By Matt Citak
Considering how crazy the regular season was this year, it should come as no surprise that the first two rounds of the 2018 NCAA Tournament have been absolute chaos. Favorites have fallen, history has been made, and, oh yeah, we still have four more rounds to go.
Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen. With the way March Madness is going, we should be in for a wild finish.
UMBC becomes first 16 seed to win, beats UVA by 20
On Friday, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County made history. The UMBC Retrievers accomplished something that 135 previous 16 seeds in the 64-team era of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament were unable to do — pull off a first round upset.
The University of Virginia entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. Yet despite being the overwhelming favorite in this “David vs. Goliath” showdown, the Cavaliers failed to show up to their first-round matchup, falling to the Retrievers by whopping 20 points.
UMBC’s cinderella run came to an end on Sunday, when No. 9 seed Kansas State pulled off the late victory over, 50-43. The Retrievers’ magical run may have ended quickly, but the darlings out of the American East did more than enough to solidify their place in NCAA history.
UVA far from the only favorite taken down
While Virginia suffered the biggest upset, the Cavaliers weren’t the only favorites taken down during the tournament’s opening weekend. The madness began on Thursday, when No. 13 seed Buffalo opened their tournament play with a 21-point beatdown of Arizona, sending the NBA’s likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton home early. The craziness continued a few hours later, when Donte Ingram of No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago hit a long three-pointer right before the final buzzer to beat No. 6 seed Miami and send his team into the Round of 32.
The upsets continued on Friday, when No. 11 seed Syracuse, the last team to make the tournament, defeated No. 6 seed TCU, while No. 13 seed Marshall took down No. 4 seed Wichita State. While the opening round produced some very surprising results, it was nothing compared to what we saw in the Round of 32.
Loyola-Chicago was the first big underdog to punch its ticket to the Sweet 16, when they defeated No. 3 seed Tennessee on Saturday, thanks to a Clayton Custer jumper with just 3.6 seconds remaining. The Ramblers were joined by the Syracuse Orange as the only double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16, after the Orange pulled off the first major upset of Sunday’s games, beating No. 3 seed Michigan State, 55-53.
But the madness did not stop there. No. 7 seed Texas A&M destroyed No. 2 seed UNC by 21 points, No. 9 seed Florida State took down No. 1 seed Xavier 75-70, and No. 7 seed Nevada overcame a 22-point second-half deficit to defeat No. 2 seed Cincinnati, 75-73.
Unlike other No. 1 seeds, Villanova playing like top team
Virginia and Xavier are out, while Kansas snuck by No. 8 seed Seton Hall, winning by just four points on Saturday. But unlike the rest of the pack, Villanova is playing up to its No. 1 seed.
The Wildcats began their tournament play with an easy 26-point victory over Radford. Jay Wright’s squad faced a pesky Alabama team in the Round of 32, and at halftime, it appeared as if the No. 9 seed had a chance to upset Villanova. But a 22-point second half from junior guard Mikal Bridges put those thoughts to rest, as the Wildcats pulled away to win by 23.
With one of the country’s most efficient offenses, it was not surprising to see Villanova score at ease against Radford and Alabama. But the Wildcats’ defense has also looked great in the first two rounds, and that should worry the other 15 remaining schools. Going up against a very talented West Virginia team in the Sweet 16, Villanova will face its toughest matchup yet on Friday.
South Region without top-4 seed in Sweet 16 for first time ever
The best way to understand just how crazy this year’s NCAA Tournament has been so far is to look at the bracket’s South Region. For the first time in NCAA history, no top-four seed in the South Region has made it to the second weekend, as No. 1 seed Virginia, No. 2 Cincinnati, No. 3 seed Tennessee, and No. 4 seed Arizona all found themselves on the wrong side of an upset.
The four teams to make it to the Sweet 16 out of the South are likely not the schools you may have expected. No. 5 seed Kentucky is the highest seed remaining, followed by No. 7 seed Nevada, No. 9 seed Kansas State, and No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago.
John Calipari, who helped lead Kentucky on a late-season winning streak to take home the SEC Tournament championship, has to like his team’s chances moving forward. The only obstacles between the Wildcats and yet another Final Four appearance are Thursday’s matchup against Kansas State and, if they emerge victorious from that, an Elite Eight contest against the winner of Nevada-Loyola-Chicago. As we have seen many times before, the key to winning is getting hot at the right time. And few teams are playing better than the Wildcats right now.
Duke is ACC’s last best hope for a title
The Atlantic Coast Conference entered the Round of 64 with several legitimate contenders to emerge as national champions. But following four days of pure chaos, the ACC is left with just one good chance at a national championship — the Duke Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils have absolutely dominated their first two games, beating Iona by 22 before dismantling Rhode Island by 25. They are averaging 88 points in their first two games, while holding both of their opponents to under one point per possession.
The ACC has four of the 16 teams left, but Duke provides the conference with their best hope for a title. The Blue Devils take on Syracuse on Friday, guaranteeing at least one ACC team in the Elite 8. Florida State has a tough matchup against No. 4 seed Gonzaga on Thursday, while Clemson will have to battle it out against No. 1 seed Kansas on Friday.
Duke has the best chance to win it all of the remaining ACC teams. But if this tournament has taught us anything, it’s that any team is capable of pulling out a W, no matter how big of an upset it seems.
Want to dominate this March? Join SportsLine now to get picks for every postseason college basketball game from the model that went 27-5 in the first round last year and has accurately predicted nine of the 12 double-digit seed upsets the last two years!
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.