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March Madness is experiencing a buzzer-beater famine

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The Round of 64 wasn’t bad, but it didn’t feature the iconic finishes that help make March Madness feel like, well, madness.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-SMU vs USC Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

As Friday night’s NCAA Tournament games came to an anticlimactic end, it was hard not to get the sinking feeling that we’ve been deprived. March Madness has been noticeably missing the “madness” portion of the proceedings.

Lower-seeded teams won just six of 32 games, and none were particularly surprising. The biggest upset, by the NCAA Selection Committee’s criteria, was the 12-seed Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders’ 81-72 win over the five-seed Minnesota Golden Gophers, and technically that wasn’t an upset at all. The Blue Raiders were favored by 1.5 points at tipoff against the overseeded Golden Gophers.

Upsets are the sugar that sweeten the satisfying cup of coffee that is the NCAA tournament. Without upsets, the NCAA tournament is still a wonderful thing, but it’s clear that something is off and it leaves a bitter taste.

And the shot of espresso in this wrought metaphor is game-winning or -tying buzzer-beaters, of which there have been exactly zero so far. There have been three solid attempts by my count.

First, Princeton’s Devin Cannady shot his shot and hoisted up a rushed three-pointer to nearly beat Notre Dame.


Then Vanderbilt’s Riley LaChance got a long look at the end of a wild 90-second comeback that would have downed Northwestern:

Nuh uh.

Finally, on Friday evening, SMU’s Shake Milton left his last-second layup attempt just short:

Sooooo close.

March Madness is suffering a buzzer-beater famine right now. The last three NCAA tournaments featured at least two true buzzer-beaters, each through the first two days of play. Last year’s Round of 64 featured a ridiculous four — two on each day.

If you want to relive those fantastic opening two days, check out Northern Iowa’s halfcourt shot to beat Texas, Providence’s picture-perfect inbounds layup to beat USC, Iowa’s controversial game-winner in overtime against Temple, and heavily favored Purdue’s utter collapse against Arkansas-Little Rock.

However, for as memorable as the 2016 opening round was — 13 lower-seeded teams won — and as forgettable as 2017’s seemingly will be, it’s interesting that they both had about the same number of close games. In 2016, eight of those 32 games were decided by six points or less. In 2017, nine of them were, and they were almost all entertaining games, even if they didn’t end in buzzer-beater attempts like those highlighted above.

Oklahoma State-Michigan was a barnburner, a 92-91 win by the Wolverines that featured a popcorn-scarfing duel between Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans. It even had an end-of-game buzzer beater that, although meaningless to the outcome, ruined the day for anybody who bet on the Wolverines to cover a roughly 3-point spread. (And just imagine if Wolverine forward D.J. Wilson, a career 78.7 percent free-throw shooter, had missed one of his two free throws at the end of the game.)

Anybody who stayed up late on Thursday night got a treat in Virginia Tech-Wisconsin, a game between two teams that likely felt they could have been seeded higher by the committee heading into the tournament. In a game of contrasting styles, Wisconsin outmuscled Virginia Tech late and got a scoring injection from senior Bronson Koenig, who hit eight three-pointers to set a school record.

On Friday night, Wichita State and Dayton traded the lead 14 times and tied 11. The Shockers, though seeded three places below the Flyers, were favorites to win and got a stiffer challenge than expected when its excellent offense stalled. When junior Zach Brown hit a three-pointer to put Wichita State up six points with 5:38 left, it was the largest lead either team had up to that point.

There have been plenty of good games in the NCAA tournament so far. The final seconds have just been relatively tame and the results uncharacteristically in line with seedings:

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t feel a little bummed that this year’s March Madness hasn’t had more iconic moments. So much normalcy is, in fact, not normal at all in this case. The sheer volume of games over the first two days of the tournament makes it unlikely that something unexpected doesn’t happen.

By the luck of the draw, there has been an almost total lack of chaos in March Madness this year. And oddly enough, that fact makes this perhaps one of the strangest NCAA tournaments we have seen in a long time.