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March Madness’ 11 most memorable moments of men’s opening weekend

These are the 11 moments that defined the opening week of the men’s NCAA tournament.

Miami v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The sheer amount of basketball is part of what makes the opening week of the March Madness so special. With a total of 32 games across Thursday/Friday and 16 more games on Saturday/Sunday (not to mention the First Four earlier in the week), the NCAA tournament amounts to a tidal wave of high-stakes basketball hitting you in the face.

It’s awesome, but it can also be a little overwhelming.

Don’t feel bad if your bracket is already in shambles. You aren’t the only one. Whether it was Kentucky’s historic upset at the hands of No. 15 Saint Peter’s, Auburn’s abysmal performance against Miami, or Baylor’s inspired comeback falling short against North Carolina, the tournament field has been shaken up to an extreme degree by the time we arrive at the Sweet 16.

The first four days of the men’s NCAA tournament lived up to the hype once again. Here are the 11 best moments from the opening week.

The chaotic ending of Arizona vs. TCU

Arizona was the second most popular pick to win the national championship in ESPN’s bracket pools, but the Wildcats suddenly saw their season on life support inside the final minutes of their round of 32 matchup against TCU. With the Horned Frogs up three with under 20 seconds left, sophomore star Ben Mathurin drilled a three-pointer from the logo to tie the game:

What happened next was even wilder. Arizona blitzed the TCU ball screen for point guard Mike Miles. Miles took a bump near the halfcourt line and fell to the ground, but the refs didn’t call a foul. Arizona’s Dalen Terry scooped up the ball and raced to the basket as the final seconds of regulation ticked away, but his dunk came just after the buzzer.

Arizona would win in overtime with Mathurin making huge play after huge play down the stretch. There’s a reason we had him pegged as a top-10 NBA draft pick this year. Beyond that, if you’re picking one player to ride with for the rest of this tournament, it’s hard to go with anyone over Mathurin.

Props to TCU, who gave Arizona a hell of a challenge after winning the program’s first men’s NCAA tournament game since 1987. We will never forget Eddie Lampkin’s “too small” taunts directed at actual giant Christian Koloko after scoring on him repeatedly. Also, let it be known March Madness is the greatest because for a brief period of time someone like Lampkin can become the most important athlete in America.

Saint Peter’s stuns Kentucky in the first round

Yes, we saw a No. 15 seed crash Sweet 16 just last year. Yes, we’re only a few years removed from UMBC winning the first game in NCAA tournament history for a No. 16 seed. No matter: No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s win vs. No 2 seed Kentucky really might be the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history. The Wildcats spent 12.5x more money on their program than the little MAAC champ from Jersey City that plays in the equivalent of a high school gym while UK regularly fills Rupp Arena.

John Calipari went from relying on one-and-dones to building through transfers this year, but the added experience didn’t help him avoid the most humiliating loss of his career. There is no scenario where a Kentucky team with national championship aspirations should be losing to Saint Peter’s.

While Doug Ebert’s clutch shooting and ‘70s mustache has gotten some viral buzz, the real star here is head coach Shaheen Holloway. The Peacocks have run some beautiful offensive sets late in games while defending and rebounding at an incredible level given their lack of size. With rumors of a bigger job buzzing, Holloway feels like March Madness’ biggest winner so far.

Bruce Pearl and Auburn go down in flames

It was easy to see the Auburn’s potential downfall even when the team was rolling at 22-1 overall while hitting No. 1 in the AP Poll for the first time in program history. While the Tigers had an elite front court with the potential the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick in Jabari Smith Jr. and perhaps the best defensive player in the sport in sophomore center Walker Kessler, their guards were inefficient and often lost control of games.

Auburn fans’ worst fears were realized in the round of 32 against No. 10 seed Miami. The Tigers didn’t just exit the tournament early, they went out in embarrassing fashion with a blowout loss. It’s a rough look for Pearl who signed a contract extension that made him one of the five highest paid coaches in college basketball in January.

Guards Wendell Green and KD Johnson combined to shoot 2-of-12 from three-point range, with many of their attempts being too audacious for the moment. Meanwhile, Smith and Kessler combined to shoot 3-of-19 from the field. It was on Pearl to slow down the game and get to the ball to his front court stars offensively. It was on Pearl to figure out a counter to Miami’s isolation-heavy perimeter attack while he had two elite defensive bigs. Instead, Pearl showed little in the way of situational awareness or tactical adjustments. His team looked totally unprepared for Miami’s onslaught.

It was a rough night for Smith. First he got dunked on by Isaiah Wong:

Then he got packed at the rim by Sam Waardenburg.

There are better days ahead for Jabari Smith. Pearl on the other hand will be regretting wasting such a talented team with an early tournament exit.

The ridiculous technical foul called against Illinois

No. 4 seed Illinois led against No. 13 seed Chattanooga for exactly 25 seconds before somehow escaping with a first round win. A round of 32 matchup against No. 5 seed Houston was always going to be more difficult, but the Illini did well to keep the game competitive into the second half.

With just over eight minutes left in regulation, the Illini defense got a steal which led to a breakaway dunk for freshman RJ Melendez to trim the Cougars’ lead to four points. Unfortunately, he was called for one of the most bogus technical fouls in the history of the sport for hanging on the rim.

Ridiculous and unacceptable. Melendez was simply trying to protect himself from his forward momentum so he wouldn’t get hurt, but the ref thought it was showboating.

Houston went on a huge run from there to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. That stupid technical feels like it changed the tide of the game.

Baylor’s historic comeback bid falls short vs. UNC

No. 1 seed Baylor trailed No. 8 seed North Carolina by 25 points with 10 minutes to go in regulation. Then Tar Heels star Brady Manek was ejected on a silly flagrant-2 call for catching Jeremy Sochan with an inadvertent elbow. Baylor went on a massive run from there, using a full court trapping defense and some questionable no-calls from the officials to force OT.

The Bears had all the momentum going into overtime, but UNC made enough shots to take control. RJ Davis iced the win with this circus layup:

It felt like the whole world had complaints about how much contact the Baylor defense was getting away with, but credit UNC for holding on in a game that seemed like it was bound to end in a historic loss.

Gonzaga needing to dig deep vs. Memphis

There weren’t many teams in the country playing better ball entering the tournament than Memphis. They aren’t many teams with more talent, either. That combination meant No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga was going to have its work cut out for them in the round of 32, and for the first half it really felt like the Tigers were going to pull the upset.

What changed in the second half? Veteran center Drew Timme went bonkers, scoring 22 of his 25 points in the final 20 minutes. This was a clinic in old school, interior scoring. With seemingly all of their top bigs in foul trouble, there wasn’t anything Memphis could do to stop him.

Gonzaga would be sitting at home right now without Timme’s scoring explosion. Memphis had them sweating.

Murray State vs. San Francisco was a mid-major shootout for the ages

College hoops diehards immediately groaned when a matchup between No. 7 seed Murray State and No. 10 seed San Francisco was announced. These were two of the best mid-majors in the country, and it would have so much fun to see them each get a shot at one of the sport’s big boys. No matter: Murray State’s overtime win over San Francisco was nothing less than one of the most entertaining games we’ll see all tournament long.

Dons senior guard Jamaree Bouyea was phenomenal in defeat, going off for 36 points highlighted by several cold-blooded daggers late. Tevin Brown and the Racers were just a little bit better. I wish we could have watched a seven-game series.

A near halfcourt game-winner in USC vs. Miami

Before Miami dominated Auburn in the round of 32, they won a nail-biter against No. 7 seed USC. Trojans forward Drew Peterson caught fire at the end of the top, hitting two three-pointers in the final 40 seconds to give his team a chance to win.

As USC inbounded the ball under its own basket with three seconds left, Peterson got off a halfcourt shot that nearly went in.

Shades of Gordon Hayward at Butler. Of course our pals at Secret Base have a video about that:

The Indiana cheerleader that saved the day

Bless the Hoosiers cheerleaders for providing us with a perfectly wholesome March moment:

Kelvin Sampson got shirtless in the locker room

Houston has quietly become one of college basketball’s top programs. The Cougars advanced past the first weekend for the third straight year by beating the Illini, and when it was over head coach Kelvin Sampson took off his shirt to party with his team in the locker room.

Duke was on the ropes vs. Michigan State

Was Coach K’s last dance really going to end in the round of 32 to Tom Izzo? It looked like it.

Duke trailed No. 7 seed Michigan State by five points with five minutes left. With their season on the line, the Blue Devils rose to the occasion. Freshman star Paolo Banchero made several big plays down the stretch, and point guard Jeremy Roach — whose play was maligned throughout the season — hit the most important shot of the night to keep Duke moving through the bracket:

The second weekend of the tournament just has so much more intrigue knowing each game could be Coach K’s last. Will he get the storybook ending Duke fans want, or will the haters get one more moment in the sun?