The NCAA Men’s Division-I Basketball tournament, commonly referred to as March Madness, is set to begin on Tuesday, March 17.
Conference championships are in full swing, with mid-majors and elite conference teams all fighting for the opportunity to be one of the 68 teams selected to the tournament. Many of the smaller conferences will send just one team to the tournament, their Conference champion, while others will see as many as seven or eight teams continuing onward.
The road to the National Championship will feature three weeks of buzzer-beaters, underdogs and upsets, elation, heartbreak, and utter unpredictability. 68 teams will enter and only one team will emerge as the 2015 NCAA Men’s Division-1 National champion.
With the tournament just over the horizon, let’s take a look back at some of the most exciting moments and improbable runs in recent March Madness history:
3.) Thomas Time: 13-seed Murray State shocks Vanderbilt
In their first round matchup against Vanderbilt, the 13-seed Murray State Racers had a 1-point lead with 12.7 seconds left when Vanderbilt senior guard Jermaine Beal was fouled driving to the basket. Beal hit both of his free throws to put the Commodores ahead by 1.
With just 4.2 seconds remaining on the clock, down by 1, the Racers required a miracle. Senior forward Danero Thomas was all too happy to oblige.
Junior Isaac Miles received an inbounds pass from junior Jeffery McClain in the Vanderbilt end of the court and dribbled towards the free throw line, before passing the ball off to Thomas. Thomas dribbled to his right, stepped back, and drained a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer to give Murray State a thrilling 66-65 victory.
They would lose 54-52 in the second round to the Butler Bulldogs, a team we will discuss later here on our 2010 list.
2.) ‘Ali’ for Three: Farokhmanesh leads 9-seed Northern Iowa to Sweet Sixteen
The Panthers of Northern Iowa earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament after winning the Missouri Valley Conference championship. They were named a 9-seed, pitting them in a first round matchup against the 8-seed UNLV Rebels.
In a tie game with time winding down, senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh connected on a deep three-pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining in the game to give the Panthers a 69-66 win. Farokhmanesh shot 5-of-9 on three pointers in the game and finished with 17 points.
His heroics in the UNLV game could have been enough to make Farokhmanesh a memorable member of NCAA tournament lore, but he was not done yet. In their second round matchup against the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks, Farokhmanesh continued his success from three-point range.
Northern Iowa inbounded the ball from their own end of the court with 42.8 seconds remaining, clinging to a 63-62 lead. After receiving a pass across halfcourt, Farokhmanesh, left wide open behind the three-point line, hit his fourth three-pointer of the game to give Northern Iowa a 4-point cushion with 34 seconds left. A subsequent charging foul called on Kansas handed the ball right back to Northern Iowa, who would hold on to win 69-67, dispatching of the top-seed Jayhawks, and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.
1.) 5-seed Butler Bulldogs bark & bite way to Championship game
The Butler Bulldogs rattled off 18 consecutive wins to close out their regular season, won the Horizon League conference championship and were ranked #11 overall in the nation, and earned a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament and a first-round face-off with the Miners of Texas-El Paso.
Behind a 25-point effort from sophomore Shelvin Mack, the Bulldogs up-ended UTEP 77-59, advancing to a second-round matchup with the upset-minded Murray State Racers.
Murray State’s first-round upset of Vanderbilt showed they knew how to battle, and they continued to bring the fight against Butler. With the score at 54-52, a missed free-throw by Butler junior Matt Howard with 17.5 seconds remaining in regulation gave Murray State a shot to go for a tie or the win. Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan had the ball knocked away by Butler’s Gordon Hayward with the clock winding down, as the Bulldogs hung on for the two-point win.
In the Sweet Sixteen, the Bulldogs were matched up against the West Regional’s 1-seed and #4 ranked team in the nation, the Syracuse Orange. In a game that saw Butler leading by as much as 12 in the first half, the Orange were able to close the gap and jump out to a 4-point lead with under three-and-a-half minutes remaining, as Butler failed to score for almost five minutes. A late 11-0 run by Butler in the final three minutes of the game pushed them to a 7-point lead, as they defeated Syracuse 63-59.
With one upset in the books, Butler moved on to the elite Eight, hoping to the 2-seed Kansas State Wildcats their next upset victim. Kansas State trailed the Bulldogs by six points with under a minute remaining in the second half when a wild sequence ensued. An errant pass by Kansas State ended up in their backcourt, but the referees said the ball was tipped, allowing Kansas State to push the ball forward again. Senior Denis Clemente had the ball stripped and knocked away towards halfcourt where a Bulldog player saved it from going out of bounds, and Clemente once again retrieved it in the backcourt. Clemente attempted to make a drive towards the basket, but once more had the ball stripped and ultimately stolen by Butler sophomore Ronald Nored. The Bulldogs would win the game 63-56, advancing to the first Final Four appearance in school history.
In their next game, the Bulldogs were pitted against the 5-seed out of the Midwest Regional, the Michigan State Spartans. Over six-and-a-half minutes into the first half, the Spartans were able to take a seven-point lead, their largest lead of the game, but the Bulldogs were able to claw their way back, going into halftime with the game tied at 28-28. At 17:44 of the second half, Shelvin Mack made a layup, giving Butler a 34-33 lead. The game remained close through to the finish, with Michigan State sophomore Korie Lucious drawing a foul with the Spartans down 52-49 and two seconds left to play. Lucious hit the first free throw and missed the second free throw on purpose, to give the Spartans a chance for a rebound, but it was Hayward for the Bulldogs collecting the miss, securing Butler a 52-50 victory and a trip to the National Championship game to face the Duke Blue Devils.
The Bulldogs and Blue Devils faced up well against one another, neither team leading by more than six in the game. Down by five points with under two minutes left in regulation, Butler cut the lead to just one following two consecutive baskets by Junior Matt Howard. Duke junior Kyle Singler missed a jumper with 38 seconds to go and the ball caromed off the Blue Devils Kyle Zoubek out of bounds to give Butler possession. Hayward received the inbounds pass for Butler with 13.6 seconds on the clock and put up a jumper, falling away from the basket, that bounced off the rim and was rebounded by Zoubek, who was fouled immediately. Zoubek hit his first free throw, and intentionally missed the second. Hayward rebounded the ball and heaved up a shot from halfcourt at the buzzer. The ball hit the backboard and then the front of the rim before bounding away, as Duke took the national title 61-59.
My pick for National champion: Villanova (Eliminated by St. Mary’s in Round of 32)
3.) 13-seed Morehead State upsets Louisville
As the Ohio Valley Conference champions, the Morehead State Eagles earned an automatic bid to the tournament and were pitted against perennial tournament challenger, and the Southwest Regional’s 4-seed, the Louisville Cardinals.
The Eagles played the favored Cardinals close through the first half, the teams going into the locker room tied at 33. Late in the second half, the Eagles were down by two points, 61-59, with under 20 seconds to go. Senior guard Demonte Harper dribbled the ball just past halfcourt, running the clock down. And then, Harper attacked.
He drove towards the three-point arc, forced the Louisville defender covering him backwards, and stepped back, firing up and making a three-pointer to give Morehead State a 62-61 lead with 4.2 seconds remaining. To that point in the game, Harper had been 0-of-5 on three-point field-goal attempts, but he made his sixth attempt count.
Louisville called a timeout before running a play, a shot attempt by sophomore guard Mike Marra, that was well-defended by the Eagles senior center Kenneth Faried. Morehead State had upset Louisville 62-61, the 13-seed Eagles moving on to the next round.
2.) Back-to-Back championship losses for the Butler Bulldogs
In 2010, the 5-seed Butler Bulldogs fell to the Duke Blue Devils in the National Championship game, losing by just two points, 61-59. In 2011, after receiving the 8-seed in the Southeast Regional, with sights set on redemption, the Bulldogs began their march towards another chance at the National title.
In their first-round matchup, Butler was able to outlast the Monarchs of Old Dominion 60-58 behind dual 15-point efforts from senior Matt Howard and junior Shelvin Mack.
After defeating the 9-seed Monarchs, Butler faced a tougher test in the 1-seed Pittsburgh Panthers. In a tightly contested game, which went down to the wire, a foul by Mack sent Pittsburgh’s Gilbert Brown to the free-throw line with Butler leading by 1 and just 1.4 seconds remaining in the game. Brown hit the first free throw, but missed the second, and the ball was rebounded by Butler’s Matt Howard. As Howard came down with the ball, he was fouled by Pittsburgh junior Nasir Robinson. The foul, occurring with 0.8 seconds left on the clock, would be Pittsburgh’s undoing, as Howard hit the first free-throw and purposefully missed the second, giving Butler the one-point win, 71-70.
Butler dispatched of the 4-seed Wisconsin Badgers with more of a point-cushion, winning their matchup 61-54, before proceeding to knock off the 2-seed Florida Gators, and then the Final Four Cinderella, the 11-seed Virginia Commonwealth Rams, to put themselves, for the second consecutive season, into the National Championship game.
But, once again, it was not to be for the Bulldogs as they were offensively frustrated by the defense of the UConn Huskies, shooting only 18.8% from the field as a team, and would lose by a score of 53-41.
1.) 11-Seed Cinderella: VCU Rams advance to the Final Four
In 2006, the 11-seed George Mason Patriots shook the foundations of the NCAA tournament, advancing to the Final Four, before their historic run was finally ended by the Florida Gators.
In 2011, the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth earned an 11-seed in the Southwest Regional, and went on a miracle run of their own, becoming the first 11th-or-lower seed to advance as far as the Final Four since George Mason, and only the third 11th-seed team in NCAA tournament history to reach the Final Four.
Their road began against the 6-seed Georgetown Hoyas, who they easily defeated 74-56, utilizing their “havoc” defense, which consists of heavy use of the full court press, to keep the Hoyas offense out-of-sync.
The Rams offense exploded in their next game, torching the 3-seed Purdue Boilermakers 94-76, to advance to play 10-seed Florida State.
For the majority of the first half of their game, the Rams and Seminoles stayed close on the scoreboard, with VCU able to pull out to a five-point lead at halftime. In the second half, Florida State quickly closed the gap and took an early 38-36 lead, with VCU opening the half 1-of-4 shooting with three turnovers. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the second half, a three-pointer from freshman guard Rob Brandenberg pushed the Rams lead to eight, 57-49.
Florida State would go on a late 12-3 run in the final 7 minutes of regulation, closing their coming back out on a game-tying three-pointer by junior Chris Singleton with 45 seconds remaining, to send the game to overtime tied at 65. Each team had a missed shot opportunity in the final 45 seconds to break the deadlock.
In the overtime period, with 7 seconds to go, VCU junior Bradford Burgess took an inbounds pass under the Florida State basket and laid the ball in to give the Rams a 72-71 lead. A last ditch effort by Florida State resulted in a shot after the buzzer, that was blocked anyways by VCU’s Brandenberg. The Rams escaped, moving onward with the victory, to face the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks.
Behind a double-double from senior Jamie Skeen (26 points, 10 rebounds), the Rams easily handled the Jayhawks, taking a 14-point lead into halftime, and holding on for a 10-point victory, 71-61, to reach the Final Four. Their opponent would be the 8-seed Butler Bulldogs.
VCU’s miracle run was ended by the Bulldogs, who enjoyed an upset-heavy run of their own to Final Four, and ultimately to the National Championship game, where they lost to the UConn Huskies, Butler’s second consecutive loss in the National title game, following an unexpected run to the Finals in 2010.
My pick for National champion: Ohio State (Eliminated by Kentucky in Sweet Sixteen)
1.) 13-seed Ohio Bobcats advance to Sweet Sixteen, take 1-seed North Carolina to overtime
The Mid-American (MAC) Conference Champions in 2012, the Ohio Bobcats opened their regular season winning 12 of their first 13 games, and closed out the pre-tournament season with a record of 27-7. With the automatic bid earned from winning their Conference championship, Ohio was presented with a 13-seed and a matchup with the 4-seed Michigan Wolverines to begin the NCAA tournament.
The underdog Bobcats did not disappoint in their tournament opener, holding the Wolverines to just 40.7% shooting, while shooting 51.2% themselves. Ohio defeated Michigan 65-60, with junior D.J. Cooper turning in a 21-point effort to lead all scorers. With their victory, Ohio moved on to face the 12-seed Bulls of South Florida.
Ohio shot just 39.5% from the field against South Florida, but the Bobcats did connect on 50% of their three-pointers in the game, and were able to outlast the Bulls 62-56, moving onward to the school’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1964.
In their Sweet Sixteen matchup the Bobcats drew the 1-seed North Carolina Tar Heels, and despite falling behind by seven points at halftime, rallied back to tie the game at 63 on a driving layup by junior Walter Offutt, with 25 seconds remaining in regulation. Offutt drew a foul on the play, but would miss the free throw. The Tar Heels worked the clock down to the final seconds before making a move for the win, but sophomore Harrison Barnes lost the ball. A last-ditch halfcourt shot attempt by Ohio’s Cooper bounced off the rim, sending the game to overtime.
In the extra frame, the Tar Heels proved too much for the Bobcats to handle, outscoring Ohio 10-2 en route to a 73-65 victory.
2.) Play-In Game Madness: Double-digit comebacks by Western Kentucky, BYU
To begin the tournament, there are four play-in games, with eight teams vying to obtain one of the final four spots into the tournament.
In 2012, the matchups between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky, for a 16th seed, and between Brigham Young and Iona, fighting for a 14th seed, provided high-caliber drama, and historic efforts, to open the tournament.
The Delta Devils of Mississippi Valley State held a commanding 16-point lead with just over 5 minutes remaining in the game, but Western Kentucky fought back. The Hilltoppers went on a 22-5 run in the final five minute of regulation, taking a 54-52 lead on a driving layup by freshman T.J. Price with 34 seconds left on the clock. Western Kentucky would hold on to win 59-58, making their 16-point comeback the largest comeback in the final five minutes of a game in tournament history.
In the second game of the night, the Brigham Young Cougars faced off against the Iona Gaels. For the majority of the game, the Gaels were in control, pushing ahead to a lead of 25 with a little over six minutes remaining in the first half. At halftime, the Cougars found themselves behind by 15. A 17-0 run in the second half closed the deficit to just 1 point with 8:46 left in regulation. The Cougars, who had not led all game, finally took a 1-point lead with 2:29 to go in the game, and pulled away down the stretch to shock Iona 78-72. The 25-point comeback by BYU was the largest in NCAA tournament history.
1.) Fightin’ Fifteens: 15-seeds Norfolk State, Lehigh pull off stunning first-round upsets
Prior to 2012, only four 15-seeds had ever defeated the 2-seed to advance to the round of 32. At the end of the first-round of the 2012 tournament, that number was up to six, as two more 15-seeds added their names to the prestigious list- the Norfolk State Spartans and the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.
Emerging as the conference champion from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), the Norfolk State Spartans made their first appearance in the NCAA tournament in school history, and it was an appearance the Spartans took full advantage of to make a name for themselves on the big stage.
The underdog Spartans were paired up against the 2-seed Missouri Tigers, but they proved that seeding in the tournament is only a number. Norfolk State led for the majority of the first half, leading by as many as eight points, but Missouri closed the gap, and the teams went into halftime tied at 38. With under 4 minutes remaining in the game, Norfolk State senior Chris McEachin drained a three-pointer to give the Spartans a 79-75 lead. Missouri sophomore Phil Pressey hit a three-pointer to close the lead to 1, 85-84, with 11 seconds left on the clock. Norfolk State senior Rodney McCauley sunk one-of-two free throws, missing the second, which was rebounded by his teammate, senior center Kyle O’Quinn, who was fouled immediately. O’Quinn missed both of his free throws, giving Missouri a chance with 2.9 seconds left in the game. Missouri senior Matt Pressey inbounded the ball to his brother Phil, who launched a desperate three-point attempt that bounced off the rim, giving Norfolk State the 86-84 upset win.
The Lehigh Mountain Eagles closed out their regular season winning seven games in a row, including their 3-game run through the Patriot League Conference tournament, and won the Conference championship over Bucknell 82-77.
By winning the conference tournament, Lehigh received an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament and were handed a 15-seed, and a first game matchup against the Duke Blue Devils. Just as their 15-seed comrades, Norfolk State, led for the majority of the first half in their game against Missouri, the Mountain Eagles had a lead on Duke for most of the game’s first twenty minutes. With 7 seconds remaining in the first half, Duke’s Andre Dawkins made a jumper to give Duke a two-point lead going into halftime, 30-28. Paced by the offense of junior guard C.J. McCollum, Lehigh took an 8-point lead with two free throws from junior Gabe Knutson with 57 seconds left in the game. Duke was able to decrease the deficit to just three points with two seconds on the clock, but two made free throws by McCollum in the waning moments put the game out of reach. Lehigh took the victory 75-70, as McCollum finished the game with 30 points to lead all scorers.
Both Norfolk State and Lehigh would lose their next games, but played their part as bracket-busters and provided the tournament with plenty of early-round drama.
My pick for National champion: Murray State (Eliminated by Marquette in Round of 32)
3.) 4-seed Michigan shocks 1-seed Kansas in OT, Sweet Sixteen
From the opening tip-off of their Sweet Sixteen matchup with the Michigan Wolverines, the 1-seed Kansas Jayhawks were in control. Jumping out to a lead of as many as 10 points in the first half, Kansas held a five-point lead going into halftime. In the first half, Michigan guard Trey Burke went 0-for-4 shooting, but the sophomore would soon enough go from zero points to Michigan’s hero.
Kansas’s domination continued in the second half, with the Jayhawks taking a 10-point lead with 2:54 remaining in regulation on a dunk by senior center Jeff Withey. The Wolverines were not going to go down without a fight, however, ending the game on a 14-4 run, capped off by a deep 3-pointer from Burke with 4.3 seconds left on the clock, to tie the score 76-76. Prior to Burke’s game-tying shot, Kanas had a chance to close the game out, with Elijah Johnson at the free-throw line. Johnson missed his free throw, which would have given Kansas a four-point lead with 13 seconds to go, giving Michigan and Burke new life. A last second three-point attempt by Jayhawks sophomore guard Naadir Tharpe at the buzzer hit the front rim, sending the game to overtime.
The Wolverines, led by freshman Mitch McGary’s four points in overtime, grabbed an 87-82 lead on two made free throws by Glenn Robinson III with 52 seconds left in the extra period. A three-pointer by Kansas’s Elijah Johnson cut the lead to two points seven seconds later. Burke, the hero in regulation, missed a layup with 10 seconds to go, and the ball went back to Kansas on a shot clock violation. Tharpe, who missed a three-pointer at the end of regulation, was given another chance in overtime, but his wild shot attempt hit the backboard and bounded off the front rim as the buzzer sounded. The Michigan comeback was complete with an 87-85 upset victory over Kansas. For Michigan, McGary recorded a double-double, scoring 25 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Burke had a double-double for the Wolverines as well, scoring 23 points, all in the second half, and dishing out 10 assists. Michigan’s 2013 run would take them all the way to the National title game, where they lost to the Louisville Cardinals 82-76.
2.) Dunk City: 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast upset Georgetown, San Diego State
After a 2012 tournament that saw two 15-seed over 2-seed upsets, the high-flying Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast University entered the 2013 tournament, their first tournament appearance in school history, with their eyes on a similar outcome. FGCU, winners the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament, earned the 15-seed in the South Regional and a battle with the 2-seed Georgetown Hoyas.
Georgetown opened the game looking much the part of the 2-seed, opening a seven-point lead in the first 10 minutes of action. The Eagles were not fading that easily, however, going on a 11-2 run over a six-minute span to take a two-point lead with under three minutes to play in the first half. Senior forward Eddie Murray hit two free throws with 26 seconds remaining in the first half to lift the Eagles to a 24-22 lead at halftime.
While the first half was a close affair, the second half was all Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles took a 34-31 lead three minutes into the second half on a three-pointer by sophomore Bernard Thompson and never looked back, pushing out to a 19-point lead on a dunk by junior Chase Fieler 7 1/2 minutes into the half. Fieler would show his leaping ability again later in the second half, on a soaring one-handed alley-oop dunk set up sophomore Brett Comer, an exclamation point for the Eagles that staked them to a 67-58 lead with under two minutes left in regulation. The Hoyas cut the deficit to as close as four points in the final minute, but the Eagles were able to close out their upset victory 78-68. Senior Sherwood Brown scored 24 points for the Eagles to lead all scorers, while Comer added 12 points and 10 assists for a double-double. The Hoyas were led by junior Markel Starks who scored 23 points in the loss, while Otto Porter tallied a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Eagles moved on to face the San Diego State Aztecs, taking their aerial assault to the rim against the Aztecs defense, just as they had versus Georgetown.
Following a back-and-forth first half, which the Aztecs escaped with a one-point lead, the Eagles took control. Led by the ball-sharing of Brett Comer, who dished out 14 assists, and the scoring of Bernard Thompson, the Eagles stormed out of the locker room. Over a 7 1/2 minute span, the Eagles went on a 17-0 run, and jumped out to a massive 19-point lead, before junior Xavier Thames hit a jumper for the Aztecs to end the run with a little over four minutes remaining in the game.
The Aztecs tried to fight back, but the deficit proved too large to overcome, as they fell to the Eagles 81-71. Thompson led the Eagles with 23 points, while Comer produced his second consecutive double-double performance, tallying 10 points and 14 assists on the scoresheet.
The Eagles had made their mark, becoming the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in tournament history. The Sweet Sixteen is as far as they would go, though, losing their next game against the Florida Gators 62-50 in a lopsided affair.
1.) Wichita State Shockers Roll to the Final Four
Just two tournaments removed from the stunning run to the Final Four by the 11-seed VCU Rams, the 9-seed Wichita State Shockers decided to bring their own surprise run to the tournament table.
The Shockers earned a spot in the tournament behind a strong 26-8 campaign in the Missouri Valley Conference, through their regular season and Conference tournament, which they lost in the title game to the Creighton Blue Jays.
As a 9-seed in the NCAA tournament, the Shockers pulled an 8-seed first-game opponent in the Pittsburgh Panthers who they proceeded to trounce 73-55, led by 22 points from senior Malcolm Armstead and 21 points from junior Cleanthony Early.
In their second game, the Shockers faced a much tougher opponent in the 1-seed Gonzaga Bulldogs, the #1 team in the nation during the regular season, who had just two losses on their record for the year. It would take the Shockers truly ‘shocking’ Gonzaga for them to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
Wichita State opened the game strong, forcing the Bulldogs into two turnovers and held them 0-for-3 shooting in the first three minutes of the game, as the Shockers opened an early 5-0 lead. The Bulldogs quickly erased the five-point deficit, tying the game up at 5 a piece, but the Shockers would regain their five-point lead following a dunk by senior Carl Hall and a three-pointer from Early. After that first three-pointer fell for the Shockers, shots from beyond the arc became a popular selection and an accurate weapon.
The Shockers led by as many as 13 points in the first half, and took a 36-31 lead into the locker room at halftime, helped largely by 7-of-15 shooting from three-point range. But Gonzaga came out hot in the second half, swinging a five-point deficit into an eight-point lead with a layup by sophomore Kevin Pangos notching the Bulldogs to a 49-41 lead with just under twelve minutes remaining in regulation. With the clock down under six minutes to play, a storm of three-pointers began raining down from both teams with four consecutive shots, all three-pointers falling- two for each team- in the span of a minute-and-a-half. Following two free throws from freshman Ron Baker, the Shockers regained the lead, 64-63, and moved further ahead on a three-pointer from Baker with under three minutes left on the clock.
And then, the Bulldogs started missing shots. Down the stretch, Gonzaga shot just 3-of-9 from the field, and missed 3-of-4 free throws, allowing the Shockers to hang on to the lead. In the end, the Shockers outlasted the Bulldogs, winning 76-70, behind a 50% shooting effort from beyond the arc, and advanced to face the 13-seed La Salle Explorers.
After making quick work of La Salle, 72-58, led by Malcolm Armstead’s 18 points and a team total of 8 blocks, the Shockers moved on to the Elite Eight, and a matchup with the 2-seed Ohio State Buckeyes. Against the Buckeyes, the Shockers turned once more to three-point shooting as a weapon, connecting on six three-pointers and making 8-of-9 free throw attempts in the first half, to take a 35-22 lead at the end of the first 20 minutes of play.
In the second half, after jumping out to a 20-point lead just over seven minutes into action, the Shockers started missing shots and taking fouls, allowing the Buckeyes to get back into the game. By the time the clock read 2:49, a 20-point lead had been cut to just three points, but that’s as close as the Buckeyes would make it. Shockers sophomore Tekele Cotton hit a three-pointer to extend the lead back to six points, and Wichita State would hang on to defeat the Buckeyes 70-66, and move on to the Final Four to face-off against the Louisville Cardinals.
The Shockers opened the game on an 8-0 run in the first five minutes to grab a quick advantage over Louisville, but the Cardinals would storm back, going on a 9-0 run of their own to take a 9-8 lead with under 13 minutes left in the first half. There would be five more lead changes in the first half, with neither team pulling more than four points ahead, as Wichita State took a 26-25 lead into halftime.
When the second half opened, things quickly took a turn for the worst for Louisville as Wichita State outscored them 21-7 over a seven-minute span, putting themselves in a commanding 47-35 lead. But just as quickly as things had fallen apart for the Cardinals, it all came back together. Louisville, behind accurate free-throw and three-point shooting, pulled back into the lead over the Shockers at 56-55 only six-and-a-half minutes after they had found themselves down by 12. Wichita State would continue to fight over the final five minutes of regulation, but the Cardinals ultimately proved too much for them, with the Shockers succumbing to Louisville 72-68, ending their miracle run a game shy of the National Championship. The Louisville Cardinals would end up winning the National title, defeating the Michigan Wolverines two days later.
2.) The Four-Point Play: 12-seed Stephen F. Austin upset VCU in OT
Like upsets? Well, the 2014 NCAA tournament provided plenty of upsets, beginning with a come-from-behind, overtime victory by the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin University.
Out of the Southland Conference, the Lumberjacks earned themselves a 12-seed, finishing the regular and conference tournament season with a 29-2 record, entering the NCAA tournament on a 28-game winning streak. They were matched up against the Rams of Virginia Commonwealth, a formidable opponent with tournament pedigree.
The first half played close, with neither team extending to a lead of more than six points. It was the Lumberjacks taking exactly that six-point lead into the locker room at halftime, following a three-pointer from junior Jacob Parker with eight seconds remaining in the half.
In the second half, the game could have gotten out of reach for VCU, as they quickly fell behind by 10 points just two minutes into action. But, the Rams started making shots and locked down on defense, closing the gap, tying the score at 41-41 with under 13 minutes left on the clock. And soon enough the Rams took the lead, rattling off a 13-0 run to grab a double-digit lead as the clock ticked under nine minutes. Over the next six minutes, the Lumberjacks put up a fight, trying desperately to get back in the game, as the Rams held off their attack, keeping them at bay by at least 8+ points, until a layup by senior Deshaunt Walker cut the deficit to just three points. The Lumberjacks hung on for dear life as the game entered the final minute of regulation with VCU still leading.
Following a pair of missed free throws by Rams freshman Jordan Burgess, the Lumberjacks had 11 seconds to make something happen, down by four points. Senior guard Desmond Haymon fired up a wild, prayer three-pointer with five seconds left, as he fell backwards towards the sidelines. The referee blew his whistle to indicate a foul on VCU, as Haymon’s shot snuck through the net, giving Haymon and the Lumberjacks the chance for a four-point play and to tie the game. The foul was controversial, as it appeared on replay as if the VCU player never touched Haymon, but the foul was called, and Haymon went to the line. He hit his free-throw attempt, tying the game, and when a last-second three-pointer from VCU junior Treveon Graham did not go, the game moved into overtime.
In a free-throw and three-pointer filled overtime period, the Rams would take an early lead, before the Lumberjacks jumped ahead 77-75 with 32 seconds remaining, on a 1-of-2 series of free throws from Walkup. The Rams would get one final opportunity, with freshman JeQuan Lewis shooting a wide open three-pointer from the corner, but it struck the front of the rim and the Lumberjacks rebounded, running out the clock in the process. The final: a 77-75 upset for Stephen F. Austin, who would go on to lose in the next round to the UCLA Bruins.
1.) A Mercer Mauling: 14-seed Mercer Bears stun the 3-seed Duke Blue Devils
Like upsets? Well, the Stephen F. Austin over VCU affair was only the beginning. Also in the second round, a perennial favorite and Goliath, the Duke Blue Devils had their tournament run cut short by the 14-seed Mercer Bears.
Through the opening 10 minutes of the first half, the teams played one another closely, with the score settled at a 20-17 Duke advantage following a three-pointer from sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon. The Blue Devils were able to twice extend their lead to seven points, at 28-21, and then 30-23 after a layup by sophomore Amile Jefferson. That was as far as Duke would pull away in the first half, as the Bears clawed their way back, with sophomore Ike Nwamu’s six points over the final three-and-a-half minutes of play in the first half leading the charge. A three-point attempt by Mercer’s Bud Thomas with 10 seconds left would not go, and the Duke escaped into halftime with a slim 35-34 lead.
In a second half defensive battle, Mercer pulled out to an early lead, but Duke closed the gap and re-took the lead, 51-49, on another three-pointer from Sulaimon, who would finish the game with 20 points on 5-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc. The two teams traded leads throughout the second half, with the Blue Devils staking themselves to a 63-60 lead with just over three minutes on the clock. A three-pointer from Mercer’s Anthony White Jr. tied the score. Strong defense from the Bears led to a missed three-pointer from Duke freshman Jabari Parker, and two free throws from Mercer’s Jakob Gollon later, the Bears were ahead, where they would remain for good. Duke tried to foul their way back into the game, but accurate free-throw shooting and unyielding defensive play from the Bears allowed Mercer to eke out a 78-71 upset win, sending the Blue Devils home early.
My pick for National Champion: Florida (Eliminated by UConn in Final Four)