Leading up to the first week of March Madness, the thing we most look forward to is the potential for upsets. This opening week saw millions of brackets broken because of wins that almost no one could see coming. But those busted brackets matter far less than the lasting memories we witnessed as the tournament started to unfold.
Ivy League teams are not to be taken lightly when it comes to March Madness, as proven last year when 12th-seeded Yale knocked off fifth-seeded Baylor. A year later, we found ourselves nearly seeing the same scenario when Princeton took on Notre Dame. The opening game of the tournament saw Tigers guard Devin Cannady shoot an open three for a potential win, but the shot missed and the Fighting Irish were able to hang in and avoid the upset.
There was a 12th-seed win on the first day, but it was the least surprising one. Middle Tennessee’s victory over Minnesota could be seen coming after what it did last year in beating Michigan State as a 15 seed. The experience this team carried in four starting upperclassmen made the difference in how it dominated the Golden Gophers, a team which hadn’t made the tournament since 2013.
After that came the most puzzling sequence of the day, when Vanderbilt guard Matthew Fisher-Davis inexplicably fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh. The Commodores were up by one with 17.8 seconds left, so there was no reason to put the Wildcats at the line. Vanderbilt would wrap up a victory present and handed it to the Wildcats, who sunk the free throws and stole the game.
Since the expansion to 68 teams in 2011, one of the four teams that made the round of 64 through the true opening round has at least made it to the round of 32. When I was making my bracket choices, I took that statistic under great consideration and chose 11th-seeded USC to beat sixth-seeded SMU. Those odds prevailed for the Trojans, as they were able to overcome a 17-point deficit in the play-in game against Providence and heel the Mustangs to keep the streak alive.
Wisconsin’s win over Villanova could be recognized as the upset of the tournament, because virtually no one could foresee the defending national champion going out this early. But Badgers senior leaders Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes should have given people notice that this was a possibility. Koenig would go on to hit a three that gave the Badgers a 2-point lead with two minutes remaining in the game. Hayes followed this by making a clutch underneath-the-rim layup to secure the win and the upset. There is nothing more exciting than seeing the defending champion go down, leaving the spot open to crown a new team. The Badgers gave us that gift.
Xavier, to some surprise, is the only double-digit seeded team remaining in the tournament. You can now question if the committee got the Musketeers’ seeding right after what they did to third-seeded Florida State. Xavier went into the half up by 10, and it never looked back as it went on to beat the Seminoles by a whopping 25.
As one of the 7.3 million ESPN brackets owners that chose the Blue Devils to make it to the Final Four, nothing was more shocking during the week than South Carolina’s win over Duke. Every shot just kept falling for the Gamecocks toward the end of the game, and all I kept saying to myself was that they sure used their “home-court advantage” to the fullest playing, in Greenville, South Carolina.
I called them the dark horse of the tournament, and after the first week, Michigan has done everything it could to prove it. The Wolverines defeating second-seeded Louisville was another of those upsets that I can feel coming because of the roll they have been on prior to the tournament. They pulled off their second-straight close margin victory, and they left me with one question in mind: Can they repeat what UConn did in 2011 and win their conference tournament on the way to a shocking national title? We’ll see if they’re up to it in next week’s matchup with third-seeded Oregon.