The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has already packed a month of excitement into one weekend. This has been one of the craziest first and second rounds in NCAA Tournament history.
Surprises and upsets marked the opening two rounds of tournament play, sending some of college basketball’s most prominent names packing – including Kansas, Purdue, Duke, Virginia and Kentucky – when Fairleigh Dickinson upset Purdue and Princeton overcame Arizona and Missouri to write two of college basketball’s greatest Cinderella stories in recent tournament history.
What happens next in this frenzy of unpredictability remains a mystery. Even picking top seeds Alabama and Houston to reach the Final Four seems premature; if recent events are any indication, this year’s national champion may well be an unexpected team that entered tournament play off the radar.
This past week has shown why March Madness is the greatest tournament anywhere, and the Sweet Sixteen shapes up as one of the most unpredictable in history.
Though UMBC was the first team to make history, the Knights remain a remarkable underdog story in tournament history despite being eliminated in the second round.
In this year’s bracket, FDU appeared to be the weakest team on paper. After finishing 301st in the NET rankings of all 363 Division I teams, they lost 12 games against Quad 4 competition – one of those losses coming against Hartford, which ended the year ranked dead last in the NET rankings.
FDU boasts the shortest starting lineup in Division I with an average height of 6-foot-1 and no player taller than 6-foot-6 freshman Jo’el Emanuel. That didn’t stop them from engaging Purdue and their 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey to a draw in the paint. Maybe that says more about Purdue than it does FDU, though; we will get to that in a minute.
So, yes FDU upsetting Purdue was the biggest upset in March Madness history.
Purdue outdid their selves in losing to the 301st-ranked team in College Basketball. Purdue won the regular season Big Ten Title and the Big Ten Conference tournament. They had the Big Ten MVP in Zac Edey, they were seeded number one in the tourney, and then they promptly lost in the first round.
For Purdue, this is par for the course. It seems they win the Big ten every year and then completely fall apart once the pressure gets turned up. In the last three tournaments, Purdue has lost to a 13-seed, 15-seed, and now a 16-seed. Hopefully, the tournament expands again, or Purdue will lose to an even lower seed.
Watching the enormous Edey become irrelevant against a team where everybody seemed to come up to his waist was almost comical. Head Coach Matt Painter was thoroughly out-coached, and the Purdue players looked like they were afraid to shot at the end of the game.
The last time Purdue made the Final Four was 1980. To tell you how bad it is to coach at Purdue, then coach Lee Rose after taking the Boilers to the Final Four, stepped down and became the Head coach at South Florida!
Purdue, Duke, and Marquette all won major conference tournaments and promptly got bounced in the first weekend of the tournament. This is the history most of the time for teams that win a major conference tournament. Purdue wins the tournament but Michigan State who lost early in the Big Ten tourney is moving on to the sweet 16. In the Big East, Marquette dominated the conference tournament, yet Creighton and Xavier marched on to the sweet 16. In the ACC, Duke was impressive winning their conference tournament, yet Miami is in the sweet 16 and not Duke.
Texas interim coach Rodney Terry has done an outstanding job leading his team through former coach Chris Beard’s dismissal in early January and into their first Sweet 16 since 2008. Coach Sean Miller is in his second stint with Xavier University, leading them to their first sweet sixteen since 2017. Jerome Tang, a longtime Baylor assistant, guided No. 3 Kansas State to its second-highest tournament seed in program history and now the sweet sixteen with 27 points from senior point guard Markquis Nowell in the second round. The Wildcats went on to defeat No. 6 Kentucky 75-69.
Recent trends indicate first-time champions are getting to be the norm: Virginia in 2019 and Baylor in 2021 are two such examples. To find a previous member of this exclusive club before those two, one must look back to Florida’s initial back-to-back titles in 2006. Parity has reached college basketball.
Chances are increasing that a newcomer will join this elite group early next month. Of the 16 teams still alive in the men’s bracket, 12 have never won it all: No. 1 seeds Alabama, Houston, 2- seed texas No. 3 seed Xavier, Kansas State, Gonzaga; Tennessee, Miami, San Diego State, Creighton and Princeton all look for their first National Championship.
For the first time since 1980, the Sweet 16 will not include at least one of Duke, Kansas, Kentucky or North Carolina. Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Morth Carolina were eliminated by the second round to create an almost blueblood-free second weekend of competition. The Tar Heels didn’t even make the tournament.
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