After so many bubbles were burst and brackets busted late last week in the first round, this past weekend saw the relative restoration of order in the 2016 NCAA men's basketball tournament, though there was still an upset or two among the power conference teams reasserting themselves over the mid-major upstarts to claim tickets to the Sweet 16.
In a glaring exception, the No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers defeated the second seed Xavier Musketeers in the East region with a three-pointer by Bronson Koenig at the buzzer.
A few of this year's "Cinderella" teams turned into pumpkins at midnight. Early Saturday afternoon, 11th-seeded Wichita State, down at the half by 13 points, came back to take a lead late in the second half, but lost to the No. 3 Miami Hurricanes, 65-57. And immediately following, 12th-seeded Yale, down by a whopping 27 points late in the first half, came back strong but still fell short at the hands of No. 4 Duke, 71-64.
Sunday afternoon, the No. 14 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks lost in literally the last second when sixth-seeded Notre Dame got a tip-in from big man Rex Pflueger at the buzzer to seal the win for the Irish, 76-75. Notre Dame now proceeds to the round of 16 for the second consecutive year.
Later on Sunday night, the University of Northern Iowa suffered an historic collapse in the final minute of regulation to lose to a very fortunate Texas A&M team, 92-88, in two overtime periods. The NCAA has said that this was the greatest deficit ever surmounted in the last minute, with the Aggies down 12 points with a half minute remaining in regulation. Statisticians have suggested the chances of UNI winning the game had been somewhere between 99.9 percent and 100 percent.
And No. 11 Gonzaga (another seeding flub by the NCAA selection committee) capped things off with a humbling 82-59 win over the hapless third-seeded Utah Utes to once again secure a trip to the Sweet 16. This was a match designed for an "upset." Over-seeded Utah had no solution for the Bulldogs' big men Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, and had hobbled into NCAA tournament with a mediocre 2-7 record when they were losing at the first half. The Utes had been demolished by 31 points by Oregon in the Pac-12 conference postseason tournament final and had lost six games prior to Saturday by an average of just under 20 points per game. Gonzaga, on the other hand, had gathered a head of steam, having convincingly won their West Coast Conference postseason tournament title game over arch-rival and perennial powerhouse Saint Mary's, and then handily dispatched a flummoxed Seton Hall by sixteen points in the NCAA first round.
Whereas the victors emerging from the first round included seven double-digit seeds, the Sweet Sixteen now features only two (Nos. 11 Gonzaga and 10 Syracuse). And interestingly, all four No. 1 seeds are still active. In restoring order, the power conferences now hold fifteen of the Sweet 16 slots. Tournament action resumes Thursday night.