2017 March Madness: Biggest Winners, Losers & Surprises from the First Weekend
It seems every year Wisconsin brings an experienced team into March capable of making a deep run. After upsetting Villanova, the tournament’s #1 overall seed, the Badgers kept the trend going, advancing to their fourth straight Sweet 16. Villanova and Wisconsin battled back and forth all game, but Wisconsin made shots when it mattered most, finishing the game on a 15-5 run. In typical Wisconsin fashion, a senior finished the job to secure the win. On a play that’s sure to be replayed for the rest of the tournament, Nigel Hayes went baseline for an up and under layup to give Wisconsin the lead with 12 seconds left, sending the defending national champions home. Fueled by being handed a disrespectful 8th seed, Wisconsin seniors Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koeing, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter have their sights set on reaching the Final Four for the third time in four years.
The Wildcats entered their first NCAA tournament in school history as a mystery but quickly proved that they belong. Northwestern opened the big dance winning a nail-biter against Vanderbilt, giving the school its first ever tournament win, setting the stage for a matchup with #1 seed Gonzaga. The Bulldogs jumped on Northwestern early, taking an 18-point lead into the half. It seemed as if Northwestern’s Cinderella story was all but over. However, Northwestern took advantage of Gonzaga’s mistakes in the second-half, scoring 17 points off 11 turnovers to help close the gap. The Wildcats were on the verge of cutting the lead to 3, before Gonzaga’s Zach Collins reached through the net to block Dererk Pardon’s layup. Northwestern’s Chris Collins stormed on the court, pleading for a goaltending call but was handed a technical instead. The Wildcats were never able to regain momentum as their attempt at an upset came up just short. Despite only advancing to the round of 32, Northwestern gave their fans a weekend to remember and cherish for a long time.
Xavier’s season was written off after its best player, Edmond Sumner, tore his ACL in January. Adding insult to injury, the team’s other point guard, Myles Davis, decided to walk away from the program. The transition after losing both guards wasn’t easy as Xavier went from a preseason top 10 team to a team on the bubble when Selection Sunday rolled around. The committee gave Xavier an 11th seed. Despite the low seeding, the Musketeers handled Maryland easily in its first game on Friday winning by 11. In the round of 32, Xavier was matched against 3rd seed Florida State. Musketeers head coach, Chris Mack, used a 1-3-1 zone to limit the athletically superior Seminoles chances at attacking the basket. Florida State couldn’t solve the zone or their shooting woes (4-21 on 3PT attempts) and Xavier ran them off the floor with perhaps the weekend’s best performance by a team. After winning 91-65, the Musketeers are the only double-digit seed left in the tourney. In the Sweet 16, Xavier faces another tough matchup against Arizona and former Musketeer coach Sean Miller. If the tournament’s first weekend is any indication, Arizona should be in for a dog-fight as the teams battle for a berth in the Elite 8.
The ACC sent six schools to the Sweet 16 in the 2016 NCAA tournament and two reached the Final Four. This year the ACC earned 9 invites to the big dance, threatening to break the Big East’s record of 11. After the tournament’s first weekend, the lone ACC team standing is its regular season champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels. #2 seeds Louisville and Duke were defeated by 7th seeds on Sunday. Florida destroyed Virginia, and 11th seed Xavier embarrassed Florida State as well. The ACC quickly went from the class of the college basketball to barely placing a team in the Sweet 16, as UNC barely escaped its game against Arkansas. The Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 all have three schools in the Sweet 16. The ACC’s hope for redemption lies on the shoulders of the Tar Heels, and they have the toughest path to a title of the remaining #1 seeds. After being regarded as the best conference in the nation, maybe the ACC was just the most overrated.
The Selection Committee
Once again, the selection committee proved it is ran by dirtbags, as they did a horrible job seeding the teams in this year’s field. While games like Wichita St/Kentucky and Wisconsin/Villanova were great to watch, they should’ve never happen during the first weekend of the tournament. Wichita St came into the tournament with a 30-4 record, won their regular and conference championship, and were still given a 10th seed. Wisconsin finished second in a Big Ten conference that sent seven teams to the tourney, and they were slapped with an 8th seed. Wisconsin’s Big Ten counterpart, Minnesota, got seeded 5th, but got bounced out of the tourney in the first round by 12th seed Middle Tennessee. The tournament has provided us with great games early, but horrible seeding has dealt several teams such as Villanova a bad hand, ruining their chances at an extended stay in the tournament.
South Carolina began the tourney with a tough win against Marquette, sparked by a furious second-half comeback. Coming into Sunday’s round of 32, no one gave the Gamecocks a shot at pulling off an encore. Despite being down by as much as 10 in the second half, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks pulled off the biggest upset of the weekend in front of a hometown crowd against the Duke Blue Devils. The Gamecocks used their physicality and strong defense to limit an immensely more talented Duke team. Behind SEC Player of the Year, Sindarius Thornwell, and Chris Silva’s 13 second half points, Carolina rallied to outscored Duke 65-51 in the game’s final 20 minutes. The 65 points were the most allowed by a Mike Krzyzweski-coached team in a half. South Carolina entered the tournament losing 5 of its last 7 games but a quick turnaround has led to them to its first Sweet 16 in 44 years. In an East region that’s been dismantled by upsets, the Gamecocks have legit Final Four aspirations heading into Friday’s matchup against Baylor.