Like Puccinelli before me and Herodotus before him, I am but a humble scribe simply tasked with the documentation of the historical events unfolding before my eyes. This year’s NCAA Tournament is only 1/3 of the way to crowning a champion, but it is already the best edition of this legendary sporting event. So, let’s go through all of the MADNESS of what just happened, pod by pod, shall we? I’ll indicate the pod by the team that survived.
The overall #1-seeded Jayhawks are through in one of the less interesting pods of the weekend. Led by Perry Ellis and a host of other good “college players,” KU romped 16-seeded Austin Peay and then handled a game UConn team. Freshmen Chieck Diallo and Carlton Bragg barely got off the bench for a deep, veteran-laden KU team. We did get drama in the 8/9 game, as Josh Scott and Colorado led most of the way, only to see UConn – and the ridiculous free-throw shooting of Rodney Purvis and Sterling Gibbs – come all the way back to win.
The Terps took a big lead against #12 South Dakota State only to see it slowly slip away and slip away, but they held on. The other first-round game gave us some MADNESS as #13 Hawai’i – with a slew of skilled athletes like Roderick Bobbitt and Stefan Jonkovic – pretty much handled a 4th-seeded Cal team that was red-hot and featured several future first-round NBA draft picks, including Jaylen Brown. who is likely to be a household name at some point, and Ivan Rabb. The kicker here is that their leading scorer, Tyrone Wallace, broke his arm in practice the day before the game. Then, in the Second Round, this fun Hawai’i team led for about 30 minutes before Maryland turned on the jets. Now, the Terps, who I still believe have the best five starting players (not the best lineup because they don’t really fit) in the country in Melo Trimble, Rasheed Sulaimon, Jake Layman, Robert Carter, and Diamond Stone, are moving on to the Sweet 16.
Sheldon McClellan barely led the 3rd-seeded Hurricanes past a pretty gritty Buffalo team, who was making their second straight tournament appearance despite losing Coach Bobby Hurley to Arizona State last season in the First Round, but that was the least interesting game of a great pod. The other First Round game saw Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet continue their incredible careers by upsetting #6 Arizona just two days after dismantling Wade Baldwin, Damion Jones, and Vandy in the First Four in Dayton. Two days after that, the Shockers were given a noon tip against Miami and fell down by 25 early. But, Baker and Van Vleet still had a little magic in them, as they stormed back and took the lead, only to see Angel Rodriguez just throw daggers at them to close out the game and two insanely historic careers in Wichita. Think about this – Baker and Van Vleet both arrived on campus four years ago to a school that was a good mid-major program, but nothing remarkable. But, four years later, the two of them graduate with a Final Four, an undefeated regular season, and 4 years where the only year that they did not win MULTIPLE TOURNAMENT GAMES was when they ended their season with only one loss all year – to the eventual national runners-up. Wow!
Jay Wright’s ‘Cats get the monkey off their backs of 6 years of total disappointment in this tournament. Freshman Jalen Brunson and senior Ryan Arcidiacono led the way, along with unsung superstar, Josh Hart, as #2 ‘Nova romped UNC-Asheville in the First Round and absolutely destroyed #7 Iowa in the Second Round. Pretty lackluster madness, right? Nope! The other game in this pod was Iowa versus #10 Temple. The Hawkeyes – led by the sharp-shooting of Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff – were up most of the way, but the Owls made a furious comeback and actually sent the game to overtime on three INCREDIBLY clutch free throws by senior star, Quentin DeCosey. Then, the overtime went back and forth until all-around d-bag, Adam Woodbury hit the winning putback at the buzzer thanks to a blatant two-handed shove in the back that wasn’t called. Had that been called, there would have been free throws for Obi Enechionya on the other end, and we would have all been treated to an NCAA Tournament game between two BIG FIVE TEAMS! We were robbed by the MADNESS.
The MADNESS here came in the First Round. There was a hint of some MADNESS even in the First Round game for top-seeded UNC. #16 Florida Gulf Coast (not exactly strangers to MADNESS, themselves) played toe-to-toe with the big, bad Tar Heels for the entire first half and entered the locker room down just 1 at 41-40. The Heels came out and flexed their muscles in the second half, but it was fun for 20 minutes. The other First Round game was fun for all 40. Providence and USC went up and down and back and forth all night before Kris Dunn hit a couple ENORMOUS shots down the stretch to erase a pretty sizeable USC lead that was built by their relatively unknown stars, Julian Jacobs, Jordan McLaughlin, and Bennie “Buckets” Boatwright. And, then it happened – MADNESS!!! USC, up 1 with :01.5 seconds left was so focused on stopping either Dunn – the two-time Big East Player of the Year – or Ben Bentil – the 2016 Big East scoring champ – that they forgot to cover little ole Rodney Bullock, who took the inbounds pass and scored a wide-open layup to win it. Wow!!! The Friars moved on to the Second Round and got pummeled by Carolina, but they had already contributed to the MADNESS.
Maybe not true MADNESS, but probably the best actual basketball game of the tournament so far came from this pod. When Indiana rolled Chattanooga and Kentucky rolled Stony Brook in the First Round, we were guaranteed this great matchup between two ultimate college hoops heavyweights who were the respective champs of the Big Ten and SEC. Star PG Tyler Ulis versus star PG Yogi Ferrell. Everyone’s favorite one-and-done, Jamal Murray, versus the completely unknown future star, O.G. Anunoby. In what was just a terrific basketball game that was no befitting the Second Round, the Hoosiers eliminated Calipari’s ‘Cats and sent Ulis, Murray, and Skal Labissiere to their next stops in the Association.
MADNESS lives and his name is Austin, Stephen F. Austin. The 14th-seeded Lumberjacks simply dominated #3-seed and sleeper Final Four pick, West Virginia, in the First Round winning by 14 in a game that wasn’t even that close. The other First Round game saw Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste come back from a huge deficit to lead #6 Notre Dame past #11 Michigan. That set up some MADNESS. Stephen F. Austin, who best player, Thomas Walkup, actually might be a lumberjack, outplayed Notre Dame, but the Irish took every punch and eventually got the game-winning tip-in at the buzzer turning a one-point loss into a one-point win. And, who scored that monumental basket? But, of course – Rex Pflueger. I mean that makes sense, considering he hadn’t scored since March 5th, and only scored more than 2 points in SEVEN of ND’s 34 games. MADNESS!!!
On January 12th, the Badgers were 9-9 and 1-4 in Big Ten play. They had lost to Western Illinois, Milwaukee, and Marquette at home. They had lost their Hall of Fame head coach. So, why wouldn’t they be in the Sweet 16?!? They won a First Round game that was the lowest-scoring game in Tournament history, 47-43 against Pitt, and then took on #2 Xavier, led by Jalen Reynolds, Trevon Blueitt, Myles Davis, and freshman star Edmond Sumner. This is the best Xavier team ever assembled and a legit championship contender. Then Bronson Koenig happened. The junior hit a 26-footer with :15 seconds left to tie the game at 60. Then Sumner committed a charge on the other end with :05 seconds left, setting up Koenig’s heroics, as he took an inbounds pass in the corner and calmly DRILLED a ridiculous game-winner. MADNESS!!!
Let’s start in the First Round with some MADNESS. #8 St. Joe’s took on #9 Cincy in a true East Coast style brawl out in Spokane. Isaiah Miles hit a 3 with :20 seconds left to put St. Joe’s up 78-76. Cincy comes down, Troy Caupain drives the lane, draws about 4 Hawks defenders, lets go of an incredible wrap-around pass to Octavius Ellis, who does exactly what you’re supposed to do and DUNKS THE BALL. The problem? When the red light goes on, the ball is through the basket, but he is still touching it. Basket waved off, St. Joe’s survives, MADNESS wins…as always. The Hawks and superstar, DeAndre Bembry, then move on to face #1 Oregon, who dispatched Bill Carmody’s 14-19 Holy Cross team that won their first 4 road games of the year in the Patriot League Tournament to win the thing. Oregon, led by Pac-12 POY Dillon Brooks and Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year Chris Boucher, actually struggled most of the way against the Hawks, but hit some monster shots down the stretch to squeak out a victory.
MADNESS!!! #5 Baylor got manhandled by #12 Yale in the First Round. Yep, you read that right. Yale manhandled Baylor. They outrebounded Baylor. How do a bunch of Ivy League kids outrebound big, bad Baylor? Well, some awful reporter asked Taurean Prince that question in an even more ignorant, condescending way than I just did. And, Prince’s deadpan answer was phenomenal: You see when someone takes a shot and misses, anyone on the court can go up and grab the ball with two hands. When that happens, it’s called a “rebound.” Ya, they got more of those. But, anyway, MADNESS struck with a little white guy named Makai Mason dropping 31 on Baylor and eliminating a sleeper Final Four pick before the sun went down on Thursday. The first game of the tournament had the potential for Madness, but Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, and the last Plumlee put the Dookies on their backs and carried them past a good UNC-Wilmington team. Then, Duke ambushed Yale from the start in the Second Round, but Yale came storming back, cutting a 27-point lead to just 3, but couldn’t finish the job, and Duke and their 6 useable players move on to the Sweet 16.
Obviously, there were a lot of pods with a LOT OF MADNESS. But, nothing can top the MADNESS that ensued in this little pod. Let’s get this out of the way first – #3 Texas A&M ran over #14 Green Bay in an easy First Round win. Jalen Jones, Danuel House, College Station’s own Alex Caruso all were too much for the Phoenix. But, that is where the non-MADNESS ends in this pod. First Round, late Friday night: 11th-seeded Northern Iowa (who got into the Dance on a crazy buzzer-beater by Wes Washpun to beat Evansville in the MVC final) led #6 Texas almost the whole way, but the ‘Horns made a great comeback and tied it on an Isaiah Taylor runner with :02 seconds left. Overtime, right? Nope…MADNESS! The incredibly well-coached Panthers had an inbounds play ready to go without even using a timeout. They threw the ball to Paul Jesperson, who took two dribble and shot a one-footed shot from half-court. GOOOOOOOOODDDDD!!!!! You gotta be kidding me. One of the best moments that’s ever happened to this program (at least from a guy not named Faroukmanesh), right? Well, yes…and no. It sent the Panthers to the second round, which is great, right? Well, yes…and no. In an evil twist of fate, the greatest buzzer-beater in NCAA Tournament history enabled the worst collapse in COLLEGE BASKETBALL HISTORY. I still don’t believe that this happened, but UNI had a TWELVE-POINT LEAD WITH :44 SECONDS LEFT. WHAT?!?!?!?!? But, they didn’t have their “designated inbounds passer,” who was struggling with cramps. What? Not having an inbounder costs you 12 freaking points in :44 seconds??? Good grief… Yes, A&M went on to win in double-OT. Absolute incredible and total MADNESS – no other word for it.
The MADNESS here is pretty much confined to how freaking awesome one dude is. The guy known simply as “Buddy” was an absolute force in two games so far, scoring 53 points in a pair of OU wins to reach the Sweet 16. The games weren’t without their fun, though, as the 2nd-seeded Sooners were pushed by both #15 CS-Bakersfield (with Dewayne Durham) and #10 VCU, but survived in both of them. The other game in this pod was a decent game where VCU’s Melvin Johnson outdueled Gary Payton III and Oregon State, who was playing without their second-best player, Tres Tinkle.
UVA looked pretty good in validating their #1 seed, as future U.S. Senator, Malcolm Brogdon and, especially, Anthony Gill and London Perrantes, rolled over Hampton and then survived a REALLY tough test from Kellen Dunham, the immortal Rosie Jones, and the rest of the Butler Bulldogs, who looked very upset-ready. The ‘Dogs had knocked out Tubby Smith’s Texas Tech Red Raiders in the 8/9 game in the First Round.
The MADNESS in this pod came from two teams that are no longer around. #5 Purdue, with the ridiculous frontline of AJ Hammonds, Isaac Haas, and Caleb Swanigan, were cruising past a 29-win AR-Little Rock team, up 13 at the under-4 timeout. But, then their glaring hole at point guard reared its ugly head and Little Rock came storming back including an INSANE 3 to force overtime by Josh Hagins. The Trojans finished the job in double OT, knocking out yet another sleeper Final Four pick before their tournament even got started. The Cyclones of Iowa State, led by 56 points in two games by Georges Niang, ran away from AJ English and Iona and then took care of Little Rock to reach the Sweet 16.
MADNESS!!! An 11-seed in the Sweet 16 is always crazy, but it’s starting to be less so with the ‘Zags. They have now made – get this – FOUR Sweet 16s as a double-digit seed. No other program has ever done that more than twice. Cinderella stops being Cinderella when it’s always the same team. But, the ‘Zags, who were a 2-seed last year and a 1-seed the year before that, looked very much like the best team in this pod, as they crushed #6 Seton Hall and an exhausted Isaiah Whitehead in the First Round and then absolutely pummeled Jakob Poeltl and #3 Utah in the Second Round. Utah had nearly blown a lead to Marvelle Harris and #14 Fresno State in the First Round, but survived.
And, after all of this, we STILL haven’t mentioned the craziest thing that happened. THE BIGGEST UPSET IN NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY. Ya, that happened, too. There are good arguments about whether or not the Middle Tennessee upset of #2 Michigan State really was the biggest upset ever, they are all based in the fact that MTSU isn’t all that bad and were criminally underseeded as a 15-seed. But, NO ONE is arguing that this Michigan State team is the best team in the history of the tournament to lose in the First Round. They were – along with Kansas – the Vegas favorites to WIN THE WHOLE F’ING THING. The other 2-seeds to lose to 15-seeds were very vulnerable and overrated 2-seeds like Missouri, South Carolina, and Georgetown. Or, they happened in years with prohibitive favorites, like ’91 Syracuse in a year when UNLV and Duke were LOADED, ’93 Arizona when the Fab Five were all back as sophomores and UNC was loaded. Or, 2001 Iowa State, in a year with a 1-loss Stanford team and a Duke team that had an NBA starting lineup of Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier, and Carlos Boozer. But, this Michigan State team was one of two odds-on favorites to win the whole thing, had one of the two best players in the country, and a coach that is going to be elected into the Hall of Fame this year. You’ve got to be kidding. Giddy Potts just hit ANOTHER THREE. And, in under-the-radar MADNESS, 10th-seeded Syracuse, who shouldn’t have even been in the tournament, cruised past Dayton and Middle Tennessee for a spot in the Sweet 16, where they will wear home whites as the higher-seeded team against #11 Gonzaga. Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinijie are laughing all the way to Chicago.