Every spring collegiate ballers from the elite schools with tons of pedigree to the basketball backwaters get a chance to compete for a spot in our country’s greatest tournament.

The single-elimination NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament is a national obsession with everyone, from your elderly aunt to the kid flipping burgers in the local grease trap, completing a bracket in hopes of earning bragging rights or maybe a little cash.

With so many impassioned eyeballs on the proceedings, underdogs can become almost universally loved darlings while the titans of college basketball’s powerhouses get derided when they fall early.

This year, the first two days of the tournament (yes, I’m ignoring the so-called First Four games) provided all the action any basketball fan could ever hope four and a number of the bracket busting upsets that give hope to the lovers of the underdog.

Fans were not disappointed. There were upsets and thrilling finishes galore along with a record five overtime games.

Let’s take a look back at the two greatest days in amateur sports, the opening of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

[tps_title]Dayton vs Ohio State[/tps_title]


Things got off to an exciting start with the 11 seed Dayton Flyers going up against their in state big brother, the 6 seed Ohio State Buckeyes. OSU came out of the gate hot, but Dayton ended the first half with a three-point lead.

The second half featured 11 lead changes and culminated in our first fantastic finish of this year’s tournament.

Aaron Craft hit a layup with a little more than 15 seconds left to put Ohio State up 59-58. Vee Sanford was not to be denied. Sanford got the ball on the wing for the Flyers and hit a leaning four-foot jumper with six seconds remaining. That gave OSU senior guard Aaron Craft one last chance that fell short.

The Flyers were just the first double-digit seed to try on Cinderella’s slipper on Thursday.

[tps_title]Harvard vs Cincinnati[/tps_title]


In the East region, 12 seed Harvard took on 5 seed Cincinnati in a showdown of conflicting styles.

Harvard has been characterized by their balanced scoring this season with five players averaging double-digits. Cincy, on the other hand, relied heavily on their star Sean Kilpatrick to take on the majority of the scoring load and utilized team defense to drive them to a 27-7 record out of the AAC.

Justin Jackson stepped up for Cincy, contributing 12 points and 11 assists to go along with Kilpatrick’s 18 points. Kilpatrick’s poor ball handling (five turnovers) and that of his team (13 turnovers) were too much to overcome as the Ivy League champion used its balanced scoring attack to advance over Cincinnati, 61-57.

[tps_title]Michigan State vs Delaware[/tps_title]

Many believe that Michigan State was mis-seeded when they were placed as a 4 seed in the East region. Adreian Payne and company did their best to prove that point. In a game that featured a final score that looked like that of an NBA game, the Spartans topped the 13 seed Delaware Blue Hens, 93-78.

Payne finished the game with 41 points on 10-15 shooting from the field. It was the most points scored by any player in the first round, and the first 40-point performance in the tournament since Stephen Curry in 2009 for Davidson. Payne, a 6-foot-8 forward, was also perfect from the free throw line hitting all 17 of his attempts.

[tps_title]Saint Louis vs North Carolina State[/tps_title]


Saint Louis University was favored as the 5 seed against North Carolina State, which had to earn the privilege of playing SLU by winning their play-in game against Xavier. Despite playing their second game in three days, NC State looked the fresher team out of the gate and even took a 14-point lead in the second half.

A-10 Player of the Year Jordair Jett took control for the Billikens late in the second half and willed SLU to overtime despite the terrible free throw shooting. It was a brick-fest from the free throw line, with the Wolfpack shooting 54 percent from the charity stripe and the Billikens managing to shoot only 46 percent.

The Wolfpack were kept in the game by ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren putting up 18 of his game-high 28 points in the second half. SLU senior Rob Loe put up 22 points to go with 15 rebounds to lead the Billikens to the 83-80 overtime win and avoid the upset.

[tps_title]Oklahoma vs North Dakota State[/tps_title]


Oklahoma came in as a 5 seed to face 12-seeded North Dakota State. It was the third 5-12 matchup of the day. Harvard had already upset Cincinnati and SLU barely escaped NC State in overtime. The first half saw 11 lead changes with the ND State Bison settling down in the end of the half with a 37-29 lead.

In the second half, Oklahoma’s offensive rebounding kept them in the game despite a barrage from ND State’s Laurence Alexander.

Up 65-63 with 26 seconds remaining, Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins made his first free throw to give the Sooners a three-point lead. Cousins then missed the second attempt and the Bison recovered the rebound and called a timeout with 18 seconds remaining.

There was little question as to who would take the last shot, and despite good defense Laurence Alexander hit a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left to tie the game at 66.

Oklahoma got a jump shot for the win that missed, but in an end-of-the-game frenzy, they attempted three more shots from point blank but none made their way in before the buzzer sounded.

By the time overtime began, the Sooners looked like a defeated team. Carlin Dupree scored four points in OT and Cameron Clark scored 16 points in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime to give the Bison the upset over the Sooners.

[tps_title]Arizona State vs Texas[/tps_title]


Conventional wisdom and history suggest that a 7-10 matchup is basically a toss-up with neither seed holding much of a historical advantage over the other. The Arizona State and Texas matchup lived up to that expectation for a tight game.

For Arizona State, it was their first tournament appearance since 2009. Texas has faced a string of disappointments in their recent tournament history, not making the NCAA Tournament last year and then falling in the first round of the CBI.

This game was hotly contested from the beginning, but when Texas held a 61-47 with 12 minutes remaining, it seemed as if the Longhorns was going to run away with it. Arizona State then went on a 17-5 run to cut the Texas lead to two points with eight minutes remaining.

Two made Jonathan Gilling free throws tied the game with 17 seconds left and allowed Texas one last possession. Then, Jonathan Holmes dribbled the clock down to five seconds before launching an ill advised three-point attempt that clanged out.

Texas savior Cameron Ridley collected the ball off the floor and hoisted up a buzzer-beating layup. The play was reviewed but the basket would stand and Texas escaped to play another day. Cameron Ridley had a complete game for the Longhorns, putting up 17 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four blocks.

[tps_title]New Mexico State vs San Diego State[/tps_title]


In the final thriller from Thursday, 13 seed New Mexico State played San Diego State and their leader Xavier Thames in a West Region showdown. San Diego State’s stifling defense kept the game low scoring and allowed them to take a 32-20 lead into halftime.

Thames came to life for the Aztecs, scoring eight of his game-high 23 points in the second period to carry San Diego State to a 10-point lead with 2:44 remaining. That’s when the Aggies kicked it into gear.

Kevin Aronis hit two 3-pointers for New Mexico State in the final two minutes and tied the game at 60 at the end of regulation. The Aztecs did not trail in the game, yet were headed to overtime.

Dwayne Polee II and Thames combined for 10 of San Diego State’s 13 points in overtime as the Aztecs avoided the upset in the final of the four overtime games of the day.

[tps_title]Duke vs Mercer[/tps_title]


On Friday, Duke and Mercer kicked things off with matchup for the ages. 3 seed Duke was perplexed by Mercer’s 2-3 zone defense early, but began cracking it with lights out 3-point shooting.

Ike Nwamu had 11 for Mercer in the opening half. Rasheed Suleiman was 4-6 from distance for the Blue Devils. Duke fell in love with the three-ball, attempting 22 of them in their first half alone. Duke collected 10 offensive rebounds, many off missed 3-point attempts, and carried a one- point lead into halftime.

Mercer held on to their halftime lead and even grew it before Duke tied the game at 51 halfway through the period. That is when the Mercer Bears took over.

In the final 4:52, Mercer went on a 20-8 run. Duke was outscored by 16 points in the paint as they settled for 3s often while Mercer relentlessly attacked the basket. Jakob Gollon scored 15 of his 20 points in the second half. Gollon hit four free throws in the final 12 seconds to ice the game in favor of Mercer.

The loss was Duke’s fifth to a double-digit seed, which is tied for most all time.

[tps_title]UNC vs Providence[/tps_title]


North Carolina faced off with a Providence team thirsty for its first win in the tournament since 1997.

North Carolina limped into the tournament having lost their final regular season game to Duke and their first ACC conference tournament game to Pittsburgh. Providence made it into the NCAA Tournament by beating St. John’s, Seton Hall and Creighton for the Big East tournament title.

Bryce Cotton’s performance in the conference tournament made him one of the most talked about players heading into the NCAA Tournament, and he did not disappoint. The Friars' leader only scored 13 in the first half, but it was good enough to keep Providence within three at halftime.

In the second half, Marcus Paige tried to take over, scoring 12 of his 19 points for UNC. But every time UNC went on a run, Bryce Cotton and the Friars answered. Cotton scored 23 of his game-high 36 in the second half. Providence led by three with 1:21 remaining when Paige hit a three to tie things at 77.

When James Michael McAdoo ripped an offensive rebound with three seconds remaining, he went to the foul line for two free throws. After making the first, he missed the second but was able to come up with the rebound, his 12th of the game, and was fouled again.

McAdoo made his first free throw to put the Tar Heels up, 79-77. After missing the second, Cotton was able to get a hand on the ball only to lose possession out of bounds, letting ball and the game slip away form the Friars.

Cotton’s performance will not soon be forgotten, but it was not enough as the Tar Heels advanced to the round of 32.

[tps_title]VCU vs Stephen F. Austin[/tps_title]


It’s not often that a team considered to be an underdog three years ago would be considered a favorite. This was the case for VCU, as they entered their matchup against Stephen F. Austin as a 5-seed to SFA’s 12-seed.

Stephen F. Austin entered the game as an unheralded mid-major conference winner and owners of the second-longest winning streak in the country at 28 games.

Stephen F. Austin was initially disturbed by the brand of defense that head coach Shaka Smart calls Havoc, but after the initial shock of the harassing defense wore off, the Lumberjacks fell into a rhythm. At the half, Stephen F. Austin led by six.

VCU regained the lead in the second half on JeQuan Lewis’ made free throw with 12:40 remaining in the game. The Rams expanded their lead to ten points with 3:38 remaining, thanks to stifling defense and scoring from Juvonte Reddic and Treveon Graham.

SFA went on an 13-7 run to cut the VCU lead to four with ten seconds left. That is when the improbable happened. Desmond Haymon was fouled as he hit on a 3-point attempt earning a shot at the four point play which he converted sending the game to overtime.

In the extra period, the VCU defense held true, but the Lumberjacks were able to convert five free throws and a three pointer to outlast the VCU Rams, 77-75. The Lumberjacks were the third 12-seed to win in the field of 64 sending in what was a surprisingly competitive opening round.


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