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UMBC this coming? Cinderella’s stealing the show in March

BY SIMON BRADY

No one could have foreseen all the chaos that went down in March Madness’ opening weekend. In just a four days span, college basketball history was made on a couple of fronts.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers, out of the American East Conference, became the first 16 seed to win a first round tournament game ever, beating the breaks off the tournament’s number one overall seed Virginia Cavaliers, 74-54.

That was just the beginning of the madness for the south region, as the two, three and four seed joined Virginia in the ranks of the eliminated. It marks the first time any region will not send a top 4 seed to the sweet sixteen in tournament history.

Lastly, the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels, saw their hopes of hoisting back to back trophies dashed in front of a Tar Heel heavy crowd in Charlotte, by a slept on Texas A&M Aggies squad.

As the tournament’s second weekend and sweet sixteen begins tonight, it’s time to reflect and try to dissect all of what unfolded in the first two rounds

 The Slipper Fits in the South

On the tournament’s opening night, last Thursday, trendy final four pick Arizona Wildcats, the four seed in the south, got trounced by the Buffalo Bulls, 89-68.

Winners of eight of the last nine, capping it off with a convincing Pac 12 Conference tournament championship, the Wildcats appeared poised for a deep tournament run. It didn’t hurt that they were led by the nation’s hottest player and potential number one overall pick of this year’s upcoming NBA draft in Center DeAndre Ayton.

Ayton, who had 14 points and 13 rebounds in his last collegiate game against the Bulls, averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds this season, on better than 60 percent shooting from the field this season.

The fireworks continued in the South Friday night, as aforementioned UMBC sent the 31-3 Cavaliers packing early in the greatest upset in college basketball history. Virginia was a 20.5 point favorite entering the game, and they lost by that margin.

UMBC caught fire in the second half, scoring 54 points, shooting lights out from the field at 68 percent. Senior guard Jairus Lyles led the scoring barrage for UMBC, finishing with 28 points on 9-11 shooting, 23 of his 28 came in the second half.

The destruction of this region’s favorites continued into the round of 32. In their second dramatic victory of the weekend, the Nevada Wolfpack, winners of the Mountain West conference, overcame a 22-point deficit to knock off the second seeded Cincinnati Bearcats, 75-73.

The Wolfpack now move on to face the region’s 11 seed Loyola Chicago Ramblers, who had thrilling wins of their own to reach the sweet sixteen. They needed two buzzer beaters against six seed Miami Hurricanes and three seed Tennessee Volunteers to advance to the second weekend.

One-Two Punch Bounced in Wild West

Upsets highlighted the opening weekend in West Region as well. A senior ladened North Carolina Tar Heels squad with plenty of tournament experience, including winning last year’s national title, seemed poised for another run this season.

This season would not end with the confetti falling this time around, as a lengthy and athletic Texas A&M Aggies team manhandled North Carolina on Sunday afternoon, 86-65. Freshman guard TJ Starks led the charge on offense for the Aggies, dropping 21 points.

Junior Center Tyler Davis, whose been a force on the glass lately, recording double digit rebounds his last three games coming into Sunday, scored 18 of his own and grabbed 9 rebounds for the Aggies.

Elsewhere in the West Region, the Big East regular season champion Xavier Musketeers became the second one seed in the tournament to fall. The nine seeded Florida State Seminoles out of the Atlantic Coast Conference held on to defeat Xavier 75-70.

Senior guard Braian Angola did it all for the Noles in their upset victory, scoring 15 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out three assists, leading his team in all three categories.

                                            Cream of the Crop Holds Serve out East    

The East Region did not have the surprising upsets the other three regions endured. The favored one seed out of the East, the Villanova Wildcats, took care of Radford and Alabama over the weekend.

The Wildcats are led by star junior tandem of Jalen Brunson, the Big East Player of the Year, and Mikal Bridges. Bridges exploded in the second half against Alabama, scoring 22 points. Sixteen of them miraculously came within the first six minutes of the half.

Villanova’s opponent is red hot as well. The West Virginia Mountaineers, out of the Big 12 Conference, cruised through the weekend with wins by 23 and 17 points. One of the most experienced guard tandems in the nation, Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, highlighted the weekend for West Virginia.

Elsewhere in the East Region, the second seeded Purdue Boilermakers advanced to the sweet sixteen, but not without serious adversity along the way. Senior center Isaac Haas fractured his elbow in Purdue’s opening round victory against Cal State Fullerton.

Haas’ absence is devastating to this Purdue team, creating havoc for any opponent they play standing at 7-foot-2 and weighing 290 pounds. Haas averaged 14.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game this year.

The most intriguing sweet 16 matchup comes out of the East region, when Villanova will clash with West Virginia. Something’s got to give in this matchup, as the Wildcats are best three point shooting team in the nation.

Meanwhile, West Virginia, affectionately labeled “Press Virginia”, is known for its hellacious, full court defense. Will the potent offense of Villanova or stifling defense of West Virginia crack on Friday night at TD Garden in Boston?

Blue Bloods and Legendary Coaches make up Midwest

The Kansas Jayhawks are one of two one seeds remaining in the tournament. Bill Self and his crew are heading to another sweet sixteen after holding off a sneaky good Seton Hall team on Saturday, 83-79.

Kansas is spearheaded by senior Devonte Graham, another experienced guard in the sweet sixteen pool. Graham will look to lead his Jayhawk team over a hump they haven’t been able to overcome this upcoming weekend, as they’ve fallen in the elite 8 the last two years.

In the bottom half of the region, the most talented team in the tournament, the Duke Blue Devils, walked all over Iona and Rhode Island to reach the sweet sixteen. Duke has a great blend of youth and experience, as the team is highlighted by senior guard Grayson Allen, who already won a national championship back in 2015.

Allen is teamed up with freshman phenom Gary Trent Jr, and stud forward Marvin Bagley, who is projected to be selected in the top five of the upcoming NBA draft.

Simon Brady can be reached at simon.brady@theminaretonline.com

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