The Duke Blue Devils tore through the ACC tournament, winning four games in four days to become champions of the nation's toughest conference. They seemed to be a lock for a final four spot in Phoenix.
Yet, here we are with just 16 teams left vying for a title, and it seems arch-rival North Carolina has gotten the last laugh...
Duke's 88-81 loss to the seventh seeded South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday night was something more people should've saw coming. The game was being played in Greeneville, SC making it practically a road contest for the Blue Devils. They struggled with the crowd noise on college basketball's biggest stage for most of the night.
In 2012 and 2014, Duke was stunned by underdogs in Lehigh and Mercer. Both of these upsets came in the first round. However, for many college basketball followers the Blue Devils were too irresistible to pass up on. The reaction by most after the game...
If your bracket happens to be busted because of this, I wouldn't sweat it. After all, the best part about March is the unpredictability. There is simply not a better script that could be written for such a hectic tournament. This time of year is magical and the games are just heating up.
5 NCAA Tournament Underdogs You Should Root Super Hard For
Everyone loves an underdog.
It's the most magical time of the year! The NCAA men's basketball tournament starts tomorrow, which means you need to familiarize yourself the 68-team bracket of absolute insanity.
Now, there are probably plenty of lists out there telling who you should put all your money on. In reality, it's a complete crap shoot. Sure, you can bet on high seeds and probably do pretty well. But where's the fun in that?
Instead, you should be rooting for absolute chaos. Big-time programs falling left and right! Schools with enrollments of, like, 54 knocking off the giants! How much more fun does that sound? Ah, that's right: SO MUCH MORE.
So I've compiled a list of the five underdogs you should no doubt be rooting for when the madness starts Thursday afternoon.
1. No. 13 seed Winthrop (vs. Butler in Round 1) If you're an NCAA tournament junkie, Winthrop will probably be a name that brings back memories. The school used to be a regular participant in the tournament in the early 2000s, but they've only ever won a single tournament game. Interestingly enough, that win came exactly 10 years ago against Notre Dame, which is just a two hour drive up US-31 from Winthrop's opponent this year, Butler!
Also, if Winthrop and Wichita State happen to go on incredible, tournament-shaking winning streaks, it'll set up a good nostalgia-inducing matchup. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State's head coach, used to coach at Winthrop. It's a seriously long shot, but hey, that's what this tournament is all about!
Like... are you kidding? That is such a good logo. You should totally root for Winthrop.
2. No. 15 seed Troy (vs. Duke in Round 1) Forget about Tory for a second, and focus on their opponent, Duke. It's so easy to root against Duke. Everyone does it. It's basically a national pastime. Duke has been so freaking good for so freaking long, and Coach K has been so successful (sometimes smugly so), that it just comes naturally.
This year's Duke team is no different thanks to the presence of Grayson Allen, the kid who can't stop tripping people on the court, and who also looks like Ted Cruz, just with the ability to finish around the rim.
Plus, maybe it's just me, but ever since I watched High School Musical back in the day, I've always rooted for any Troy in basketball. So go Troy!
3. No. 11 seed Rhode Island (vs. Creighton in Round 1) Rhode Island's got a couple real good things going for them.
First of all, it's Rhode Island's first NCAA tournament appearance since the turn of the century. The last time Rhode Island was in the tournament, a whole bunch of people were worried their computers would explode when the date turned to January 1, 2000. We're so much smarter now! (No we're not.)
Plus, the color combo on their logo is tremendous.
Everyone likes powder blue. It's got that delightful vintage look I always associate with college basketball. And then a good splash of navy blue for good measure? I love it a lot. I almost wish I went to Rhode Island. (No I don't.)
And, most importantly, Rhody's mascot is the Ram. It's a very good mascot, and one time it tried to get into a fight with the Hawk from St. Joseph's, which I think is extra funny because Rhode Island was kicking the crap out of St. Joe's in this game.
That's hilarious. Go Rhody.
4. No. 15 Jacksonville State (vs. Louisville in Round 1) The season 2016-17 was, far and away, the best in the history of Jacksonville State's men's basketball program. They won 20 games in a single season for the first time since joining Division I in the mid-1990s, and this is their first NCAA tournament appearance EVER. As I'll tell you again in a little bit, you can't help but root for a first-timer!
But wait, there's so much more. The Gamecocks' coach, Ray Harper, is in his first season with Jacksonville State, which is pretty neat. You know what's even more neat? Ray's first name is actually Lilburn.
His name is Lilburn.
That sounds like a rapper. Or maybe what you'd call just a tiny insult. Not a huge burn. Just a lilburn. I'm all the way on board with Lilburn Ray Harper.
Also, the school's motto is "The friendliest campus in the South," which I can neither confirm nor deny but, honestly, who cares? That's an admirable goal. I appreciate a college doing its best to be nice to me. Normally colleges just want my money and also, in a more roundabout way, my soul. This time Jacksonville State wants to be my friend. I say, let's all be Jacksonville State's friend!
Plus, if you're not really sold yet, it's kind of impossible to root against a No. 15 seed. Florida Gulf Coast was a No. 15 seed, and they gave us Dunk City. Let's hope Jacksonville State does some equally dope stuff.
5. No. 8 Northwestern (vs. Vanderbilt in Round 1) Alright, so technically this isn't an underdog. Northwestern is an 8-seed, meaning they're favored in their first round matchup against Vanderbilt. But stay with me here: Northwestern hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament... ever.
This is a big ol' deal. If you follow a lot of sports writers on Twitter, you probably saw them all losing their collective minds when Northwestern made the field. It's hard not to feel really excited for the fanbase: waiting literal decades for something to finally come true makes for a pretty great feeling when that one thing actually arrives. How do you not root for a first-timer?
Also, if you need more convincing, the color purple is most definitely under-represented among powerhouse programs. Purple is such a good color! It's Northwestern's main color. Get Purple Fever. Listen to Prince all week. Do it big.
Oh, and they have a guy whose first name is Dererk, which is absolutely going to drive newspaper editors INSANE if he, say, hits a game-winning shot in the first round because dagnabbit that is not a name.
With 67 games and 68 teams, March Madness appeals to almost every college basketball fan. Whether it's your bracket, alma mater, local school or upset special, the NCAA Tournament reigns supreme on the heart. This playlist is designed for the tournament banger, the bracket confidence-booster, the pregame rituals, and overall sense that March basketball is back.
This playlist features everything, from heartbreak in the tournament to a cinderella story. Featured artists include rap artists Future, Eminem and Kanye West ... to traditional jams from Queen, Metallica and AC/DC. Lose a bit of cash in your bracket pools? Not to worry, Daniel Powter's "Bad Day" is included as well. Good luck!
Middle Tennessee Is Out Here Crushing Big Ten Dreams Again
The Blue Raiders don't mess around.
If you're a well-seeded team in next year's NCAA men's basketball tournament, and find yourself facing Middle Tennessee State University in the first round, you might just want to turn around and run away.
Because Middle Tennessee will crush your dreams.
You might be thinking to yourself, 'Why is that school name familiar?' It's because this year, and last year, the Blue Raiders were doing just that: knocking off a high-seed Big Ten team with a ruthless attack.
Last season MTSU, then seeded a 15-seed, knocked off Tom Izzo and 2-seed Michigan State, 90-81, pouring it on with dunks and tons of points in the paint.
On Thursday, they dominated the paint, outscoring Minnesota in close, but they also buried threes with crazy efficiency, knocking down seven of 13 shots from deep, en route to a 81-72 win to advance to the second round, where they'll face Butler, who beat Winthrop soundly earlier Thursday.
Heading into Thursday's matchup, Middle Tennessee was so well-regarded by national college basketball fans that, despite being the 12-seed compared to Minnesota's 5-seed, the Blue Raiders were actually FAVORED by betting lines to win the game!
And yet the game started perfectly for Minnesota, as the Gophers jumped out to a 7-0 lead and looked comfortable.
But the Blue Raiders answered quickly, and soon they were taking the lead thanks to great showings from Reggie Upshaw Jr., the hero of last year's upset of Michigan State, and Brandon Walters. At halftime, Minnesota was barely hanging within reach, trailing by six points at the break.
And it just kept snowballing early in the second half. The Blue Raiders couldn't miss, Minnesota's spotty offense couldn't find a rhythm, and all of a sudden it was 60-44, Middle Tennessee State, with 10:41 left to play.
Turns out, though, Richard Pitino's Minnesota team had at least one run left in them. After Pitino called a much-needed timeout, the Gophers went on a huuuuge 14-2 run over the next 3:58, drawing within four points -- just four! -- with 6:43 to play.
But that run looked like it took everything out of the Gophers. Upshaw, who finished the game with a team-best 19 points, scored seven straight for Middle Tennessee to pad their lead back to a safe number.
Just like last year, Upshaw led the Blue Raiders when they needed clutch play. The kid is a dang stud.
And that bounce-back from Upshaw and the Blue Raiders was enough to give Middle Tennessee the space they needed to notch the first upset of the tournament, and the program's second straight Round 1 win as a double-digit seed.
Don't you wish your school had super awesome alumni to come and watch sporting events? (I sure do. BE COOLER, DREXEL!)
After a close first half, Northwestern was totally feeling it from the field early in the second half, racing out to a colossal 49-34 lead with 13:41 left to play.
But there's a reason this was a matchup between an 8-seed and a 9-seed: these teams, in the end, were pretty darn even.
Vandy launched a dramatic comeback to try and salvage things, burying three three-pointers in 79 seconds, drawing within two points with five minutes to play. On the other side, Northwestern couldn't buy a bucket, scoring just six points in a 7:07 span.
Then, with 1:32 left in the game, Riley LaChance nailed a three to give Vanderbilt a 62-61 advantage, its first lead since *way back* in the first half, back when it was 5-4. So, of course, Northwestern came back down the court and hit a jumper of its own to take the lead back.
Was Northwestern's first game ever going to be anything but dramatic? I mean, c'mon. It had to be this way.
After another bucket from Vanderbilt, Northwestern's Dererk Pardon (not a typo in his first name, which is amazing!) was fouled going up for a shot with 26.1 seconds left, and knocked down both free throws to give the Wildcats a 65-64 lead.
Then Riley LaChance knocked down ANOTHER shot to put Vanderbilt back up one.
And then Northwestern received a goshdarn gift.
Because Vanderbilt's Matthew Fisher-Davis, in all the chaos, thought his team was still down. So he fouled the best foul shooter on Northwestern, Bryant McIntosh, who made both free throws.
Dunk City made a splash in the NCCA tournament yet again. Florida Gulf Coast seems to always be capable of at least three highlight reel plays per game.
Their competition on Thursday, Florida State, is no stranger to the jaw-dropping jams either. Both teams are stock piled with athletic, rangy freaks that can bounce out of the arena. They're also two of the top three dunking leaders in the entire country.
Thursday evening's match up in Orlando brought out the best of these players. Seven dunks were registered in the first half alone. The second half provided a little excitement as well. Enjoy some of the mesmerizing slams:
Florida State was too much for Florida Gulf Coast to handle, and in the end, they gradually wore down Duke City. The final score ended up being 86-80 in favor of the Seminoles.
The depth of Florida State is something that teams have struggled with all year. The ability to field an eleven-man rotation full of high flyers is special. Florida State is proving why they're going to be a hassle to deal with in the West region. They will face 11-seeded Xavier in the Second Round later this weekend.