The first week of the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship has come and gone leaving more images that will become part of the fabric of one of sport’s most rich events.
It all started on Tuesday night at the First Four with Ole Miss rallying from a 17-point halftime deficit, looking like Phi Slama Jama in the second half, scoring 62 points and defeating BYU 94-90. Wednesday night brought controversy as Dayton, on their home floor, beat Boise State 56-55. Dayton was 16-0 at home this season coming in, and the home crowd certainly lifted the weary Flyers. For the regular season Mountain West champions, it was a cruel way to exit.
The tournament started in earnest on Thursday with a trio of three vs. 14 games, designed to sort of ease us in. Notre Dame had to hold on with defense at the end 69-65 over Northeastern, but the Big XII’s Iowa State and Baylor were not so lucky. Iowa State was out of sorts all day, chirping at the officials and bickering with each other. Plucky Birmingham took full advantage pulling the 60-59 shocker. Baylor saved their collapse for the end of the game, surrendering the game’s final 13 points in a 57-56 upset loss to Georgia State.
It was Georgia State giving us the first indelible memory from this year’s madness, when R.J. Hunter nailed a top-of-the-key three with 0.2 seconds remaining to give the Panthers the win. His father, Coach Ron Hunter (flying off his specially designed stool on the sidelines due to a ruptured Achilles suffered in the celebration of the conference championship victory), broke his cast and joyfully put arms to his head in excited disbelief.
Later on Thursday came the most controversial call of this year’s championship. UCLA’s Bryce Alford threw up a wild three-point attempt with 11 seconds remaining. He clearly fell short, but was touched on the way down by SMU. Goaltending was called awarding UCLA three points to put them ahead 60-59. A pair of shots failed for the Mustangs and UCLA had its upset. A pair of overtime games followed with Ohio State and Cincinnati emerging victorious. North Carolina nearly blew a 16-point second half lead holding on to beat Harvard 67-65. N.C. State rallied from a 16-point second half deficit to beat LSU 66-65.
Friday reverted to form as the higher seeds went 15-1 with the only lower seed to win being Dayton, playing 72 miles from campus in Columbus. Belmont put up their typical great fight, but fell to Virginia 79-67 in a game that was 62-60 with four minutes left. Saturday started off little more dramatic than Friday until N.C. State knocked out the #two-overall seed in the tournament Villanova, 71-68. Notre Dame closed out the day edging Butler 67-64 in overtime. After the game, we discovered Irish Coach Mike Brey had lost his mother earlier that day.
Sunday was highlighted by Wichita State knocking off Kansas 78-65 in maybe the most impressive performance by any team in the tournament so far. Michigan State knocked off Virginia for the second straight year meaning the top two seeds are out in the East.
In the regionals we have Kentucky/West Virginia and Notre Dame/Wichita State in the Midwest at Cleveland, Wisconsin/North Carolina and Arizona/Xavier in the West at Los Angeles, Louisville/N.C. State and Oklahoma/Michigan State in the East at Syracuse, and Duke/Utah and Gonzaga/UCLA in the South at Houston. The ‘road to the final four’ in Indianapolis continues.