The first weekend of the NCAA tournament is over. Submitting yourself to the roaring chaos and drama was like going on a roller-coaster ride... but only if the roller coaster harnesses locked into place and someone cracked off the brake and the ride didn't end for four days.
After a chaotic and wonderful round of 64 on Thursday and Friday, the round of 32 gave us more surprises, like Dayton and Stanford upsetting their way into a Sweet 16 matchup, but it also wiped Cinderellas like Mercer, North Dakota State, Stephen F. Austin and Harvard off the board.
That's predictable enough to be less than heart-rending. But the last day of the first weekend also saw the exit of one of the best offensive players in college basketball history, Doug McDermott, after Baylor's zone snuffed out Creighton's potent attack. And, of course, it saw the end of Wichita State and its chase for the perfect ending, the Shockers going out in a blaze of brilliance in a loss to surging Kentucky.
"You all understand – this was an Elite Eight game," Wildcats coach John Calipari said afterward, sounding almost regretful that it happened now. "The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four. That's what this was."
Technically that will have to wait a week. Until then, here's a recap of the round of 32:
Best Game Ever (That Was Played This Weekend)
Midwest region: No. 8 Kentucky 78, No. 1 Wichita State 76
For the Wildcats, it was the most complete effort of the year and basically Exhibit A for why it was perilous to dismiss Calipari's crew even when it was offering some very good reasons to do so. But maybe most importantly, that idea that the previously 35-0 Shockers hadn't played anyone and maybe weren't as good as everyone thought? Blown to atoms, even in a loss, and there should be no small amount of satisfaction in that for Wichita State.
Best Game Of The Weekend That Was Only The Second-Best Game Of The Weekend
For one half, Oregon jammed some high-speed, spectacularly efficient offense down the throats of a very pro-Wisconsin crowd at the Bradley Center on Saturday. For the next half, the Badgers counterpunched raucously and had the place busting eardrums as they did it. After 53 field goals, 19 three-pointers and 162 combined points, Wisconsin moved on to the Sweet 16. It was entertaining basketball from start to finish, a nice refresher after some slogs that preceded it.
At full speed in transition, UCLA's Norman Powell went behind-the-back and flipped in a finger roll layup early in a rout of Stephen F. Austin on Sunday. Maybe the most amazing part was that it didn't even seem like showmanship; it was a natural and necessary motion as the Lmberjacks' Desmond Haymon thrust a hand toward the ball, prompting Powell to protect it before finishing with a flourish.
Worst Day For NBA Lottery Picks
Sunday, which trumped recent winner Friday, when Duke's Jabari Parker was sent home after just one tournament game. As expected, Kansas center Joel Embiid didn't play against Stanford due to a back injury. A little more surprisingly, neither did Andrew Wiggins. The freshman forward took just six shots, making only one, as the Jayhawks were bounced by the Cardinal. To his credit, Wiggins maturely faced the media afterward and assigned himself blame for the whole thing.
On the other hand, we look forward to Parker, Wiggins and Embiid returning next season, motivated for NCAA tournament success.*
*Note: They probably are not returning next season motivated for NCAA tournament success.
Worst Application Of Standard Basketball Assumptions
Creighton has a ton of shooters. And they are very good shooters, comprising an offense that ranked No. 1 in the nation in adjusted efficiency (124.4 points per 100 possessions) and No. 1 in the nation with 351 made three-pointers. And Baylor plays zone, which theoretically a very good shooting team could rip apart by shooting very well. So naturally the third-seeded Bluejays shot 40 percent overall and hit just five three-pointers against the sixth-seeded Bears on Sunday in a 85-55 loss in the West region, ending McDermott's amazing career in the most ignominious fashion.
Saddest Exit, Part I
With 2:31 left against Baylor on Sunday, Creighton freshman Zach Hanson walked to the scorer's table to check in. He pointed at the senior wearing the No. 3 jersey on the court. And with that, McDermott's college career was over, with a stopover for an embrace with his father and coach, Greg. All the national player of the year could do then was fight back tears on the bench with his face in a towel. It hardly seemed like a deserving ending for the sport's fifth all-time leading scorer, but then there are 3,150 reasons to remember everything that came before it.
Saddest Exit, Part II
Best Reminder Of Who The Best Player On His Team Is, Part I
The loss of Georges Niang to a broken foot may yet haunt Iowa State because he was as much a playmaker as anyone on the roster. But DeAndre Kane also was a borderline All-America and therefore fairly good in his own right, and he demonstrated that he could carry an extra load on Sunday. Kane went for 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists – all team-highs – and drove for the game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds left to give the Cyclones a two-point win over North Carolina in the East region.
Best Reminder Of Who The Best Player On His Team Is, Part II
Shabazz Napier led Connecticut in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game this season, so anyone else but Napier leading the Huskies into the Sweet 16 would have been near madness. But Napier it was, scoring 21 of his 25 points in the second half to upend No. 2 seed Villanova and send Connecticut to the familiar grounds of Madison Square Garden for the regional semifinals.
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