Upsets take tourney to new level
The 2010 edition of the best day in college sports turned into arguably the greatest opening day in NCAA tournament history.
And it was a day that left many college basketball fans, including President Barack Obama, second-guessing their brackets.
The opening day of the NCAA tournament started Thursday with two games ending in overtime -- one going into double-overtime and the other involving a No. 15 seed -- and another game being decided by one point.
Just when it seemed the day could not get any better, a No. 13 seed stunned a No. 4 on a buzzer-beater and a No. 3 seed had to fight like mad to hold off a No. 14.
Unbelievably, Thursday's nightcap was even better than the day's earlier games. A No. 14 seed actually knocked off a No. 3 and three more games were won on last-second shots, including yet another one decided in overtime.
By the time No. 3-seeded New Mexico held off No. 14-seeded Montana 62-57 early Friday morning on the East Coast, the carnage of the tournament's first 13 hours left researchers scrambling for the record books. Seven lower-seeded teams won games Thursday, including five double-digit seeds, the most on the opening day of the tournament since 1991.
And for those who think there's not enough parity in college basketball, consider this: Eight of the 16 games were decided in OT or by 3 points or less (that hadn't happened on the first day since the field expanded in 1985), 11 of the 16 were decided by single digits, and three games went to overtime.
How much of a difference is eight out of 16 being decided in OT or by 3 points or less? Consider this: There were a grand total of nine of those games in the entire 2009 tournament.
Only four teams ran away with victories on Thursday, and even No. 1 overall seed Kansas had its problems with No. 16-seeded Lehigh before pulling away with a 90-74 victory.
Indeed, madness finally returned to March on Thursday and it seemed like no team was safe, regardless of its lofty seeding or rich pedigree.
"I think it reflects the magic of March," Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor told reporters, after the Monarchs won their first NCAA tournament game since 1995.
Like upsets? Here are the seven games won by lower seeds on Thursday:
• No. 14 seed Ohio stunned No. 3 seed Georgetown 97-83 in a rout that wasn't even that close.
• No. 13 seed Murray State upset No. 4 seed Vanderbilt 66-65 on a shot as time expired.
• No. 11 seed Washington beat No. 6 seed Marquette 80-78 on a shot with 1.7 seconds left.
• No. 11 seed Old Dominion upset No. 6 seed Notre Dame 51-50 in a game that was as slow as the score indicates.
• No. 10 seed Saint Mary's knocked off No. 7 seed (and trendy sleeper) Richmond 80-71, winning its first NCAA tournament game since 1959.
• No. 9 seed Northern Iowa defeated No. 8 seed UNLV 69-66 on a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds to play.
• No. 9 seed Wake Forest rallied from eight down in OT to beat No. 8 seed Texas 81-80 on a 14-foot jumper with 1.3 seconds left.
Surprisingly, a Big East membership card was the only thing that carried less weight than a higher seed on Thursday. The Big East was hailed as the country's best conference throughout the season and half of its 16 teams litter the NCAA bracket. But when the dust settled Thursday, Big East teams went 1-3 against double-digit seeds. Georgetown, Marquette and Notre Dame each went one-and-done, and No. 2 seed Villanova came within only a few points of joining them.
The Wildcats rallied from an eight-point deficit in the final 4:19 of regulation to defeat No. 15 seed Robert Morris, winning 73-70 in overtime in a South Region game in Providence, R.I. Villanova narrowly avoided becoming the first No. 2 seed to lose in the first round since 2001. The Wildcats play Saint Mary's in the second round on Saturday.
The Hoyas were not nearly as fortunate. Georgetown played for the Big East tournament championship only five days ago, but it was defenseless against the No. 9 seed in the Mid-American Conference tourney in its NCAA first-round game. Ohio, which had to win four consecutive games to earn the MAC's automatic NCAA bid, led the Hoyas by 12 points at the half and never looked back. The Bobcats led by as many as 19 in the second half and handed the Hoyas the most lopsided ever by a 3 against a 14.
Ohio shot a whopping 58.2 percent from the floor, making 13 of 23 3-pointers, and its 97 points were the most allowed by a top-three seed since the NCAA field expanded in 1985.
"We really thought we could make some noise in this tournament," Hoyas guard Austin Freeman told reporters Thursday night. "We really didn't imagine we would be one-and-done."
Vanderbilt, UNLV, Marquette and Texas probably believed they would stick around for more than one day, too, but each was the victim of an underdog's improbable buzzer-beater:
• Murray State trailed Vanderbilt 65-64 when it called timeout with four seconds left. Racers forward Danero Thomas was the third option on coach Billy Kennedy's game-winning play, but the senior from New Orleans sank a fadeaway jumper from 15 feet to upset the Commodores in a West Region first-round game in San Jose, Calif. It was Murray State's first victory in the NCAA tournament since 1988 and it advanced to play No. 5 seed Butler in Saturday's second round.
"We'll remember this for the rest of our lives," Murray State guard B.J. Jenkins told reporters after the game.
• Northern Iowa fans will never forget Ali Farokhmanesh's 3-pointer, either. The Panthers were tied 66-66 with UNLV when Farokhmanesh let his winning 3-pointer fly from the left wing with 4.9 seconds to play. Northern Iowa's victory in its first-round game in the Midwest Region in Oklahoma City ended its 20-year drought in the NCAA tourney. The Panthers went one-and-done in each of their last four NCAA appearances, but moved on to face No. 1 seed Kansas on Saturday.
• Washington might not have made the NCAA's 65-team field if it hadn't won last week's Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles. But the 11th-seeded Huskies carried the Pac-10's battered flag proudly on Thursday night, knocking off red-hot Marquette in an East Region first-round game in San Jose. Washington rallied from a 15-point deficit and won on Quincy Pondexter's off-balance bank shot with 1.7 seconds to play. The Huskies advanced to play No. 3 seed New Mexico on Saturday.
• Some people did not believe Wake Forest deserved an NCAA at-large bid after it lost five of its last six games, but the Demon Deacons never lost hope, even after they trailed Texas by eight points with less than three minutes to play in overtime. Ari Stewart pulled Wake to within 80-79 with a 3-pointer with 15.9 seconds left, and Ishmael Smith won it with a jumper with 1.3 seconds left in an East Region first-round game in New Orleans. The Demon Deacons play No. 1 seed Kentucky on Saturday.
While the NCAA tournament said goodbye to five of its former national champions on Thursday (Florida, Georgetown, Marquette, UTEP and UNLV), the sport was introduced to several new stars. BYU's Jimmer Fredette scored 37 points in the Cougars' 99-92 double-OT victory over the Gators in a West Region first-round game in Oklahoma City. Fredette scored 29 points in the second half, helping BYU win an NCAA first-round game for the first time since in 17 years.
Ohio guard Armon Bassett was nearly as spectacular in the upset of Georgetown, scoring 32 points and making five 3-pointers. Saint Mary's center Omar Samhan was a one-man wrecking crew in the Gaels' surprising win over Richmond, scoring 29 points on 11-for-16 shooting and pulling down 12 rebounds.
What could Friday's action possibly bring? If we're lucky, it will be an encore of Thursday. At least three double-digit seeds look to be plenty competitive. No. 12-seeded Cornell, the Ivy League champion, plays fifth-seeded Temple in an East Region first-round game in Jacksonville, Fla.
South Region first-round games in Spokane, Wash., might be primed for upsets, too. No. 13 seed Siena takes on wounded No. 4 Purdue and No. 12 Utah State will try to knock off No. 5 Texas A&M.
Of course, if Thursday was any indication, Big East teams can't be comfortable on Friday. Four more of them are in action, including regular-season champion Syracuse, the No. 1 seed in the West. The Orange play 16th-seeded Vermont in Buffalo, N.Y.
Of course, most college basketball fans remember what happened the last time the Orange and Catamounts met.
Have you ever heard of T.J. Sorrentine?
Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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