In a field of 64 teams, this year’s Big Dance included the usual appearances by such basketball heavyweights as North Carolina, Memphis, Oklahoma, and last year’s national champions, Kansas. But there were a host of lower-seeded newcomers as well, like East Tennessee State, Siena, and Cleveland State, all vying to be this year’s Cinderella team. And for a brief moment, it seemed like they might succeed.
In the Midwest region, the No. 9 Siena Saints just barely scraped by No. 8 Ohio State to play against the overall No. 1 seed, Louisville. In their Sunday game against the Cardinals, the Saints pulled ahead of their opponents with a few minutes left, hoping to pull the tournament’s biggest bracket buster. Unfortunately, their best efforts weren’t enough to pull through and the Louisville Cardinals just barely survived with a 79-72 win.
The No. 1 in the East, the Pittsburgh Panthers, were the shakiest top-ranked team this weekend after struggling against the Buccaneers of East Tennessee State in the opening round. The Bucs fell just shy of becoming the first No. 16 to ever defeat a No. 1 seed in tournament history, but lost 72-62, sending the relieved Panthers to face No. 8 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
But if you thought Pitt might have learned a lesson, think again. The Panthers were nearly upset again as the Cowboys played hard and remained close all game before eventually falling 84-76 to the Pittsburgh big men of DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields, and Sam Young.
Along with these close calls, the weekend’s action saw 10 “upsets.” While some of these could hardly be called an upset (a No. 9 over a No. 8 for example), there were a few outcomes that genuinely came as a surprise to everyone. For one, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons were expected to do considerable damage in the Midwest, but fell in the first round to No. 13
Also in the Midwest, the defending national champions, Kansas Jayhawks shattered the glass slipper of the Dayton Flyers with Center Cole Aldrich’s 13 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 blocks—the first tournament triple-double since Shaquille O’Neill’s in 1992. Despite losing eight players from last year’s team, this young Jayhawk team has proven themselves with a spot in the Sweet 16.
As for more upsets, there was the usual No. 12 over No. 5 scenario as three No. 12’s made it to the second round. These were Wisconsin over Florida State, Western Kentucky over Illinois, and Arizona over Utah.
Out of these potential Cinderella teams, only No. 12 Arizona remains. After the Wildcats, the second lowest seed remaining is Purdue, a No. 5, in the West.
In a weekend of almost-upsets and games that went down to the wire, many of the top seeded favourites have survived and advanced to the Sweet 16. Since each of the top three seeds are still alive and within reach of the National Championship, the remaining rounds of games should be both exciting and trying for each team as they fight to keep dancing.
In the future, look for a dominating performance from the Memphis Tigers, who look to avenge their loss in the championship game last year, or for the perennial powerhouse performances from North Carolina’s Tyler Hansborough and company. As for “upsets,” don’t overlook Syracuse or Villanova just because there isn’t a “1” next to their name. If these teams come out to play this weekend, they could have what it takes to trump both Duke and Oklahoma, respectively.
But whatever the outcome, like last year’s historic Final Four of all one seeds, this year is shaping up to be another battle of the NCAA men’s basketball heavyweights.