As the first week of March Madness comes to an official close, few teams remain. I imagine if your bracket looks anything like mine then you probably had a bad week as well. In a tournament that has been filled with upsets and overtime games (four in the first day alone, a new NCAA record for most on any day in the tournament), let’s talk about some of the biggest games that you may have missed.
One of the biggest surprises this week came from one team that many billion dollar hopefuls had to win the national title. Third seeded Duke, led by freshman phenom Jabari Parker, were expected to win easily against 14th seeded Mercer, who slipped into the tournament by winning the Atlantic Sun title. Unfortunately, as was the case when they played 15th seeded Lehigh as a 2 seed in 2012, the Blue Devils underperformed and underestimated their opponent, losing 78-71 in a game that wasn’t as near as close as the score might seem.
One of the most disappointing performances has to be Rodney Hood, who scored a mere six points on 2 of 10 shooting from the field. Parker, who is currently vying for the #1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, probably didn’t help his case by shooting 4 of 14 while scoring an uncharacteristic 14 points. As a team, the Blue Devils shot 22 of 62 from the field, but their biggest downfall was their defense. Even though the Bears took 17 less shots than the Blue Devils from the floor, they still managed to make more field goals, shooting 25 for 45. Throughout the year, the Blue Devils had struggled to play defense from beyond the ark, which the Bears used to their fullest advantage by shooting 5 for 13 from three point land, compared to a sloppy 15 for 37 for the Blue Devils. The Bears, led by fab forwards Jakob Gollon and Daniel Coursey, had five scorers with at least ten points, including 20 for Gollon and 17 from Coursey while shooting for a combined 12 for 21 from the floor.
It’s not even that the Blue Devils played bad. They just failed to do what they’ve done so well all season: take control. They let Mercer walk all over them, and when they took the lead, they failed to capitalize on it, which led to sloppy turnovers and gave the Bears a much easier chance to score, especially in the post. But even with that said, the Blue Devils still weren’t the biggest disappointment in the second round.
Sixth seeded UMass, who many bracketology analysts argue were seeded too high to begin with, played the 11th seeded Tennessee Volunteers, who advanced to the second round after defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes in the First Four. As many brackets predicted, the Volunteers rolled over the Minutemen 86-67, but what surprised many about this game is that UMass didn’t even put up a fight. In the first half, the Volunteers outscored the Minutemen 41-22, in a game that proved to us that UMass was just too scrambled and sloppy of a team to be anywhere near as near as competitive as they seemed towards the first half of the season. In his final college basketball game, Chaz Williams was probably the biggest asset for the Minutemen, scoring 12 points off 6 of 11 shots from the floor while adding five assists. Meanwhile, the rest of the starting five shot 15 for 38 for 36 points and just three assists. The Volunteers, on the other hand, had a much more productive day as a whole, where four its starters combined for 26 for 41 from the floor and an astonishing 73 points, including 26 from junior forward Jarnell Stokes and 23 from senior guard Jordan McRae.
To be fair, the Minutemen did play much better ball in the second half, but similar to their A10 Tourney game against George Washington (who in my opinion was a much stronger and consistent team this year), the Minutemen showed little awareness and ball handling skills. They constantly rushed their shots and pressured themselves to take risks that didn’t pay off, and ultimately led to their upbringing. Unfortunately, since many players, including Chaz Williams, will not be returning next year, it might be a while before the Minutemen make it to the Tourney anytime soon.
Other notable games from the second round include #12 North Dakota State’s 80-75 win over #5 Oklahoma that many bracket experts overlooked, #9 Pittsburgh’s 77-48 blowout over #8 Colorado, and #11 Dayton’s surprise victory over #6 Ohio State in a match that many Buckeyes fans were dreading coming into that game. Some notable second round games include #8 Kentucky’s 78-76 win over Wichita State to hand the Shockers their only loss this season, #6 Baylor’s shocking defeat over Doug McDermott’s 3rd seeded Creighton Blue Jays 85-55, and #10 underdog Stanford’s thrilling 60-57 victory over national championship favorite #2 Kansas in what will likely be Andrew Wiggins’ last game as a Jayhawk.
With only 16 teams left in the Tournament (including five teams with a 7 or lower seed), the competition is heating up, the stakes are getting higher, and the games are only getting better. And even though my bracket is completely demolished (I had Duke going to the Sweet Sixteen and Kansas winning it all), there’s no doubt I’ll be glued to the TV screen watching every matchup as the tensions rise, and expecting many more upsets to come. Be sure to watch all the action this week on CBS with additional coverage on ESPN and ESPN2.