ll always be seeking to replicate it, they can and will ride that upset wave for years.
As if this year wasn’t mad enough with all these upsets, two 7 seeds and two 11 seeds also made their mark. 7 seeds Nevada and Texas A&M were able to defeat 2 seeds Cincinnati and North Carolina, respectively, to make it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
Nevada made their money with second-half comebacks. They faced a deficit of 14 points in the first round against Texas but came back to win in overtime. In the second round, they again faced seemingly insurmountable odds; the 2 seed Cincinnati was leading by 22 points with 11 minutes left in the game.
Nevertheless, Nevada closed the game with a 32 – 8 run, winning by 2 points on their path to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Texas A&M Aggies took a different road to victory. After beating 10 seed Providence by 4 points, they earned a matchup against 2 seed North Carolina. They proceeded to obliterate the defending champions by 21 points, utterly dominating them in the paint and on the boards. It was an unexpected result, but also a very enjoyable one.
For the first time since 2014, two 11 seeds made it to the Sweet Sixteen. This is only the fourth time that’s happened in NCAA history. Syracuse, who many believed didn’t deserve to be in March Madness at all, has won 3 games, none by more than 5 points.
Meanwhile, Loyola-Chicago’s victories have come by with a combined 3 points in two games. By the skin of their teeth, these 11 seeds survive and advance, each trying to become the first 11 seed to make or win the National Championship Game. In a year as wacky and unpredictable as this, who’s to say it can’t happen?
Another team that we don’t dare forget is the 9 seed Florida State Seminoles. After defeating Missouri easily by 13 points, they faced off against the Xavier Musketeers — the top seed of the West Region.
In a precarious game that came down to the final minute to decide a victor, the Seminoles overcame a late deficit to upset the Musketeers, sending yet another top seed packing and further shrouding the eventual champion of this year’s March Madness.
2018’s March Madness has had no shortage of incredible moments. From UMBC’s shocking upset of Virginia to Jordan Poole’s last-second, game-winning three pointer to give Michigan the victory over Houston, to Loyola-Chicago using two game-winning jump shots in the last 5 seconds to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, there is plenty of fuel for the “One Shining Moment” montage.
In addition, basketball fans have seen all top 4 seeds in the South region losing before the Sweet Sixteen.
This March Madness will undoubtedly go down in history for the madness ensuing over the first weekend. Now we all eagerly await the ending, where we get to see how far Loyola-Chicago or Syracuse can truly go.
Will yet another 1 seed win the title, or is this finally a year where we see a double-digit seed in the championship game? Only time will tell. Keep your eyes aimed at San Antonio to see the thrilling end to this year’s March Madness.