March Madness : The Story So Far – UMBC make history and Nevada’s impossible comeback
March Madness has lived up to its name once again. As always, it’s been gloriously unpredictable; we’ve had shock upsets, dramatic finishes and memorable storylines. Jamie Braidwood rounds up the tournament so far.
UMBC created one of the great U.S. sports underdog stories, the first #16 seed to knock out a #1 seed
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County
The story of the tournament so far is unquestionably UMBC. In 135 previous attempts, a #16 seed had never beaten a #1 seed, but on Friday night UMBC stunned everyone to eliminate the University of Virginia and advance to the second round.
Virginia were not only a #1 seed, but were the number 1 ranked team in the country and had only lost twice all season. They also had the country’s best defence and were considered by many to be tournament favourites. It was thought to be a formality that Virginia would win (ESPN’s preview gave them a win probability of 98.5%), but UMBC destroyed them – winning by 20 points.
A 16th seed beating a 1st seed was thought to have been impossible, an outcome pundits thought would never happen in their lifetimes. Consequently, the UMBC Retrievers became the story of the nation and the result was heralded as one of the biggest upsets in the history of American sports. The Retrievers were defeated in the following round, however, falling 50-43 to 9th seed Kansas State. That result will quickly be forgotten, but their win over Virginia will be remembered for years to come.
Loyola University (Chicago)
Supported by 98-year-old Sister Jean, #11 Loyola have made a miraculous run to the Sweet Sixteen in their first tournament appearance since 1984. In the first round they advanced at the expense of #6 Miami thanks to a buzzer-beater from behind the three-point line. The then went one better, beating #3 Tennessee in the dying seconds.
Sister Jean, the elderly nun who acts as the team’s chaplain, has became the star face of this Loyola side. She will be watching on as Loyola face #6 Nevada in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night. Will the Catholic school’s prayers be answered once again?
Clayton Custer’s game-winning shot in the dying seconds helped Loyola defeat Tennessee
#1 Xavier def. by #9 Florida State
With Virginia already eliminated, Xavier became the second #1 seed to be eliminated from the tournament. This time the scalp went to Florida State, who were down by as much as nine points in the second half. The Seminoles fought back to take the lead with only a minute to play before holding on to blow the bracket wide open.
1#Cincinnati def. by #7 Nevada
Nevada were an incredible 22 points down with only 11 minutes remaining in their second round match against Cincinnati. At the time, ESPN gave the Wolf Pack (a genuine nickname) a win probability of 0.1%. What followed was an incredible 32-8 run, finishing with a bucket with 10 seconds remaining to give Nevada the lead, and the second-biggest comeback in tournament history.
#2 North Carolina def. by #7 Texas A&M
North Carolina were the defending champions, and a favourite by many to reach the Final Four. Texas A&M didn’t care though, playing sensational offence to blow the Tar Heels away 86-65. The reigning champions were never even in with a shout, as Texas A&M pulled away after taking the lead early in the first half.
#3 Michigan State def. by #11 Syracuse
Syracuse’s run to the Sweet 16 actually started before the first round. The Orange had to play their way into the tournament after being the final team picked by the selection committee. Michigan State, meanwhile, were a top-ranked team, leading the Big Ten this season, but were stifled by Syracuse’s tricky zone defence. They limited the Spartans to just 53 points, nicking the match 55-53 to set up an all-ACC tie against Duke in the Sweet 16.
Every year, one of the highlights of March Madness is the bracket competition. Three ENRG Sport writers are competing in a league this year. Here’s how they are getting on…
Champion: Penn – Points: 320 – Potential Points Remaining: 40
Bryce’s first ever entry into a bracket competition was greeted with much hilarity when it emerged he had picked #16 seed Penn to not only beat #1 Kansas in the first round, but to win the whole tournament. This was followed by a series of similarly bold picks, such as #16 Texas Southern beating #1 Xavier, #15 Georgia State beating #2 Cincinnati and #11 St Bonaventura making the Final Four.
However, given Xavier and Cincinnati were both eliminated in the second round, and that a #16 did indeed beat a #1 this year, it suggests Bryce’s instincts were correct, if just a little off.
Champion: Virginia – Points: 330 – Potential Points Remaining: 200
A big supporter of Virginia, Iain’s bracket got off to the worst possible start when UMBC won that extraordinary first round match. He then lost his other finalist, Michigan State, in the next round. Iain’s hopes of salvaging some points now rest on #2 Purdue making the Final Four.
Champion: Duke – Points: 390 – Potential Points Remaining: 800
My pick, Duke, has survived so far. They’ve looked quite good too, winning both of their opening games by 20 points. But it goes without saying that during March Madness, you can’t take anything for granted.