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NCAA tournament 2018: The best and worst of everything from March Madness Day 4

And so ends one of the greatest opening weekends in the history of the NCAA tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Cincinnati Bearcats vs Nevada Wolf Pack Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Endings are crucial. They can save bad movies, they can ruin otherwise brilliant books, and they can leave a bad taste in your mouth at the end of an otherwise stellar NCAA tournament.

Did you read that, officials from last year’s North Carolina-Gonzaga game? Did you read what I just wrote? Maybe that was directed a very particular, very small contingent of people. Maybe.

Anyway, for the opening weekend of the 2018 NCAA tournament to be in contention for the unofficial title of “greatest ever,” it needed a conclusion in keeping with the desired adulation. It delivered.

Let’s down all of Sunday’s second round action the only way we know how.


(7) Nevada 75, (2) Cincinnati 73 (South)

This was the biggest “turn the channel, forget about the game, glance up at the little score box in the top right of the screen 20 minutes later, do a double take, turn the game back on” game of the entire tournament. That’s the official title of these types of games, by the way. You don’t have to observe standard title capitalization rules though. It’s a special deal.

There was nothing through the first 32 minutes of this contest indicating that it was remotely possible that Cincinnati might lose. Nothing. The Bearcats led by double-digits before the under 4 timeout of the first half, and led by 22 points with less than 11 minutes to go in the game.

I’m still not entirely sure what happened next, because like I said, my viewing was cut off early in the second half and only resumed after the proverbial score box double take moment. After turning the game back on, I saw the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline absolutely dominate for Nevada, and everyone for Cincinnati completely fall apart.

It ended appropriately for the Bearcats.

The 22-point comeback for Nevada is tied for the second largest in NCAA tournament history, matching the deficit Duke came back from against Maryland in the 2001 Final Four. BYU rallying from 25 down to beat Iona in a First Four game back in 2012 is the most extreme March Madness comeback.

The furious rally is becoming a trend for the Wolf Pack, which erased a 14-point second half deficit to beat Texas in overtime in round one. All told, Nevada has trailed at halftime in each of its last five games.

That’s probably a trend Eric Musselman’s team would be well-served to buck next week in Atlanta.

(2) Purdue 76, (10) Butler 73 (East)

Saturday’s two stand-alone afternoon games were both extremely one-sided, leaving a previously over-served American sports public with nowhere to turn for nourishment. Thankfully, Purdue and Butler made sure that history wouldn’t repeat itself on Sunday.

The first game of the day saw the Boilermakers firmly in control for most of the contest before a late Butler rally made things extremely interesting. The Bulldogs trimmed a 10-point lead down to two, and had a shot to take the lead with 14.2 seconds to play. Kelan Martin’s three found nothing but iron, but Butler still wound up with one final shot to tie the game at the buzzer.

A closer inspection reveals that Kamar Baldwin didn’t get the shot off in time, but whatever, that inconvenient fact keeps us from comparing his shot to Gordon Hayward’s famous 2010 national title game heave, so we’re going to ignore it.

(9) Florida State 75, (1) Xavier 70 (West)

Just when it seemed like the opening weekend had given us all the madness it had to give ... it gave just a little more.

Florida State rallied from 12 points down with 10 minutes to play to stun top-seeded Xavier and get some sweet revenge for last season. In the 2017 tournament, an 11th-seeded Musketeers team embarrassed the third-seeded Seminoles, 91-66, in this same round.

Xavier returned four starters from that 2016-17 team, which went on to advance all the way to the Elite Eight. Florida State lost its top three scorers from the squad that was humiliated, two of those players being selected in the NBA Draft.

March is strange, but you knew that. You’ve been reading these for four days now. God bless you for that.

3 Teams That Won It The Best

1. Texas A&M

The Aggies have always had a top 15 roster. They played like it at the beginning of the season, knocking off West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Penn State and USC on their way to a top 10 ranking.

Then some stuff happened.

There were injuries, suspensions, and ultimately the dismissal of freshman point guard J.J. Caldwell. Even after everyone was healthy and the off the court issues had been “cleared up,” Texas A&M looked like a team that wouldn’t last long in March. They finished 9-9 in the SEC, lost their conference tournament opener at the buzzer to Alabama, and were an underdog in their first round game against Providence despite being the better seed.

Saying that things “just clicked” for A&M in Charlotte this weekend doesn’t come close to explaining what the Aggies were able to do, but you’re probably still going to hear it a lot this week. Billy Kennedy’s team smothered Providence on Friday and then absolutely boat-raced North Carolina in front of a mostly pro-Tar Heel crowd on Sunday.

If they can somehow bottle up those efforts and duplicate some form of them against Michigan, there’s no reason to think the Aggies won’t continue to advance.

2. Clemson

The Tigers certainly fit the standard mold of a five seed ripe for the picking in round one; An overachieving power conference team that struggles offensively at times and drew a mid-major power with NCAA tournament experience. Naturally, there weren’t many who believed Clemson would ultimately win two games in convincing fashion and crash the Sweet 16 for the first time in 20 years.

And yet here we are.

Clemson’s 31-point win over SEC champion Auburn matched its largest margin of victory this season. The truth is, Brad Brownell’s team could have made it a lot worse than that if they’d wanted to. For some reason, though, Clemson winning a high-profile postseason game by 31 points just sort of feels right. I’m not sure why.

I’m sure they’ll celebrate this one just as thoroughly.

Basketball school.

3. West Virginia

In its win over Wichita State on Friday, Marshall looked like a team fully capable of winning at least one more game in this tournament. Toss in the motivational fact that West Virginia ended its series with the Thundering Herd three years ago and has long insisted that it gets nothing out of playing its “little brother,” and all the pieces for yet another major upset seemed to be in place.

West Virginia was having none of it. The Mountaineers did what bullies do, playing physical and talking trash to their in-state foes from the opening tip. When Marshall refused to punch back early on, the game was already over. The 94-71 rout will undoubtedly be brought up the next time an effort is made to bring back the Capital Classic.

3 Biggest Disappointments

1. The Cincinnati Teams

Queen City rivals Xavier and Cincinnati made their city the center of the college basketball universe this winter. The Musketeers and Bearcats made history as they tore through the Big East and AAC, each winning its respective regular season championship. With Xavier as the No. 1 seed in the West Region and Cincinnati the No. 2 in the Virginia-less South, it certainly didn’t seem that far-fetched to believe that the Crosstown Shootout might be coming to the Final Four.

Instead, both are back home for good, and they’re there after a pair of collapses that were almost equally ridiculous.

The two teams from the same city blew combined leads of 34 points in the last 11 minutes of their respective games. Cincinnati collapsed after leading Nevada by 22 points with under 11 minutes to go, and Xavier did the same after being up on Florida State by 12 with 10:10 to play.

Maybe which team’s collapse was more embarrassing can be the new thing the two fan bases fight over. Probably not though. I wasn’t serious about that.

But hey, at least the Reds and Bengals are both still awesome.

And at least Nick Lachey is still churning out bangers.

And at least the UC football team plays in a Power 5 conf—

2. North Carolina

We talked after day two about Roy Williams’ ridiculous record of being 29-0 in NCAA tournament first round games. Forty eight hours later, we have some less gratifying Roy Williams NCAA tournament history.

Texas A&M’s stunning 86-65 demolition of North Carolina on Sunday was the largest margin of defeat ever for a Williams coached team in the Big Dance. That would be a staggering statistic under any circumstances, but in a game the second-seeded Tar Heels were favored to win by 7.5? Just another hard to believe fact from a weekend loaded with hard to believe facts.

There will be a new national champion in 2018.

3. Michigan State

When the final horn sounded in Michigan State’s rock fight loss to Syracuse, the upset favorite seemed like a stone cold lock to occupy one of the top two spots on this list. Instead they have to settle for the bottom rung here. Congratulations, Sparty. In the hours that followed your embarrassment, three teams wound up embarrassing themselves more than you did.

Sometimes a group of 18-22 year olds, talented as they may be, runs into a team that plays really good zone defense and the players just sort of lose their damn minds. They forget all the instructions they received in practice about how to attack the zone, they panic when a few possessions in a row go poorly, and they resort to simply jacking up contested three after contested three.

That seems to be the easiest explanation for what happened to Michigan State on Sunday. The Spartans shot an abhorrent 25.8 percent (17 of 66) from the field, and were 8 of 37 from beyond the arc. They also couldn’t have gotten a bit more help from their head coach, but more on that later.

The All-Day 4 Team

Cody Martin, Nevada

Martin played the largest part in Nevada’s ridiculous comeback, finishing with a game-high 25 points to go with seven assists and six rebounds.

Gabe DeVoe, Clemson

DeVoe only had to play 24 minutes since his team was beating Auburn by 41 midway through the second half when Brad Brownell decided it was safe to start thinking about the Sweet 16. Before that, the senior guard buried 6 of 9 threes, scored 22 points, dished out five assists and snagged five rebounds.

Kelan Martin, Butler

Martin wrapped up his stellar college career (more on that coming) with 29 points, the most of any player on Sunday.

Jevon Carter, West Virginia

The Mountaineers’ alpha dog showed once again how he achieved that status. Carter scored 28 points, hit 6 of 9 from deep, ripped Marshall for five steals, and handed out five assists.

Vince Edwards, Purdue

Edwards was his typically efficient self, missing only two shots and scoring a team-high 20 points for the victorious Boilermakers.

5 Day 4 Jeers

1. Bruce Pearl’s birthday

It’s never a good day when your season ends with a 31-point ass stomping at the hands of a team you were favored to beat. It’s even worse when said event takes place on your birthday.

Happy 58th, Bruce.

Best of luck during the incredibly awkward offseason that now lies directly in front of you.

2. Rational expectations for bad Syracuse teams in the NCAA tournament

In hindsight, I guess we all should have seen this coming.

We’ve now seen this same phenomenon at play twice in the last thee years with Syracuse. The Orange are not, by any conceivable way of judging this type of thing, a great team. They’ve been beaten 13 times this season, they were the last at-large team to sneak into the field of 68, and they were (understandably) the most controversial team picked by the NCAA tournament selection committee.

But just like three years ago — when the Orange were also the most questioned at-large selection, but somehow not one of the last four teams to make the field — Jim Boeheim’s team is dancing on into the second weekend of the tournament.

I really don’t know what to make of this. I guess recruit a few kids with great length, throw ‘em in a 2-3 zone, hope they do enough during the regular season to make the Big Dance, and then prosper. Hell, it almost worked for Boeheim disciple Mike Hopkins in year one at Washington. He took a team that won nine games last year with the friggin’ No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and damn near got them into the tournament. Maybe everyone should play zone.

This is my only other explanation.

Or maybe Syracuse and Virginia had to make some deal with a basketball-loving higher power that was really into Saw, but not overly keen on real life violence. Maybe that higher power served up a deal where he would help the Cavaliers throughout the regular season, but they would have to get it done on their own once they reached the NCAA tournament. He then reversed the roles for the Orange, offering up his full services in March, but only if ‘Cuse was able to do enough in the preceding months to earn a bid. Boeheim and Bennett had to both agree for this to work, and they did.

This is just a working theory, but you have to admit that it already makes more sense than any other explanation for the the way the two programs have performed since becoming conference mates.

3. The Matt Haarms’ hair infatuation thing

Normally I’m cool with stuff like this, but we just went through this whole thing with Luke Kennard last year.

I guarantee that at some point this week someone’s going to create a video or an image or something linking Haarms to the kid from Dazed and Confused who couldn’t leave his hair alone. You’re going to want to like this attempt to go viral, but inside you’re going to recognize that it’s not all the way there.

4. Tom Izzo

What in the world was Izzo thinking on Sunday?

The man formerly known as a “March Guru” played Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward just 15 and 16 minutes, respectively. He instead rode with Ben Carter (0.6 ppg), who played a season-high 23 minutes, and Xavier Tillman, who entered the day averaging 2.8 ppg but saw the floor for 22 minutes.

What the hell, man?

Jackson looked rough against the Syracuse zone early, missing his first four shots, but we’re still talking about a guy who’s going to be a top 10 pick in a few months. And Ward was productive against the zone, scoring 10 points and hitting 4 of 5 shots during his limited stint on the court.

We talked earlier about young players forgetting everything they had been taught when they actually see an effective zone face to face, but with the Spartans on Sunday, it never seemed like there was a game plan in place to begin with. MSU made little to no effort to work the ball into the middle of the Syarcuse 2-3, and even when it did, it seemed like the Spartans had no idea what they were supposed to do next.

The result of all this was contested missed three after contested missed three, and one of the most talented teams Izzo has ever coached getting bounced before the Sweet 16.

Since you enjoyed the Syracuse/Virginia theory so much, I’ve got another one: John Beilein has stolen Izzo’s March Mojo. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I’m going to flesh this thing out enough to where the Austin Powers people won’t be able to get us on any legal grounds.

Beilein can do no wrong in March. He’s getting every break, he’s making every right move, and he’s winning almost every game. Izzo, meanwhile, has taken two of the worst NCAA tournament losses of his career in the last three years, and he can’t seem to make a correct decision to save his life.

March Mojo theft in the Wolverine State. There’s no way around it.

5. The South Region’s top 4 seeds

After the brackets were released on Selection Sunday, a common thought was that the South Region was the toughest of the four, and that Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Arizona and Kentucky all got dealt poor hands.

Fast-forward eight days and the South has made history my being the first region ever to not advance a single top four seed to the Sweet 16.

No. 1 seed Virginia was stunned by No. 16 seed UMBC on Friday.

No. 2 seed Cincinnati blew a 22-point lead with 11 minutes to go in a loss to No. 7 seed Nevada on Sunday.

No. 3 seed Tennessee was beaten in the final seconds by No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago on Saturday.

No. 4 seed Arizona got the party started when it was blown out by Buffalo in the first round on Thursday.

On paper, it seems like Kentucky has an extremely navigable path to the Final Four.

But we’ve assumed things in this region before.


That was a ROUGH four-day stretch for a conference that looked like it had three teams with legitimate chances to roll to the second weekend and beyond. At least Rob Gray scored more first weekend points than any player since Steph Curry 10 years ago. Totally outweighs having no teams in the Sweet 16.

5 Day 4 Cheers

1. Problem Children

If you’re unfamiliar with “Problem Children,” it’s the new NCAA tournament term that’s taking the entire country by storm.

As far as NCAA tournament nomenclature is concerned, the teams that comprise the field of 68 can be grouped into two categories: Favorites and Cinderellas.

Favorites demand little explanation. These are the top three or four seeds that everyone is putting in their Final Fours, and are almost always the group from which a bracket-filler chooses its national champion.

Cinderellas are a bit more versatile. They can take on one of two forms. The first Cinderella is the 13-16 seed that pulls or comes close to pulling a first-round stunner. They captivate the nation for 24 hours and then lose handily in round two. The other Cinderella is typically an 11-12 seed (sometimes a No. 10 seed if its not from a major conference) that springs a pair of less-shocking upsets and suddenly finds itself advancing into the second weekend of the tournament.

But what about this nameless third group of teams? I’m talking about the 6-11 seeds that generate next to no buzz in the days leading up to the tournament, can ruin just about everyone’s bracket by winning three or four more games than anyone expects.

Until a superior suggestion is submitted, I’m choosing to call these teams “Problem Children” (individually, “Problem Child”); They wreak havoc just about every time they do anything, and aren’t loved by anyone who isn’t family. Also, the Problem Child movies were both solid flicks (I don’t acknowledge the third). Rest easy, John Ritter.

In the last five years, six Problem Children have crashed the Final Four. At least one has made it to the season’s final weekend in all five of those years. Recent history seems poised to repeat itself, with Problem Children making up six of the final 16 teams left standing — Florida State, Nevada, Loyola, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Syracuse.

Use “Problem Children” casually during basketball discussions at work or school today. If the person you’re talking to isn’t familiar with it, fight them.

2. The Cincinnati-Nevada win probability chart memes

If you haven’t seen the actual win probability chart from Nevada’s comeback win over Cincinnati, check it out here:

That’s cool, but not as cool as the memes it spawned.

Memes are fun.

When done right.

I added that second part for you, person who’s now legitimately mulling over whether or not to the Haarms/Dazed and Confused kid mashup thing.

3. Kelan Martin

Maybe it’s because Butler never captivated the country in March the way it did during its back-to-back Final Four runs, or maybe it’s because of his “gritty not pretty” style of play. Whatever the reason, I feel like Martin just wrapped up one of the more under-appreciated four year college careers that we’ve seen over the last decade.

Martin leaves Butler as the school’s second all-time leading scorer, and one of just three players in Bulldog history to surpass the 2,000-point career scoring mark. He helped lead Butler to four consecutive NCAA tournaments, winning at least one game in each trip. In his final two games, Martin scored 27 points in a win over Arkansas, and 29 in a narrow loss to Purdue.

That isn’t all he did.

Cheers to you, Kelan. College basketball will be worse-off without you next season.

4. UMBC and Marshall

The story for both UMBC and Marshall was one we’ve seen many times before from Cinderella teams trying to catch March lightning in a bottle for the second time in three days. The shot-making and the giant-slaying went away, and the Retrievers and Thundering Herd merely looked like a No. 16 seed and No. 13 seed doing all they could to solve the riddle of a bigger and more talented opponent.

But the second round losses don’t alter the magic that preceded them. Both teams will have March 16, 2018 to hang onto for the rest of their lives.

Marshall, don’t read this.






UMBC, you’re going to be known for that day and this tournament wayyyy more than Marshall is.

5. The locker room brackets

This is a trend that, I believe, began with “The Basketball Tournament.” Each game in the annual summer event — where non-NBA players form teams and play in a winner take all tournament with a prize of $2 million — ends with the winning players going over to a monster bracket on the gym wall and advancing a magnetic (or sticky or whatever) plate with their team’s name on it to the next round.

The trend has carried over into March Madness this year, and has been prevalent in just about every victorious locker room video that has found its way onto social media.

It’s awesome.

There’s also a bit of a Major League vibe at play here, but this is a family site.

BONUS CHEER: Party Eric Musselman

Two days after dropping televised F bombs all over Nevada’s winning locker room, Eric Musselman upped the ante by losing his shirt.

Cussin’, Partyin’ and Winnin’: The Eric Musselman March, 2018 Story.

3 Best Day 4 Dunks

1. Miles Bridges, Michigan State

We didn’t see nearly as much of this from Bridges in 2017-18 as we expected to, but it was nice of him to leave us with one for the road.

2. Xavier Snead, Kansas State

This was when you knew UMBC was in trouble.

3. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

This has been a big tournament for flexing so far.

5 Best Day 4 Images

1. Sorry, America. We had to kill your feel good story. We didn’t have a choice.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Charlotte Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

2. Sweet revenge.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Nashville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

3. How did that happen?

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Nashville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

4. Forty minutes of straight flexing by Clemson

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Auburn vs Clemson Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

5. Syracuse is really sorry (again), America.

Syracuse v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Full Sweet 16 Schedule

We meet back here in three days.

All times ET

Thursday, March 22

South Region | Phillips Arena, Atlanta

No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, 7:07 p.m. (CBS)

No. 5 Kentucky vs. No. 9 Kansas State, 9:37 p.m. (CBS)

West Region | Staples Center, Los Angeles

No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas A&M, 7:37 p.m. (TBS)

No. 4 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Florida State, 10:07 p.m. (TBS)

Friday, March 23

East Region | TD Garden, Boston

No. 1 Villanova vs. No. 5 West Virginia, 7:37 p.m. (TBS)

No. 2 Purdue vs. 3 Texas Tech, 10:07 p.m. (TBS)

Midwest Region | CenturyLink Center, Omaha

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 5 Clemson, 7:07 p.m. (CBS)

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 11 Syracuse, 9:37 p.m. (CBS)