The Associated Press
Genaro C. Armas
One word succinctly describes what’s transpired so far in the NCAA Tournament: madness.
But even that’s probably under-selling it.
A comeback for the ages by Nevada. An entire region left without a top four seed in the “Sweet 16” for the first time in tourney history.
The 16-seed winner UMBC falling short in its attempt to extend its historic run as underdog darlings.
Oh, and defending national champion North Carolina is out–routed in its own state by Texas A&M.
And that was just on Sunday. When No. 1 seed Xavier was bounced, too.
A memorable, zany first two rounds–by “March Madness” standards–set up what could be another wild two weekends in a tournament where anything can become reality.
“It’s what makes ‘March Madness’ special and it kills the coaches because it’s so hard and you think you have a great team,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said.
“It’s ‘March Madness’ and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Before the first tip-off on Thursday, many prognosticators had deemed this tournament one of the most wide-open in recent history.
It’s turned into a nutty, once-in-a-generation kind of ride.
Loyola-Chicago won two thrillers to get to the “Sweet 16,” making a social media star out of their 98-year-old chaplain, Sister Jean.
And then the telegenic nun, who provides her own scouting reports to players, got overshadowed by the ultimate Cinderella team.
The UMBC Retrievers became the first No. 16 seed in the history of the men’s tournament to beat a No. 1 seed–defeating Virginia in the first round Friday night.
By 20 points. Over the top overall seed and the unanimous No. 1 team in the AP poll.
The Retrievers’ run came to an end last night in a 50-43 loss to ninth-seeded Kansas State, but not before tattooing a lasting imprint on American sports, drawing attention from stars of the NFL, NBA, and Twitch–and love from underdogs everywhere.
“We put our name on the map,” said guard K.J. Maura.
“We [gave] hope to teams that come to the tournament with lower seeds.”
UMBC’s success story contributed to the messy, unprecedentedly jumbled bracket in the South Region, where the highest-remaining seed is No. 5 Kentucky.
It’s the first time in tourney history that a regional semi-final will be held without a top four seed, according to the NCAA.
Seventh-seeded Nevada added to that by matching the second-biggest comeback in tournament history to beat No. 2 seed Cincinnati 75-73 after trailing by 22 points in the second half.
“That locker-room right now, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said.
“It’s the happiest I’ve ever seen. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,”
The way reigning champion North Carolina got bounced from the tournament in an 86-65 loss to Texas A&M might have been the top storyline on any other tournament day.
It left coach Roy Williams with the most lopsided tournament loss of his Hall-of-Fame career.
It also marked the second-straight year the title-holder lost before the “Sweet 16.” And it happened in UNC-friendly territory in Charlotte, N.C., where the Tar Heels hadn’t lost a tourney game since 1979.
“I didn’t picture it ending it like this,” Williams admitted with his players sitting nearby.
“I pictured it ending with these guys having a huge smile on their face, but that’s not college basketball.”