Seven out of eight favorites won on Sunday, but that doesn't mean day four of the NCAA Tournament was boring.
Three of Sunday's games went down to the final buzzer as Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Wisconsin all escaped with heart-stopping wins. All three teams overcame last-minute deficits to punch their tickets to the Sweet Sixteen. In all, only Villanova and Syracuse finished their Sunday slate without any real degree of drama.
For the first time since 2009, Villanova is headed to the Sweet Sixteen. Jay Wright's Wildcat team had been haunted by postseason frustrations since the turn of the decade, but they took out six years of frustration against an Iowa team who never had a chance on Sunday. 'Nova led by as many as 25 points in the first half and cruised to a 19-point victory in Sunday's first game.
It was a disappointing end to 2015-16 for the Hawkeyes. Iowa had been ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation this winter, but a 2-6 end to its season dropped the team all the way down to a No. 7 seed. The blowout loss was an rough sendoff for senior Jarrod Uthoff. The All-Big Ten forward ended his college career with a team-best 16 points.
Stephen F. Austin held the ignominious title of "Sunday's toughest loss" for about five hours after watching a five-point lead evaporate in the final 1:36 against Notre Dame. The Lumberjacks went the final three and a half minutes without a field goal as the Fighting Irish escaped to the Sweet Sixteen behind Rex Pflueger's tip-in with 1.7 seconds remaining. Stephen F. Austin star Thomas Walkup had 21 points, five rebounds and five assists, but also missed two big shots in the final 70 seconds in the heartbreaking defeat.
Oklahoma watched a 14-point lead evaporate in the second half, but Buddy Hield refused to let the Sooners' season end. Hield scored a game-high 36 points, including 11 in the final five minutes of play, as OU held off the Rams' late rally. VCU leading scorer Melvin Johnson scored 23 points, but needed 22 shots to get there as the Sooners used their harassing defense to force him into a myriad of bad shots.
Middle Tennessee's surprising NCAA Tournament ran out of gas after three strong halves of postseason play. The Blue Raiders briefly led Syracuse after halftime, but Jim Boeheim's zone defense squeezed the life out of the MTSU offense in a second half rout. MTSU made only 29.7 percent of its shots -- nearly half the success rate it had in a 90-81 upset of Michigan State -- and was outscored 44-23 over the final 20 minutes. Senior Michael Gbinije led all scorers with 23 points as the Orange advanced to a Sweet Sixteen showdown against Gonzaga.
Hawaii fans came out in numbers to support the underdog Warriors, but that wasn't enough to keep their team dancing. Stefan Jankovic struggled to find his range against five-seed Maryland, needing 17 shots to score 14 points. Maryland only made one of its 18 three-point attempts, but its efficiency up front propelled the team past the upset-minded underdogs. Big men Diamond Stone, Robert Carter and Jake Layman made 59 percent of their shots and Melo Trimble scored 13 of his 24 points from the free throw line as the Terps ground down an outgunned Warrior team.
Northern Iowa looked like this season's Cinderella after leading Texas A&M throughout the second half and taking a 12-point lead with 44 seconds left to play, but the Aggies pulled off one of the tournament's most improbable comebacks to give UNI the most painful defeat of the big dance so far (graph courtesy of Five Thirty-Eight).
Admon Gilder's steal and layup with three seconds remaining erased Northern Iowa's lead and capped a Texas A&M defensive spree that included four turnovers in the game's final 30 seconds. The Panthers regained their composure and made some timely three-pointers to open up an 82-79 lead with 29 seconds left in overtime, but Aggie senior Alex Caruso responded with a pair of clutch baskets that sent this game to a second overtime.
Northern Iowa ran out of energy in the final five minutes, and A&M escaped to the Sweet Sixteen with an improbable win. Caruso finished the game with a season-high 25 points, while Danuel House scored 22 points, all of which came in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime.
Bronson Koenig had no interest in ending his season on Sunday night. The Badger guard drilled a pair of huge three-pointers late against Xavier, including this game-winner as time expired:
Koenig's clutch shooting capped off an impressive comeback. Xavier led by nine points with six minutes to play before Wisconsin began to chip away at the Musketeer lead. An 11-2 run in the final four minutes gave head coach Greg Gard his first Sweet Sixteen run with the Badgers.
Saint Joseph's was in great shape to be the first team to topple a No. 1 seed in 2016. The Hawks led Oregon 58-51 with 4:45 to play, but some timely defense put the clamps on Phil Martelli's team and pushed the Ducks into the Sweet Sixteen. Atlantic 10 Player of the Year DeAndre Bembry posted a double-double for Saint Joe's, but needed 15 shots to get to 16 points against a stingy Oregon defense.
Elgin Cook and Dillon Brooks paced the Ducks with 43 combined points. Oregon has now won 10 straight games, and will look to keep that streak alive when it plays Duke in a Sweet Sixteen showdown on Thursday night.
Three things we learned
1. Bronson Koenig's temperature runs somewhere around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The Wisconsin guard must have ice floes floating through his veins, because the pressure of a late deficit against two-seed Xavier didn't heat him up at all. Koenig led all scorers with 20 points, but it was his last two shots that earned him a lifetime of free butter burgers back in Madison.
With UW trailing 63-60, he calmly drained a long three-pointer with 13 seconds left on the clock. One Zak Showalter-drawn charge later, Koenig stepped out of a Badger timeout with two seconds remaining, dribbled himself into the corner and then drained the game-winning three-pointer over Remy Abell. Thanks to him, Wisconsin is headed to the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth time in the past six years.
2. Villanova doesn't care about the past. The Wildcats hadn't advanced past the round of 32 since 2009. On Sunday, they tipped off against an Iowa team that spent a chunk of this season among the nation's top five teams -- and quickly reversed that trend. Villanova led by as many as 25 points in the first half, sending a statement to the rest of the NCAA Tournament field. The Wildcats won their first two games at the big dance by a combined total of 49 points.
3. Texas A&M's seniors refuse to quit. In the biggest game of their careers, Aggie guards Alex Caruso and Danuel House refused to let their team lose to Northern Iowa. Caruso hadn't scored more than 16 points this season coming into Sunday's game. He finished with 25, including four huge points that pushed this game into double overtime. House, on the other hand, scored 19 points over the final two minutes of regulation and both extra frames. These two veterans helped erase a 12-point Panther lead with 44 seconds to go and set the stage for one of the greatest college basketball comebacks of all time.
Our printable PDF bracket can be found here.
Sunday's final scores
No. 2 Villanova 87, No. 7 Iowa 68
No. 6 Notre Dame 76, No. 14 Stephen F. Austin 75
No. 2 Oklahoma 85, No. 10 VCU 81
No. 10 Syracuse 75, No. 15 Middle Tennessee 50
No. 5 Maryland 73, No. 13 Hawai'i 60
No. 3 Texas A&M 92, No. 11 Northern Iowa 88 (2OT)
No. 7 Wisconsin 66, No. 2 Xavier 63
No. 1 Oregon 69, No. 8 St. Joseph's 64
Sweet Sixteen schedule (all times Eastern)
No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova, 7:10 p.m. (CBS)
No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, 7:37 p.m. (TBS)
No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 1 Kansas, 9:40 p.m. (CBS)
No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon, 10:07 p.m. (TBS)
No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia, 7:10 p.m. (CBS)
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame, 7:27 p.m. (TBS)
No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse, 9:40 p.m. (CBS)
No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina, 9:57 p.m. (TBS)