Here is an opinion so unconditionally true it couldn't possibly be refuted: the NCAA Tournament is the greatest sporting event on the calendar. Sure, the NBA playoffs are "better," the Super Bowl is still the king of money and ratings and the NHL playoffs remain the closest approximation to doing cocaine while riding a motorcycle off of a helicopter. All of that is true. But there's still nothing that compares to March Madness.
Every NCAA Tournament is profound in its way, but the opening four days of this year's edition feel singular in just how overwhelming and great they were. We had a No. 15, a No. 14 and a No. 13 seed all advance on the same day for the first time ever. We had a record eight teams seeded at No. 11 or lower advance to the round of 32 -- an all-time record. And we had so many moments that were simply the type of absurd theater only March can produce.
If you missed any part of the spectacle over the last four days, we're here to help. Here are the best moments from the opening weekend of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
10. Six ACC teams advanced to the Sweet 16, while the Pac-12 has one team standing
The ACC and the Pac-12 each received seven bids to the NCAA Tournament. You will find six ACC teams still around in the second weekend, while only Oregon survived out of the Conference of Champions.
It seems like there's a team that goes from the fringe of the bubble to the Sweet 16 every year. Last year it was UCLA, this year it's Syracuse. The Orange were a controversial selection just to make the Big Dance, but they will be advancing to the Sweet 16 after outlasting Dayton and Middle Tennessee State (more on them later).
Syracuse will be joined by North Carolina, Virginia, Miami, Duke and Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. All told, the ACC makes up 37.5 percent of the second weekend.
Meanwhile, the Pac-12 ....
Oregon survives! pic.twitter.com/rGGdRsp1sg— SB Nation CBB (@SBNationCBB) March 21, 2016
St. Joe's had Oregon on the ropes Sunday night, too. You better believe we had seven Crying Jordans cued up in preparation.
Colorado, Cal, Utah, USC and Arizona all lost to underdogs in the round of 64. No. 7 Oregon State couldn't get past No. 10 VCU. Oregon was the only Pac-12 team to make it out alive. Please, no one tell Bill Walton.
9. Taurean Prince patiently explains what a rebound is
The entire exchange is even more amazing written out, via ASAP Sports:
Q. You said you got out-rebounded and I checked the stats; you did, 36-32. How does Baylor get out-rebounded by Yale? How does that happen?
TAUREAN PRINCE: They had more rebounds than us.
Q. You said you got out-rebounded, you did, 36-32. How does Yale out-rebound Baylor?
TAUREAN PRINCE: You go up and grab the ball off the rim when it comes off, and then you grab it with two hands, then you come down with it, and that's considered a rebound. So they got more of those than we did.
Patronizing AF, and we love it. Ask better questions.
8. Thomas Walkup becomes America's new folk hero
Even huge college basketball fans might not have known about Stephen F. Austin's senior forward before this weekend. Now he's unquestionably one of the breakout sports stars of the year. Here's a brief list of reasons we love Thomas Walkup:
1. He wasn't on the map at all as a recruit. He tore his ACL twice and broke his foot once in high school, and his only other D1 offer was from Houston Baptist.
2. He looks exactly like the Stephen F. Austin's Lumberjack mascot. Imagine if Oregon's best player looked like an actual duck:
3. He became two-time Southland Player of the Year as a 6'4 power forward who doesn't shoot threes.
4. In two NCAA Tournament games, all Walkup did was finish with 54 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists.
5. He's a legitimate national Player of the Year candidate. Like, KenPom has him No. 7 right now. Ahead of Grayson Allen!
During a time when our nation is as divided as ever, we can all come together to enjoy Thomas Walkup and Stephen F. Austin. Well, except for Chris Christie. Let's just all agree the ending of that Stephen F. Austin-Notre Dame game never actually happened.
7. Little Rock's comeback against Purdue
OK, it wasn't the best comeback of the weekend, but what Arkansas-Little Rock did against Purdue was pretty amazing in its own right. Shout out to Derek Fisher.
Purdue had a 14-point lead with under five minutes left. Fourteen points! I know that seems like nothing in a post-Northern Iowa world, but seriously: a Big Ten team has no business losing to a Sun Belt team under those circumstances.
Our own Rodger Sherman wrote a great recap of how the Trojans came back, so I'll point you there. But before we can move on, we need to recognize how bonkers this Josh Hagins shot was to tie it:
Even Steph is blushing.
6. Notre Dame and Iowa win on buzzer-beating tip-ins
You know it was a crazy start to the tournament when a pair of buzzer-beating tip-ins are only No. 6.
We'll start with Iowa, who beat Temple in overtime thanks to this Adam Woodbury tip. Was a it push-off? Well, yeah. But on the list of Woodbury's crimes, this ranks pretty low. At least no one got poked in the eye:
And yeah, we're still not acknowledging that Notre Dame buzzer-beater against Stephen F. Austin. Here's the video if you want to watch the thing that never happened.
5. Bronson Koenig's buzzer-beater lifts Wisconsin over Xavier
It's seriously hard to believe Wisconsin was even in this position. When Bo Ryan retired after the Badgers' Dec. 15 win, Wisconsin was 7-5. When it lost at Northwestern on Jan. 12, Wisconsin was 9-9. Now they're going to the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row -- the only program in the country to do it.
I can’t believe this dumb wisconsin team is going to the sweet 16.— Louis Bien (@louisbien) March 21, 2016
And it's only possible because Bronson Koenig made an absolute dagger from the corner to lift them over a very good Xavier team. What a shot:
How did Koenig do it?
Bronson Koenig: "I just tried to channel my inner Steph Curry." Indeed.— Tom (@Haudricourt) March 21, 2016
4. Cincinnati losing two games in a combined 0.3 seconds
Cincinnati! The team you might remember from losing in the AAC Tournament when UConn hit a 70-foot buzz-beater to force quadruple overtime lost again in a fashion that was somehow just as heartbreaking.
Down two against St. Joe's in the waning seconds, Cincy went the length of the court and got an Octavius Ellis dunk at the buzzer to tie it up and send the game to overtime. Only one problem: the ball left Ellis' hands literally one-tenth of one second late:
Steve Logan and Kenyon Martin are rolling over in their figurative graves.
3. Middle Tennessee State win over Michigan State might be the greatest tournament upset ever
Some facts about Michigan State heading into this tournament:
1. Even though the Spartans were a No. 2 seed, more money was bet on them in Vegas than any other team.
2. Of the 13 million brackets filled out on ESPN, 22.3 percent of them picked MSU to win it all.
I picked Michigan State to win it all. You probably did, too! It made sense. MSU had arguably the best player, arguably the best coach and seemed like the least susceptible annual favorite to lose early of all the major programs.
So of course Middle Tennessee State came and thoroughly dominated MSU from the tip. The Spartans never led in this game. Amazing.
What's really incredible is that Michigan State didn't even play poorly. The Spartans shot 55.6 percent from the field and hit 11-of-24 attempts from three-point range. MTSU was just better. Middle Tennessee hit 11-of-19 threes or their own, shot 55.9 percent from the floor and used their No. 198 offense to cut up Michigan State's No. 20 defense all game long.
We're calling this the greatest NCAA Tournament upset ever and it doesn't feel like hyperbole.
2. Northern Iowa stuns Texas on a half-court buzzer-beater
Consider that Northern Iowa had to hit a buzzer-beater in the MVC title game just to make the tournament. Consider that Texas is No. 2 in the country in revenue generated by its athletic department and Northern Iowa is No. 137. Consider that no one had ever hit a half-court buzzer-beater in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
Meet Northern Iowa senior Paul Jesperson. You'll be seeing this forever:
Northern Iowa was 10-11 at one point this season. To truly understand how incredible this win was, watch our six-minute documentary on UNI's tournament berth.
Then take a deep breath and prepare for how the story ends.
1. Northern Iowa blows a 12-point lead in the 35 seconds against Texas A&M
Before we get into this, just know a comeback of this scale has never happened in the history of college basketball.
Not the NCAA Tournament. College basketball.
A sport that has 351 teams playing 30-plus every year for many, many years. A game that Northern Iowa had locked up with a win probability hovering between 99.9 percent and 100 percent. Even a day later, it's completely inconceivable.
Rodger Sherman has a blow-by-blow account of how it happened. Go read that right now. The rest of us will be over here like losing our mind like Alex Caruso's sister over how this could possibly happen.
This is March.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 21, 2016
There's nothing like it.
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