Upsets, surprises and a Villanova title helped this year’s tournament live up to the hype
- Pat Crossan
- Staff Writer
Every kid dreams of making a last-second shot to win a championship game.
Even Villanova University’s Ryan Arcidiacono, named most outstanding player of the NCAA tournament after winning the national championship Monday, likely had that dream as a kid.
He didn’t do that this March. Instead, he passed to an open Kris Jenkins for a game-winning three. Jenkins shot the ball from NBA 3-point range in front of 74,340 fans at NRG Stadium in Houston. The clock hit zero, and the ball hit nothing but net. Villanova had defeated the University of North Carolina, 77-74.
But before Jenkins, there was UNC senior Marcus Paige. Paige finished with 21 points for the Tar Heels and hit a game-tying trey during what ended up being the second-to-last possession of the game. On that play, Paige fumbled a pass with time ticking away, leaped into the air and made a double-clutch three to tie the game. Paige’s shot will go down in history as one of best shots that led to a loss.
Akin to Ali versus Frazier, this game was a heavyweight fight between two experienced foes who left nothing on the court.
Syracuse was a team many thought should not have been in the tournament, but it became the first No. 10 seed in history to make the Final Four. Its 13 regular-season losses tied with the 2000 UNC and University of Wisconsin teams for the most by a team that reached the Final Four.
After beating the University of Dayton, 71-50, Syracuse was bound to play Michigan State University. But March Madness happened, and the Orange took on Middle Tennessee State University with its 2-3 zone defense, causing the Blue Raiders to shoot only 28 percent from the field.
In the Elite Eight, the Orange took on a familiar ACC opponent in University of Virginia. In the final six minutes, Syracuse went on a 25-4 run to win the game, 68-62.
A year after Duke University’s roster full of freshmen won the title, seniors showed up to ball in this year’s tournament.
In the Final Four, North Carolina, Syracuse, Villanova and the University of Oklahoma each had at least two senior starters.
The University of Northern Iowa was a No. 11 seed, but many had them as a dark-horse contender. In their first game, the Panthers upset No. 6 Texas. Tied at 72-72, senior guard Paul Jesperson banked in a shot from half court with time winding down.
UNI moved on to the Round of 32 to face Texas A&M University. UNI led at halftime. With 44.3 seconds to go, the Panthers held a 69-57 lead over the Aggies. One probability calculator gave Northern Iowa a greater than 99 percent chance to win.
But the Aggies pressed UNI and caused it to turn the ball over four times. The Aggies hit six field goals in the last 40 seconds of the game, one of which was a game-tying layup with two seconds left.
The Aggies eventually won, 92-88, in double overtime. It was the largest final-minute comeback in NCAA Division I history.
There were no perfect brackets again this year.
Michigan State’s loss to Middle Tennessee was one of the biggest reasons for that. On ESPN.com, 13 million brackets were filled out, and 22.3 percent of them picked MSU to win it all.
Other notable upsets in the tournament were No. 12 University of Arkansas-Little Rock over No. 5 Purdue University, No. 13 University of Hawaii over No. 4 California University, No. 11 Wichita State University over No. 6 University of Arizona, No. 12 Yale University over No. 5 Baylor University, No. 14 Stephen F. Austin University over No. 3 West Virginia University and No. 10 Syracuse over No. 1 Virginia.