One of the wildest opening weekends in recent NCAA Tournament history resulted in the elimination of two No. 1 seeds and several other major upsets, resulting in an eclectic mix of teams reaching the Sweet Sixteen.
The biggest upset of the tournament so far may well be the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament. On Friday, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers not only defeated the Virginia Cavaliers to become the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the men’s tournament, but also they did so in emphatic fashion, 74-54, blowing out the tournament’s overall top seed in the second half of the game.
(The No. 16 Harvard women’s team did it in 1998, when they beat No. 1 Stanford, and they said as much in a tweet.)
Retrievers Make History
Briefly, everybody loved the ultimate underdogs with an adorable mascot and name. The result ended a 135-game undefeated streak for No. 1 seeds over their No. 16 opponents. While the upset resulted in jubilation for UMBC, it was a devastating loss for Virginia, which had entered the tournament with a 31-2 record.
After the game, the Cavaliers weren’t in the mood to talk about the historic nature of their loss.
“I think everyone is aware of that,” Virginia guard Ty Jerome told reporters after one asked if he was aware that the upset was the first of its kind. “Thanks for bringing that up again, but I was aware of it.”
The magical run ended in the second round for the Retrievers, as they would lose to Kansas State 50-43 in the second round. Still, their historic win helped break the South region wide open: with Cincinnati, Tennessee, and Arizona also losing, No. 5 Kentucky is now the highest seed remaining in that corner of the bracket.
Top Two Seeds Out in West Region
In the West region, top-seeded Xavier had little trouble in their first matchup with Texas Southern. But the upset bug hit them in the second round, as No. 9 seed Florida State beat the Musketeers 75-70 to move on to the Sweet 16.
“We were much better than Xavier in the last two and a half minutes of the game,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said after the game. “Sometimes when the games are close, that’s all that’s important.”
The No. 2 seed in the West is out too, as North Carolina was crushed 86-65 by Texas A&M. The upsets leave No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Gonzaga as the highest remaining seeds in region.
The other half of the bracket has been somewhat more predictable. The East region has seen only one major upset – Wichita State’s opening round loss to Marshall – and the favorites are still alive, with top-seeded Villanova rolling through their first two games.
The Wildcats will take on West Virginia on Friday, while No. 2 Purdue will face No 3. Texas Tech in the other regional Sweet Sixteen matchup. The Purdue Boilermakers are likely to continue to be without 7-foot-2-inch center Isaac Haas, who broke his elbow during the team’s first-round victory over Cal State Fullerton.
Both No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 2 seed Duke are still alive in the Midwest region as well. The big surprise in that corner of the bracket has been the 11th-seeded Syracuse Orange, who came out of the “First Four” play-in games to first defeat TCU and then No. 3 seed Michigan State to make an improbable run to the Sweet Sixteen. Syracuse has played suffocating defense, holding both TCU and Michigan State under 55 points in tightly-played contests.
The rash of upsets has opened up the tournament significantly, but there are still a handful of clear favorites for the national championship. At Paddy Power, Villanova (10/3) and Duke (7/2) remain the front-runners. However, the opening of the South region has made Kentucky an 11/2 choice, while Kansas (6/1) and Gonzaga (6/1) are also seen as likely winners.