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NCAA Tournament 2016: The best and worst of Sunday's madness

On the final day of the opening weekend of the Big Dance, fans were treated to a last-second thriller, a stunning buzzer-beater and a comeback the likes of which had never been seen before in the history of college basketball.

If you want to be remembered as arguably the best weekend in the history of the NCAA Tournament, then you're going to need a pretty strong closing statement. I think it's safe to say that Sunday, and Sunday night in particular, provided us with that.

Here's the best and worst of everything that went down on the final day of the 2016 NCAA Tournament's opening weekend.


1. (3) Texas A&M 92, (11) Northern Iowa 88 (2 OT) (West)

Games where one team leads by 12 points with 34 seconds to play aren't supposed to end up on lists like this. So, how did this one not only make the list, but end up in the top spot? Even after watching it with my own eyes (multiple times), I'm still not entirely sure.

Rodger Sherman has a terrific misstep by misstep look at Northern Iowa's final half-minute of regulation, but the brutal reality is that the Panthers did something that no other team in the history of college basketball had done before Saturday night.

Texas A&M certainly deserves its fair share of credit for the comeback -- the Aggies made six field goals in the final 34 seconds of regulation, the same number they made in the entire first half -- but fairly or unfairly, this is always going to be associated most directly with Northern Iowa. The failed inbounds attempts, the unwise and poorly executed attempts at throwing the ball off of opponents, the strange decision to just completely stop playing defense; that reel is going to be brought up and played every time some team is even threatening to pull off a similar miracle in March.

What is destined to be forgotten in all of this is that UNI pulled itself together and had a great chance at winning in the first overtime. When that didn't happen, and when two senior starters fouled out, the writing was on the wall in the second extra frame. Not that anyone will remember. How could they?

Beating the Odds: Texas A&M completed the biggest comeback ever

2. (6) Notre Dame 76, (14) Stephen F. Austin (75) (East)

One of the bad things about the way the games are staggered during the first Saturday and Sunday of the tournament is that whatever happens in the flood of evening games tends to overshadow whatever took place in the two earlier standalone tilts. It also leaves us all completely screwed if Villanova is up 33 on Iowa and there's no alternate game on TruTV out there to save us, but that's a topic for another day.

Northern Iowa's collapse and Wisconsin's buzzer-beater occurring in the same late-night window sort of wiped away the memory of what was one of the most exciting and entertaining games of a tournament filled with contests that fit that description.

Stephen F. Austin, which entered Sunday with the nation's longest winning streak at 21 games, shot 51.5 percent from the field, assisted on 19-of-29 made field goals, committed a season-low six turnovers, and still lost for the first time since Dec. 29. That's because their opponents shot 55.6 percent, scored the game's final six points and made this tip-in with 1.4 seconds to go.

That was the only bucket of the game for Notre Dame freshman Rex Pflueger, who is averaging 2.5 ppg and hadn't made a field goal in a game since the Fighting Irish's regular season finale against NC State on March 5.

The brutal defeat ended the Cinderella run of Stephen F. Austin, which has gone 59-1 in Southland Conference play over the past three seasons. It also left Lumberjack coach Brad Underwood one victory shy of breaking Brad Stevens' Division-I record for the most victories by a head coach in the first three seasons of his career.

For Notre Dame, the win means back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1978-79. It also means they're one win away from having a shot at obtaining some redemption in the regional finals, where they came so close to ending Kentucky's perfect season a year ago.

3. (7) Wisconsin 66, (2) Xavier 63 (East)

The crazy finishes and miracle comebacks on Sunday made it easy to gloss over the fact that just one of the eight games was, according to seeding, an actual upset.

That upset took place in St. Louis, where Bronson Koenig's buzzer-beater sent Wisconsin to the Sweet 16, making the Badgers the only team in the country to make it out of the NCAA Tournament's opening weekend in each of the past three seasons.

The shot also made Xavier the first top-two seed to lose at the buzzer in the Big Dance since Christian Laettner broke hearts across the state of Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional final.

Koenig, who finished with six made three-pointers and 20 points, set up the moment by burying a deep trey to tie the game at 60 with just 11.3 seconds left. Xavier's Edmond Sumner then drove recklessly to the basket and picked up an offensive foul, setting the stage for the game's dramatic finish.

The victory was the latest chapter in what has been a bizarre 2015-16 story for the Wisconsin basketball program. Coming off of back-to-back Final Four appearances, the Badgers opened their season with a home loss to Western Illinois, a team which would go on to win just nine more games and finish dead last in the Summit League. Then, following an otherwise uneventful win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi on Dec. 15, head coach Bo Ryan abruptly announced his retirement.

The team was left in the hands of assistant coach Greg Gard, who promptly lost four of his first five games in Big Ten play. The Badgers, who had seemed like a long shot to have any sort of chance at making the NCAA Tournament, then ripped off 11 wins in their next 12 games, a run which saw Gard elevated to full-time head coach and which set up the chance for a moment like Sunday night's.

For Xavier, Koenig's shot represented the end of a dream season. The Musketeers ascended to heights they'd never experienced in the national rankings, and earned a top-two seed in the Big Dance for the first time ever. They had been 26-0 when leading at halftime before the loss to Wisconsin.


1. Villanova

It won't make the doubters quiet down just yet, but Villanova exorcised at least a few of its NCAA Tournament demons with a pair of dominating performances in the Big Dance's opening two rounds. The second of those came Sunday, when the Wildcats smashed Iowa, in a game where Jay Wright could have named the score.

I get that Iowa was a train wreck down the stretch which lost seven of its last 10 games, and I get that a No. 2 seed is supposed to take care of business in its first two games, but let's not act like 'Nova wasn't aware of what was at stake here. Let's not act like the constant talk about their NCAA Tournament performance wasn't at least somewhat in the heads of those players and coaches heading into this weekend. To have that going on and still churn out two absolute beatdowns to start your tournament run is impressive, regardless of who your opponents were.

Having said all that, what Villanova did this weekend isn't going to do anything to buck the narrative if the Wildcats don't beat Miami. You might not think that's fair, but there's no debating that it's the truth.

2. Syracuse

Roll your eyes if you want, but the Orange gave the most dominating performance of Sunday, and did so against a Middle Tennessee team that had appeared on Friday to be fully capable of becoming just the second No. 15 seed ever to crash the Sweet 16.

Instead, the Blue Raiders had no answer for Syracuse's length and 2-3 zone. They misfired on eight of their 24 three-point attempts, and shot just 29.7 percent from the field overall. When they abandoned the outside shot and looked to generate offense in the lane, the Orange were there to swat away 11 shots.

Michael Gbinije poured in 23 points and Tyler Lydon added 14 as 'Cuse shot a blistering 63.7 percent in the second half to wipe away any hope Middel Tennessee had of extending its Cinderella run. The Orange, who just a week ago were making headlines for having the worst RPI of any at-large tournament team ever, are now just a win over 11th-seeded Gonzaga away from playing for a trip to the Final Four.

3. Wisconsin

The Badgers, who had managed just 16 points in their tournament opener against Pitt two days earlier, scored 17 in the final six minutes against Xavier, turning a 58-49 deficit into a stunning 66-63 triumph. Making it out to a third straight Sweet 16 after losing Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker would have been a praiseworthy achievement even if Bo Ryan hadn't retired in the middle of the season, and even if the team had started 1-4 in the Big Ten. Doing it after going through those things makes it even more worthy of attention.

Don't look now, but Wisconsin has a winnable game against Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 where they will more than likely be pegged as the favorites. Win that and suddenly the Badgers are a single victory away from making it to the final weekend of the season for the third straight year.


1. Xavier

This is what happens on a day when you're the only team to lose to an opponent with a worse seed than you. Being the first top-two seed to lose at the buzzer since arguably the most famous March Madness moment ever only adds to the pain

2. Northern Iowa (for 34 seconds)

In the end, Northern Iowa's absurd NCAA Tournament will serve as a perfect microcosm of the Panthers' 2015-16 season overall.

Consider that the Panthers first made national headlines for taking down both No. 1 North Carolina and No. 5 Iowa State. Those wins couldn't propel UNI into the national rankings, because they also decidedly lost games to the likes of Richmond, Colorado State, Hawai'i, New Mexico and BYU. The Jekyll and Hyde act continued into Missouri Valley Conference play, where Northern Iowa lost seven times, but also ended the nation's longest home winning streak by pulling off a 53-50 stunner over No. 25 Wichita State.

The Panthers' postseason run is destined to exist forever as one of the most insane in the history of college basketball. They upset Wichita State again in the MVC semifinals, earn a spot in the Big Dance by beating Evansville with a friendly bounce at the buzzer, upset Texas in the first round with what will become one of the most iconic March Madness shots ever, and then they become the first team in the history of college basketball to blow a 12-point lead in the final minute of a game.

Now that's a résumé.

3. Middle Tennessee State

It feels incredibly wrong putting the Blue Raiders here considering that they are just the eighth No. 15 seed ever to even make it to the second round, but I'll fully admit to being surprised that MTSU didn't at least have a shot to beat Syracuse in the game's final minutes. This is a team that just two days earlier hung 90 on Michigan State and shot the highest percentage of any Spartan opponent since Dec. 2012. I get that the Syracuse zone is a different beast entirely, but still, to score 40 fewer points and shoot below 30 percent against the Orange was a bit of a disappointment.

The good news for the kids from Murfreesboro is that they will forever be one of the first names mentioned when the topic of biggest tournament upset ever is discussed.


Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Hield saved Oklahoma from an upset at the hands of VCU by dropping 36 points, 29 of which came in the second half. The 36 points were, at the time, the most in the 2016 tournament, so far, and the third-most that the national Player of the Year candidate has scored this season.

Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa

Morgan matched Hield's tournament high with 36 points of his own just hours later. He's the first Missouri Valley Conference player to score 35 points or more in an NCAA Tournament game since Larry Bird.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame

While Rex Pflueger's game-winning garnered the majority of headlines after Notre Dame's win over Stephen F. Austin, it was Auguste's 16 points and 15 rebounds that played the biggest role in keeping the Fighting Irish in the game.

Alex Caruso, Texas A&M

Caruso scored 25 points to go along with nine rebounds and three assists, and his role in the Aggies' miracle comeback made his sister lose her mind in the stands.

Dillon Brooks, Oregon

Brooks was the only Duck whose shots were falling Sunday night, and his 25 points almost single-handedly saved Oregon from being the first No. 1 seed to taste defeat in March.


1. Rex Pflueger's game-winning tip

Credit: Elsa/Getty Images

2. Bronson Koenig launches his game-winner

Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

3. The agony/ecstasy of Texas A&M-Northern Iowa

Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports


1. Trolling Puddles

Come on, Puddles, you're picking on a target that you know can't fight back.

The Hawk, for those unaware, gets a full scholarship to Saint Joseph's every year. The one requirement is that they have to continuously flap their wings in that motion for every second of every Hawks game.

2. Maryland/Hawai'i

This game achieved the unwanted status of being an up-and-down contest that still somehow managed to go long stretches without either team making a shot. The Rainbow Warriors actually led for most of the second half's opening 10 minutes, but couldn't take full advantage of a Maryland team that was ice cold from the field. Instead, the Terrapins wound up setting a record for the worst three-point shooting performance (1 for 18) by a winning team in NCAA Tournament history.

3. Paul Jesperson trying to catch lightning in a bottle twice

I get that you made a shot from almost the exact same spot two days earlier, but man, you had almost four more seconds to advance the ball and hit a much easier game-winner.

Also, if that subsequent A&M heave goes in (it almost did!), everybody kind of forgets about your shot against Texas.

BONUS JEER 1: The lack of a Cinderella in the Sweet 16

After all the madness of the tournament's first four (or six) days, we now have a Sweet 16 that includes 15 power conference teams ... and Gonzaga, the nation's most prominent powerhouse program that just so happens to play in a mid-major conference. Twelve of the last 16 teams left standing began their seasons ranked in the nation's top 20, and the only double-digit seeds we have left are the Zags and Syracuse, who naturally play one another on Friday.

We get that it wasn't feasible for all the teen seeds who tasted first-round victory to pull off back-to-back wins, but we also don't think that having at least one make it through to the second weekend is asking too much. March is about greed.

BONUS JEER 2 : Daniel Ochefu's embarrassing dunk attempt doesn't make it into the top three because 1) He's recovering from an ankle injury, and 2) He taught all the kids out there a valuable lesson about perseverance.


1. Brad Underwood's take on Thomas Walkup

There's no definitive set of rankings when it comes to "the best things about March," but moments like these that show the relationships between players and coaches are way up there for me.

2. Stunned Bill Murray and Stunned Bill Murray memes

For those who are (somehow) still unaware, Murray's son, Luke, is an assistant coach at Xavier, which has made Bill a regular at Xavier games this season. He did not take Bronson Koenig's buzzer-beater well.

Now, it's been well documented that Bill Murray is one of the three coolest people on the planet, so I have mixed feelings about turning his pain into a meme. That doesn't mean I'm not going to share the best responses to this.

Seriously, though, no Bill Murray at the Sweet 16 is the worst part of Bronson Koenig's otherwise awesome heroics.

3. Frank Kaminsky's reaction to Wisconsin's win

"Never graduate." -- Mark Twain


The league will head into the second weekend of the tournament with a 12-1 overall record (way to go, Pitt) and six of the Sweet 16 teams. This is also a record that happens with the team that finished fourth in the league during the regular season (Louisville) watching from home.


1. Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame

Killed a couple guys on Stephen F. Austin, killed a guy on his own bench.

2. Mo-Alie Cox, VCU

Destroyer of worlds, destroyer of nets.

3. Jalen Reynolds

While Reynolds' stay in the tournament was shorter than he would have liked, he did more March dunking than most college players do in a lifetime.


1. "I've been dreading this moment for a long time. So if I get emotional, I apologize. Because that's who I am." --Stephen F. Austin coach Brad Underwood's opening statement after his team's loss to Notre Dame

2. "It's two completely different ends of the spectrum. Two nights ago it was great to know that we were playing today. I'm sure it's going to hurt a little bit more in the morning even, knowing that we're not playing next week. But I couldn't have asked for two better guys to go out with. I'm going to miss these guys. These guys are my brothers. I'm going to be real close to them for the rest of my life." -- Northern Iowa's Paul Jesperson

3. "Look, the last couple of minutes, it was a little bit of a moment. It was just a little bit of a moment. I think 58-51, we only had four turnovers in the second half. One was the long pass, DeAndre' tried to break their back with a long lead pass. And then we had three in that stretch. Just the moment. But there's no finger pointing. I'm not blaming anybody. There's one person that's responsible for this loss, and that's me." -- Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli


We've got three days to get ourselves together and make a brief reintroduction to society. Deep breaths, hydration and eye contact are all key.

Regional Semifinals

Thurs., March 24 (7 p.m.-midnight ET)

Tip (ET)





7:10 p.m.


Louisville I

Villanova vs. Miami

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

7:37 p.m.


Anaheim I

Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M

Verne Lundquist/Jim Spanarkel//Allie LaForce

After conc. I


Louisville II

Kansas vs. Maryland


After conc. I


Anaheim II

Duke vs. St. Joseph's/Oregon


Regional Semifinals

Fri., March 25 (7 p.m.-midnight ET)

Tip (ET)





7:10 p.m.


Chicago I

Virginia vs. Iowa State

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

7:27 p.m.


Philadelphia I

Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin

Brian Anderson/Steve Smith//Dana Jacobson

After conc. I


Chicago II

Syracuse vs. Gonzaga


After conc. I


Philadelphia II

North Carolina vs. Indiana