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NCAA Tournament 2016: The best and worst from the wildest day in March Madness history

Best day ever? Best day ever. Let's rehash every bit of it.

There's really no other way to start this other than coming right out and saying it: Friday was the best day of first round NCAA Tournament basketball ever.

You might immediately want to chalk that statement up as hyperbole or the product of a recency bias, but here's my evidence in support of it:

--Friday was the first time in NCAA Tournament history that a No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seed have lost first-round games on the same day. It was also, as you might have guessed, the first time a No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15 seed have won a tournament game on the same way.

--For the first time in NCAA Tournament history, 10 double digit seeds won a first-round game.

--Eight teams seeded No. 11 or worse have advanced into the second round, the highest such number in NCAA Tournament history.

--The worse-seeded team won six times on Friday and seven times on Thursday. In 2015, that happened five times on the tournament's opening Thursday and Friday combined. The 13 first-round wins for lower-seeded teams ties the NCAA Tournament record set in 2001.

--Friday gave us one buzzer-beater around the rim, one buzzer-beater from halfcourt, one near buzzer-beater that was waved off by the narrowest of margins, six games that were decided by five points or fewer and arguably the single greatest upset in the history of March Madness.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic yet again, Friday was pretty much everything that we love about this time of year packed into one 13-hour span. The expectations for the tournament seem to grow more and more gargantuan every year, so it was pretty special to see a day that not only met, but exceeded the mammoth standards of both the casual fan and college hoops diehards.

There's no way to get to each and every noteworthy item from perhaps the most insanely beautiful day the tournament has ever given us, but let's try our damnedest.


1. (11) Northern Iowa 75, (6) Texas 72 (West)

It's always special when you see an event live and know instantly that what just happened is something you're going to be seeing replays of for, pretty much, the rest of your existence.

Just before midnight on Friday, Paul Jesperson became a March Madness immortal.

The radio call from the Northern Iowa announcers was almost as glorious as the shot itself.

Often times, especially during this particular part of the year, a buzzer-beater puts a pretty mask on an otherwise poorly played, ugly game. This wasn't one of those instances.

Northern Iowa built a 16-point lead in the first half, but Shaka Smart's trademark up-tempo style allowed the Longhorns to get back into the game before halftime and then seize a two-point lead with 14:05 to play. The teams then exchanged body blows for the rest of the evening, with neither side ever leading by more than four.

Texas star Isaiah Taylor scored 22 points and did everything he could to get the Longhorns into the second round, including tying the score at 72 on a beautiful floater with 3 seconds to play. That merely set the stage for Jesperson, who, despite playing in the same city where Bryce Drew beat Ole Miss at the buzzer and in the same building where Steph Curry stunned the Thunder last month, may have hit the most incredible shot that Oklahoma City has ever seen.

The win also moved Northern Iowa, which only made the tournament because of a buzzer-beater in the Missouri Valley championship game, to 3-0 in NCAA Tournament games played in Oklahoma City.

2. (8) Saint Joseph's 78, (9) Cincinnati 76 (West)

There all sorts clichés out there about the razor thin line between success and failure, between victory and defeat, between basically anything good that happens in sports and anything bad that happens in sports.

Those clichés don't carry quite as much weight as their video embodiment, which occurred in the final tenth of a second in the game between Saint Joseph's and Cincinnati Friday night.

That's senior Octavius Ellis (whose backstory is really worth your time) coming as close as you can possibly get to sending a game into overtime without actually doing so. This is also, as you might remember, a Cincinnati team which saw its run in the AAC Tournament end via a quadruple overtime loss to Connecticut in which the Huskies extended the game into a fourth OT with a 70-foot heave.

I suppose there are cases out there that can be argued, but it's hard for me to imagine any team in any sport that has ever ended a season with back-to-back losses that were more excruciating.

As was the case after the Connecticut loss, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was not afraid to let loose with his thoughts on the officiating in the game's final moments.

"I can't tell if Octavius' hands were off the ball or not," Cronin said. "What I do know for a certainty is that Bembry whacked him in the back of the head going up with .5. For a 1,000 percent certainty, his head snaps to the left. When they watched the replay I'm sure they saw what they missed. Once again, unfortunate for our kids. So at the worst, we should have had two free throws to tie the game. That's my only comment on the last play."

Cincinnati freshman Jacob Evans had career highs of 26 points and nine rebounds, while senior center Coreontae DeBerry also notched a career high 18 points. Saint Joe's star DeAndre Bembry played all 40 minutes and led the Hawks with 23 points, six boards and five assists.

3. (15) Middle Tennessee State 90, (2) Michigan State 81 (Midwest)

If we're talking significance, then this game is No. 1 for Friday and maybe any other NCAA Tournament day.

Heading into this tournament, the major topic of discussion surrounding the Michigan State Spartans was their status as an under-seeded No. 2 seed which also happened to be one of the two top favorites to win the 2016 national championship. Now, the 2015-16 Spartans will forever be remembered for something far less envious: Being on the receiving end of the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

It's a statement that seems hyperbolic until you dig into the minutiae of just how improbable Middle Tennessee State's 90-81 triumph was. A total of 13.02 million brackets were entered this year on, and 22.3 percent of them had Michigan State winning it all. The only team to receive more love from the American public was No. 1 overall seed Kansas, which got the top nod 25.0 percent of the time.

Those gambling with actual money were even more confident about Michigan State's March odds.

This was a Spartan team that was the consensus No. 1 team in the country before potential national Player of the Year Denzel Valentine was sidelined with a knee injury in December, a three-week hiatus which likely cost Sparty a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. Still, the overwhelming opinion was that even if its resume didn't reflect it, Tom Izzo's team was playing as well, if not better, than any other team in America heading into the tournament.

The other part of this equation, of course, is Middle Tennessee State, a team which went 13-5 in Conference USA and lost non-conference tilts to the likes of Georgia State, Murray State and South Dakota State. According to Ken Pomeroy's ratings, the Blue Raiders entered Friday with the 198th-most efficient offense in Division-I. The 72.7 points per game they were averaging as a team ranked 189th in the country.

That same team, with those same credentials, did not trail Michigan State for a second on Friday afternoon. They put up 90 points on not just any Tom Izzo team in March, but likely one of the two or three best Tom Izzo teams that we've seen in March. They also did this on an afternoon when the Spartans buried 10 three-pointers and shot 56.0 percent from the field.

Every time it seemed as though MTSU was on the verge of folding in the manner teams in their position are supposed to, something borderline miraculous took place.

All five Blue Raider starters scored in double figures, led by junior Reggie Upshaw's 21 points. As a team, MTSU shot a blistering 55.9 percent from the field, and connected on 11 of its 19 3-point attempts.

Two seeds have lost in the first round before, but never like this. Never when the consensus was that the team being upset didn't just have a shot to win it all, but was arguably the favorite to cut down the nets.

MTSU now moves on to face Syracuse on Sunday, a game which it can absolutely win and become just the second No. 15 seed ever to crash the Sweet 16. That's great, and we all look forward to see if they can get it done, but win or lose, the Blue Raiders' spot in March Madness lore has already been solidified. No one has ever pulled a more stunning upset.

4. (7) Iowa 72, (10) Temple 70 (OT) (South)

How do you know you're dealing with one of the most exciting American sports days ever? When a contest that ended with an overtime buzzer-beater checks in at No. 4 on a "best games of the day" list.

After an inexplicable Iowa foul on a 3-point shot had allowed the game to extend into one overtime, Hawkeye big man Adam Woodbury made sure there wouldn't be a second with this putback just before the final horn.

Did he push off? Of course he pushed off. You can justify the play in another manner if you really wan to, but anyone who's ever seen an hour or two of basketball played at any level can tell you that's a foul. We'll talk more about it in a bit.

The brutally ironic thing for Temple is that, despite being decidedly smaller than their opponents from the Big Ten, they stayed in the game thanks in large part to their outrebounding of the Hawkeyes, 49-38. Iowa shot just 34.8 percent from the field and hit just seven of 28 attempts from beyond the arc, but they matched a season-low with just three turnovers, and outscored Temple by 11 points at the free-throw line.

5. (6) Notre Dame 70, (11) Michigan 63 (East)

The final score doesn't reflect it, but this was one of the most entertaining and intense games that the tournament has given us thus far.

Michigan controlled the first half by forcing the typically sure-handed Fighting Irish into a number of uncharacteristic turnovers. The Fighting Irish scored the first seven points after the break to cut John Beilein's team's lead to four and set up a back-and-forth final 15 minutes.

Junior forward V.J. Beachem was the hero for Notre Dame, connecting on all seven of his field goal attempts on his way to a team-high 18 points. His three-pointer with 4:24 to play gave the Irish a 62-59 lead that they would not relinquish.

The 12-point halftime deficit marked the biggest comeback victory ever in a tournament game for Notre Dame, which is now just a win over Stephen F. Austin away from making back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1979-80.


1. Middle Tennessee State

We've talked enough about the upset already, but the way it went down continues to be perhaps even more baffling than the core fact that it did.

There have been eight 15 over 2 upsets in NCAA Tournament history, but Middle Tennessee State is the only team in that group to not trail for a single second in its game. Despite entering the afternoon with the nation's 189th most efficient offense according to Ken Pomeroy, MTSU shot 55.9 percent from the field, the highest total of any Michigan State opponent since Dec. of 2012.

As Tom Izzo stated repeatedly during his postgame press conference, there was nothing flukey about this win; for 40 minutes on Friday afternoon, Middle Tennessee State was superior to Michigan State. Of all the shocking things that have taken place through two days of this madness, I don't think anything tops that.

It's also worth nothing that this was the first win over a top five opponent in the history of MTSU basketball.

2. Stephen F. Austin

Speaking of massive underdogs that didn't just win but won in convincing fashion on Friday, Stephen F. Austin somehow managed to make a 14/3 upset looking boring with its 70-56 decimation of West Virginia. The Lumberjacks scored 29 points off of 22 Mountaineer turnovers, backing up their status as the nation's No. 1 turnover percentage team.

On a day loaded with shocking facts and figures, this one still manages to stick out: Stephen F. Austin beat a No. 3 seed by 14 points despite shooting just 31.0 percent from the field and making only eight field goals in the first half. The recipe for this type of upset is supposed to be a talented, but undersized, offensive team getting hot from the outside and making crazy challenged shot after crazy challenged shot. Instead, SFA simply managed to out-West Virginia Bob Huggins' team for 40 minutes.

Next up is a well-deserved moment in the spotlight for Stephen F. Austin, which has won an NCAA Tournament game for the second time in three seasons. The Lumberjacks have been historically dominant in league play over the last three years (59-1 in regular season and tournament games), but breakthroughs on this stage always speak louder for any mid or low major conference program.

If Stephen F. Austin tops Notre Dame on Sunday, head coach Brad Underwood will set the Division-I record for most wins by a coach in his first three seasons. His 89 victories are currently died with former Butler and current Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

3. Hawai'i

Oh, by the way, there was a 13/4 upset on Friday, too.

Hawai'i became just the 21st No. 13 seed to win a first round game and the first since La Salle in 2013 by taking down fourth-seeded Cal, 77-66. The win also marked the first NCAA Tournament victory ever for the Rainbow Warriors, who are dancing for the first time since 2002.

The situation at Hawai'i is different than anywhere else in the country, as the team's juniors and seniors know for a fact that this is their only opportunity to make March memories as Rainbow Warriors. That's because Hawai'i has already self-imposed a postseason ban for 2017 due to violations that occurred under former coach Gib Arnold. It has made every dribble that much more important for every member of the team, and it's probably also made them much more dangerous

The sparkling 28-5 record that the 'Bows own is no fluke, and they showcased exactly why on Friday. The Rainbow Warriors shot shot 51.9 percent from the field, and led for all but seven of the game's 40 minutes. Quincy Smith paced three Warriors players in double digits with 19 points.


1. Michigan State

I saw the postgame stuff and I feel just as bad for Denzel Valentine and company as you do, but when you're on the receiving end of arguably the biggest NCAA Tournament upset ever, it's hard to justify not being the team that holds down this top spot.

This was, in the eyes of the people in Vegas willing to put their money behind their beliefs, the favorite to win it all in 2016. This was also a team that had given us no indication that anything like this was even remotely possible. They rolled through the Big Ten Tournament, and their most recent defeat had been a one-point overtime loss at Purdue on Feb. 9.

Any way you slice it, Michigan State's loss on Friday was as stunning as it gets.

2. West Virginia

At least Cal had multiple excuses, and at least Michigan State looked like it cared. Neither of those things can be said for West Virginia, which got (figuratively) punched in the mouth by Stephen F. Austin at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, and didn't appear to have any interest in punching back from that point on.

The Mountaineers were also 3 for 16 from beyond the arc .... against Steve Austin ....

I made it this far without dropping a hybrid NCAA Tournament/WWE "stunner" reference, and I'm not going to start now. Come too far. If you're going that route, you have to do it early.

3. Dayton

Dayton had won multiple games in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments and were going up a controversial tournament inclusion in Syracuse, which has the worst RPI team of any at-large team to ever sneak into the field. Neither of those things were apparent during a 19-point Flyer loss that wasn't even as close as the final score would indicate.

Making the pill even tougher to swallow for Dayton fans is that Syracuse now is just a win over Middle Tennessee State away from playing in the Sweet 16. At least Archie Miller didn't sweat as much as his brother did in his own one-sided tournament loss.


Thomas Walkup, Stephen F. Austin

The man who looks more like his mascot than any other player in the tournament hit 19 of 20 free-throws and scored 33 points as Stephen F. Austin extended the nation's longest winning streak to 21 games.

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Everyone is expecting the potential national Player of the Year to have a monster NCAA Tournament. He kicked things off by hitting 8 of 14 shots and scoring a game-high 27 points in Oklahoma's 82-68 triumph over CSU Bakersfield.

Jake Layman, Maryland

The Terp forward hit 5 of 8 shots from deep and scored a career-high 27 points to help Maryland thwart South Dakota State's upset bid.

JeQuan Lewis, VCU

VCU's do-it-all guard scored 21 points, dished out eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds in the Rams' 75-67 "upset" of Oregon State.

DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph's

The rest of the nation got a look at what the Atlantic 10 has seen for the last three years, as Bembry lit up Cincinnati to the tune of 23 points, six rebounds and five assists.


1. Northern Iowa's ecstasy/Texas' agony

Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

2. A game-winner hangs on the rim

Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

3. Oregon is just chilling

While the rest of the tournament burned, top-seeded Oregon had a relaxing experience against 16th-seeded Holy Cross.

Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images


1. The Big 12

A year ago, the Big 12 was responsible for the two teams that managed to become the first pair of No. 3 seeds in two decades to lose on the same day. Now, the league has advanced just three -- Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa State -- of its seven NCAA Tournament teams past the first round. Of the four Big 12 teams that tasted first round defeat, three were knocked out by double-digit seeds.

2. The no-call on Adam Woodbury's shove

If you want to toss out the "let them play in the final seconds" or "one call doesn't win or lose a game" stances here, that's fine, but the fact of the matter is that Adam Woodbury clearly pushed off to establish position for his game-winning putback, and it should have been called a foul.

That gets called at any other point in the game. I don't know why the final second has to be different.

3. Wisconsin-Pittsburgh

On a day of unparalleled excitement, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh combined to score the third-fewest points of any tournament game in the shot clock era. The Badgers, by the way, were involved in the No. 1 game on that list: a 43-32 loss to Missouri State in 1999.

Greg Gard's first tournament victory also marks the first time since the 1941 national championship game that Wisconsin has won in the NCAA Tournament when scoring fewer than 50 points.

4. Michigan State's postgame reaction

This isn't really a "jeer," but there's no place for it in the "cheer" section either, so here we are.

We all love celebrating the little guy at this time of the year, but every time that happens, we're reminded that there's another side to every euphoric celebration. Denzel Valentine's and Tom Izzo were both extremely emotional after their loss to Middle Tennessee State, driving home the brutal fact that for all the perks of March, it always represents the possibility that something you spent 12 months working for can be ripped away in a matter of moments.

5. The lack of a 16/1 upset

The dream dies for another year. Oregon had no problem with Holy Cross on Friday, moving No. 1 seeds to 128-0 all-time against their friends on the 16 line.


1. Everything that happened before, during and after Northern Iowa/Texas

We've posted all of it already, but it was just the best, and it deserves the top spot.

2. Stephen F. Austin's locker room celebration

On a day with a historic number of upsets, you're going to have a handful of celebrations to choose from. SFA's was the best.

3. History

The demand for insanity was at an all-time this year thanks to a historically unpredictable 2015-16 regular season. Just when it seems like the entertainment bar has been set unreachably high, a No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 seed all lose first round games on the same day for the first time in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

4. Thomas Walkup

He looks like his team's Lumberjack mascot, he drops 33 points on West Virginia, and then he does this in his postgame interview.

This is what March legends are made of.

5. Virginia fans giving money to MTSU for knocking off Michigan State

Virginia has had its Final Four dreams crushed by Michigan State in each of the past two seasons. That being the case, Cavalier fans were none too pleased to see the Spartans pop up as the No. 2 seed in their Midwest Region on Selection Sunday.

While some UVA fans played the "we wanted to do it ourselves" card after Middle Tennessee's stunning upset on Friday, others went the complete opposite route and actually donated money to the school in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

I don't hate it.

BONUS CHEER: The state of Iowa, which sent Iowa, Iowa State and Northern Iowa to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in the same season for the first time ever. Go Iowa awesome.


1. Jalen Reynolds, Xavier

He dunked so aggressively that the aftermath made it look like he was the one who got dunked on.

2. Mo Alie-Cox, VCU

Even in a game featuring Gary Payton II, the big man (future NFL tight end?) managed to throw down the most impressive cram.

3. DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph's

Slight work.


1. "You're supposed to coach every team and every game the same way. But let's face it, there are some guys and some teams that just do more for you. They resurrected me, for whatever length I coach, whatever number of years it's going to be, I'll owe them that. They brought the fun back into it. Not a lot of bad days at practice for the 120-some we had. Never a bad trip. Never a concern. I can look everybody in the eye and say I'll probably never have a team like this. I'll probably never have guys like this, but we'll shoot for it. But this is a special group. And that's why there's all the emotion. And that's why it's a tough time." --Michigan State coach Tom Izzo

2. "I've never been in a press conference where a guy has his feet up on the chair in front of him. I'm cool though. This is the West Coast. Do they sell marijuana in this town?" --Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli responding to a relaxed reporter

3. "I don't know why anybody would waste energy pressing us. We'll throw it to you regardless. That would be a waste of energy really. We're very charitable. We're one of the most charitable groups in college basketball. The second straight game we've turned it over 20 times." --West Virginia coach Bob Huggins

4. "Don't take it personally, he's just mad because Michigan State lost." --Golden State Warriors center  Marreese Speights to an official after teammate, and former Spartan, Draymond Green had gotten angry about a call

5. "Nobody that said we didn't deserve to be in knows anything about basketball. So we didn't think about it. They were just doing it to be cute and that's -- we don't need to react to those things. And these guys don't listen to that stuff." --Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim


We are tired, we are satisfied, we are excited, and we basketball on.

Second Round Games

Saturday, March 19 (Noon-Midnight ET)

Tip (ET)





12:10 p.m.


Providence  I

Miami vs. Wichita State

Ian Eagle/Chris Webber/Len Elmore//Evan Washburn

After conc. I


Providence  II

Duke vs. Yale


5:15 p.m.


Des Moines I

Kentucky vs. Indiana

Jim Nantz/Grant Hill/Bill Raftery//Tracy Wolfson

6:10 p.m.


Denver  I

Iowa State vs. Arkansas-Little Rock

Andrew Catalon/Steve Lappas//Jamie Erdahl

7:10 p.m.


Raleigh  I

Virginia vs. Butler

Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner//Lewis Johnson

After conc. I


Des Moines II

Kansas vs. Connecticut


After conc. I


Denver II

Utah vs. Gonzaga


After conc. I


Raleigh  II

North Carolina vs. Providence