They can't all be classics, I'm aware of this, but for the better part of Saturday it looked like we might go an entire day on the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament without seeing a game decided by a single-digit margin. As it so often does, however, the night saved things.
Here's what went down on day three of the big dance.
3 BEST GAMES
1. No. 3 Marquette 74, No. 6 Butler 72 (East)
No team remaining in the tournament embodies the "survive and advance" theme of March more than the Golden Eagles, who will head to the Sweet 16 after winning their first two games by a combined three points.
Vander Blue scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the second half, helping Marquette erase an eight-point halftime deficit and move on to the second weekend of the tournament for a third straight year. But it didn't come without some last-minute drama.
The Golden Eagles appeared to be in complete control of things with a four-point lead and less than five seconds to go, but Butler converted a perfect length-of-the-court pass for a quick lay-up to cut the margin to two. Marquette then threw the ensuing in-bounds pass away, giving the Bulldogs one last shot at winning the game or sending it into overtime. It was an especially scary situation for the three seed from the Big East, considering they had already lost to Butler on a Rotnei Clarke three at the buzzer back in November. There would be no such heroics on Saturday, however, as Clarke never touched the ball and Andrew Smith's awkward three-pointer found nothing but glass.
Between last year's tournament and the first three days of this one, players have gone 1-for-19 (5.3 percent) on potential game-tying or go-ahead shots in the final 10 seconds of games. The lone make was Blue's driving lay-up with a second remaining to beat Davidson on Thursday.
The world needs a buzzer-beater. Make it happen, Sunday.
2. No. 9 Wichita State 76, No. 1 Gonzaga 70 (West)
Mark Few and company don't need to hear it from me, but almost losing to a 16 seed and then becoming the first No. 1 seed to get knocked out of the tournament two days later isn't exactly the best way to answer critics who say you aren't worthy of running with the big dogs. Also, if you're going to lose, doing it against a team that calls themselves the "Shockers" is something else that should be avoided, if only for the health of Sunday morning headline critics (they exist) across America.
Despite Wichita State showcasing a hot hand from outside early, the Zags never really tightened up on the perimeter to force the Shockers to do anything else. The result was a 14-for-28 three-point shooting performance by their mid-major brethren from the Midwest, headlined by Ron Baker's 4-for-6 effort.
Gonzaga, which still hasn't advanced past the Sweet 16 since its original Cinderella run back in 1999, becomes just fifth team ranked No. 1 in the final regular season AP poll to lose in the Round of 32 since the field expanded in 1985. Wichita State, meanwhile, is the fifth No. 9 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 over that same period of time.
3. No. 4 Syracuse 66, No. 12 California 60 (East)
The only other game on Saturday that was decided by less than 17 points wasn't exactly a classic...but, I mean, it was decided by less than 17 points. Beggars can't be choosers here.
Syracuse missed 15 free throws, went 12 minutes without a basket at one point and made just six field goals in the second half, but still found a way to advance to the Sweet 16.
"It was not pretty," SU coach Jim Boeheim admitted after the game. "Honestly, I don't think I can describe it. It was about as ugly as I think it can get."
Basically, the "best games" list is taking a pretty hard hit to its rep right now.
The vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone was the only true star of the game, frustrating Cal into a 4-for-21 effort from beyond the arc. C.J. Fair's 18 points, six rebounds and two steals didn't hurt either.
3 TEAMS THAT WON IT THE BEST
VCU had no answer inside for Michigan big man Mitch McGary, who made 10-of-11 shots to score a career-high 21 points to go with 14 rebounds. The Wolverines rolled to a 78-53 win in the first game of the day.
The final score made the Rams the first team in NCAA Tournament history to lose a game by 25 points or more after winning the previous one by at least 40. VCU beat Akron 88-42 on Thursday.
VCU's "Havoc" defense has become a well-known entity since Shaka Smart led the Rams to the Final Four in 2011. His team utilized it to force opponents into 19.3 turnovers per game this season, well above the national average of 13.0.
Having arguably the best backcourt in the country is a pretty good counter-punch to that style of play.
Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Spike Albrecht all handled the VCU pressure like professionals, which allowed Michigan to cruise into its first Sweet 16 since 1994. The Wolverines committed just 12 turnovers, dropping the Rams to 0-8 this season when forcing less than 15.
Colorado State came into the Round of 32 with a record of 20-0 in games where they shot 43.0 percent or better from the field. The Rams made 47.3 percent of their shots on Saturday, and they lost by 26 points.
"I don't want to put the pressure on Rick and his guys, but they're special," CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. "They need a little luck like everybody does to win it all, but that's as impressive team as I've been against."
It's hard to disagree with him after watching Louisville force Colorado State, the team which entered the day with the best turnover margin in the country, into 20 give aways. The Cardinals also out-rebounded the nation's leader in rebounding margin by five.
U of L now heads to the Sweet 16, a round where Rick Pitino has not lost in 10 career appearances. If that stat weren't impressive enough, Pitino's average margin of victory in those games is 19.8 points. At Louisville -- where he's won in the Sweet 16 four times -- it's 21.3 points.
That could be bad news for...
The Pac-12 champs were widely considered to be the team dealt the most undeservedly poor seed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee last Sunday, and they've backed that reputation up in their first two games.
Damyean Dotson scored 23 points and Carlos Emory added 14 points as the hot-shooting Ducks rolled over a Saint Louis team that many experts considered propped up as the darkhorse team of the Midwest region. Oregon held SLU to just 57 points on 69 possessions, the Billikens' second-lowest offensive efficiency in a game this season. OU, meanwhile, made eight of its 11 attempts from beyond the arc, the highest three-point shooting percentage for any team in the NCAA Tournament since 1994.
Dana Altman and company can now continue to play the "us against the world" card as they prepare to face No. 1 overall seed Louisville, in what will essentially be a home game for the Cardinals in Indianapolis on Friday.
3 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS
This worst part about this loss if you're a Gonzaga fan has to be that you can't play the "no respect" game for probably the first time in your existence.
Ranked as the No. 1 team in the country by both the coaches and the Associated Press, the Zags entered the NCAA Tournament knowing that anything less than a Final Four appearance would be viewed as a disappointment. If the respect from the national media wasn't enough, the Bulldogs were also handed what appeared (and still appears) to be the most favorable draw of any of the four No. 1 seeds. On top of that, they entered their game on Saturday night with the knowledge that the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the West had all already been toppled.
All this being the case, it was really disappointing to see Gonzaga lay the type of egg that so many college basketball fans across the country predicted they would. It was even more bothersome that the performance came just two days after a scare from Southern that should have been more than enough to serve as an adequate wake-up call.
Mark Few has a lot of talent coming back next season, but he has to know that regardless of what they accomplish in the regular season, his team will be doubted right up until they get the chance to redeem themselves in the 2014 big dance.
I get that they did it against a team that was basically playing its third string point guard, but when you win a game in the NCAA Tournament by 44 points, it's almost inconceivable that you could be dominated so thoroughly just two days later. Of course it's probably inconceivable because it had never happened. The 71-point swing by the Rams -- who won by 46 on Thursday and lost by 25 on Saturday -- is the largest in NCAA tournament history.
3. Saint Louis
The Billikens got a lot of love from the national media heading into this tournament, but looked nothing like the team their backers claimed they were in a blowout loss to No. 12 seed Oregon. Saint Louis's style of play isn't built for playing from behind, a place they found themselves from the 15-minute mark of the first half up until the final buzzer on Saturday.
The Atlantic 10 has more than proved itself so far in the big dance, but it was still strange to see Oregon's superior size and athleticism make SLU look like a mid-major. The Ducks did whatever they wanted on offense, a statement best reflected by their shooting the highest three-point percentage of any team in the tournament in almost two decades.
The loss ends a magical run for Saint Louis, which dedicated its season to former coach Rick Majerus, who passed away from heart failure last December.
THE ALL-DAY 3 TEAM
Russ Smith, Louisville
Smith followed up his 23-point effort on Thursday with a 27-point performance on Saturday. Add that to his 30-point game against Kentucky from last season and Smith has now scored 80 total points in three games at Rupp Arena.
Mitch McGary, Michigan
The big man in the middle for the Wolverines made 10-of-11 shots and scored a career-high 21 points to go with 14 rebounds. If he can keep up that level of play next weekend, Michigan is going to be awfully tough for anyone to beat.
Vander Blue, Marquette
The man with perhaps the coolest name in the tournament scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the second half to help Marquette turn a 35-27 halftime deficit into a 74-72 victory.
Mark Lyons, Arizona
Harvard had no answer for the score-first point guard, who hit 12-of-17 shots and netted a game-high 27 points.
Gary Harris, Michigan State
The freshman played like the star he needs to be for the Spartans to keep advancing, scoring 23 points and handing out six assists while turning the ball over just once.
3 SATURDAY JEERS
1. Michigan State's in-fighting
The Spartans made national headlines back in January when Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson were both removed from the starting lineup after getting into a fight at the team hotel on the morning of a game against Penn State. Punches were reportedly thrown by both players, and a police investigation resulted.
2. The reflexes of the Oregon band
Not only does this trombone player get drilled in the head by a halfcourt shot that had been in the air for at least a couple of seconds, but the guy next to him sees what's about to happen, makes an effort to prevent it, and ball smacking dome still occurs.
As if being the first 1 seed eliminated and having the whole country call you overrated wasn't bad enough, the Zags also managed to commit the most embarrassing turnover of the tournament so far.
That's probably not going to be topped.
3 DAY ONE CHEERS
1. Celebratory coaches
Buzz Williams (AKA "Buzz Boogie):
Gregg Marshall (AKA "Greg Marshall"):
I have no idea what that means. Just going to assume it's some type of Midwestern gang sign and move on.
2. RAM FAN
Ram Fan became one of the biggest stars of the tournament on Thursday, which allowed us to find out a little bit more about him when he stepped back into the spotlight on Saturday.
For starters, his real name is Justin Stank, but the team calls the 16-year-old former ballboy "Little Diesel." Apparently he's been sporting a Ram costume at games for years, and the one he currently wears was handmade by his mom.
He also had no trouble making friends with opposing fans in Lexington.
And even though it looks like he might have gone R-rated on us...
He's really just singing the "fight" song.
Until next year, my friend.
3. Dancing Arizona band guy
This is how you make the Cheers section, Oregon trombone player.
3 BEST DUNKS
1. Solomon Hill, Arizona
2. Khyle Marshall, Butler
3. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan (only included because of pass)
3 NOTABLE QUOTES
1. "Our offense wasn't as good as it was all year. Nothing was as good as it was all year." -- Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos
2. "That's nice. Now, if it had been from Kevin Durant, that's my guy. I would have passed out." -- Louisville guard Russ Smith after being told that LeBron James tweeted about him
3. "There are a lot of ways to try to beat the zone but, personally, I don't know what works. Everybody has their opinion, but nobody tells Duke, when they play bad ‘man,' that they should go zone. So, why would anyone tell us to go ‘man' when we play zone? The Georgetowns and Pittsburghs have been playing against it for years, so they can break it down a little bit. But if you're from the West Coast, it's going to be tough for you. The zone works for us, and it's led us to the Sweet 16." -- Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams
FULL SUNDAY SCHEDULE
We gon' do one more.
Third-round games from Austin, Dayton, Kansas City and Philadelphia
Iowa State vs. Ohio State, 12:15 p.m. ET (CBS) (Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg/Tracy Wolfson)
Temple vs. Indiana, 2:45 p.m. ET (CBS) (Nantz/Kellogg/Wolfson)
North Carolina vs. Kansas, 5:15 p.m. ET (CBS) (Marv Albert/Steve Kerr/Craig Sager)
Minnesota vs. Florida, 6:10 p.m. ET (TNT) (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski/Otis Livingston)
Florida Gulf Coast vs. San Diego State, 7:10 p.m. ET (TBS) (Kevin Harlan/Len Elmore/Reggie Miller/Lewis Johnson)
La Salle vs. Ole Miss, 7:40 p.m. ET (TruTV) (Albert/Kerr/Sager)
Illinois vs. Miami, 8:40 p.m. ET (TNT) (Brando/Gminski/Livingston)
Creighton vs. Duke, 9:40 p.m. ET (TBS) (Harlan/Elmore/Miller/Johnson)