March Madness lives up to its name in tournament's first weekend
Thursday featured opening round upsets galore. Saturday and Sunday featured the tournament's first No. 1 seed getting knocked out in Villanova and was capped off with No. 2 seeded Kansas and Virginia going down, and failing to make it to the second weekend.
The NCAA college basketball tournament has not even started its second week of competition and already the First Fan's bracket has been busted after North Carolina State dispatched the East region's top-seeded Villanova Wildcats in a tight contest on Saturday.
President Obama had Villanova in his bracket's Final Four, and some of the Wolfpack players may have used the President's slight as extra motivation to eek out a 71-68 victory and advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012. In a team huddle, sophomore point guard Anthony "Cat" Barber had some choice words (Rated R-expletive on video) for the President and what he thought of his game prediction. Barber may have taken the President's pick personally and responded by scoring 12 points, grabbing three rebounds, and handing out three assists. Afterwards he tweeted, “Got nothing but respect for @barackobama, Love our president! Caught up in a moment, Sweet 16!!!”
Villanova's offense was stuck in neutral for most of the first half, shooting just 28.6 percent from the floor, and never got into any kind of rhythm. They were able to weather the storm for most of the first half, but the Wolfpack closed with a 7-0 run to lead, 32-28, at the half to steal any momentum away from the Wildcats.
NC State jumped out to an 11 point lead in the second half, and Villanova just was not able to find their game in time to muster an organized counter-punch. The Wildcats scrapped back into contest in the waning minutes and were only down two points with 36 seconds left, but an ill-timed turnover sealed their fate and NC State made their free throws to put the game on ice.
The other big upset in the East Region was not as dramatic, nor were many fans and college basketball analysts shocked when No. 7 Michigan State toppled No. 2 Virginia by a final score of 60-54 early Sunday afternoon. The University of Virginia Cavaliers have won 30 or more games the last two seasons, but only have third round exits at the hands of coach Tom Izzo's Spartans to show for it. Izzo just knows how coach in big games this time of year, coaching Michigan State to its 13th Sweet 16 since 1998. The Spartan head coach also has senior leadership in guard Travis Trice and small forward Branden Dawson.
Trice scored 13 of his team's first 15 points and set the tone for his teammates, as he would finish with 23 on the day. Dawson chipped in with 15 points and nine boards.
Sunday's featured game in the Midwest region was the Kansas basketball civil war hoop fans in the Sunflower State have been waiting 22 years for. The University of Kansas and Wichita State have not played one another since 1993. Coach Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks have historically avoided scheduling their in-state rival in the past because Kansas is viewed as the Shockers' big brother who should beat up on Wichita ever time they play. However, given the Shockers' recent success: a Final Four appearance in 2013 and a perfect season entering the tournament last year, coach Greg Marshall was out to prove that Kansas is a two program state.
And they did.
Wichita weathered an early Kansas barrage and fell behind by eight points in the first half. From that point it was all Wichita State, out to show they were every bit as good as their in-state rival. Senior guard Tekele Cotton paced the Shockers with 19 points. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet filled up the stat sheet for Wichita, scoring 17 points, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out six assists, to go along with four steals and a block.
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No. 3 Notre Dame beat No. 6 Butler in overtime, 67-64, on Saturday out of the Midwest Region after head coach Mike Brey's mother had passed away that morning. The Butler Bulldogs had two opportunities to win the game in regulation, but could not convert. Notre Dame asserted their control during the overtime period and never trailed. The Fighting Irish were led in scoring by sophomore guard Steven Vasturia, who had 20 points and pulled down six boards.
No. 5 Utah took down No. 4 Georgetown on Saturday night, 75-64, out of the South Region. The game was tied going into halftime, but Utah was able to pull away late in the second half behind the Utes' veteran guards, receiving 14 points from junior Brandon Taylor and 12 from NBA prospect senior Delon Wright.
No. 4 North Carolina beat No. 5 Arkansas 87-78 on Saturday night in West regional action. The victory put Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams in a tie with legendary UNC coach Dean Smith for second most NCAA Tournament wins all-time with 65. Junior point guard Marcus Paige scored 20 of his 22 points to propel the Tar Heels to victory.
West region No. 1 seed Wisconsin also took care of business Sunday. The Badgers moved on with a 72-65 victory over No. 8 Oregon. The Ducks were only down three at halftime, but Wisconsin kept them at arm's length in the second half. Senior guard Joseph Young scored 30 in the losing effort for Oregon.