By Andrew Kahn–
(CBS Local) Nothing beats the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and this year was especially incredible. From improbable upsets to last-second heroics — and sometimes both in the same game — the 2015 Big Dance got off to a roaring start.
1. Madness magnified
Thursday was the wildest—and in many ways, the best—day in NCAA Tournament history. There were five games decided by one point, the most ever for a single day of the Tournament. Notre Dame survived Northeastern on Thursday’s first game, setting the tone for the historic day. Fourteen seeds UAB and Georgia State scored one-point wins (more on that below), UCLA beat SMU by one thanks to a goal-tending violation on a three-point shot, Cincinnati tied Purdue at the buzzer and then won by one in regulation, and North Carolina State beat LSU by one at the buzzer. Harvard had two cracks at a three that would have upset North Carolina, but missed both, and Ohio State outlasted VCU in overtime.
2. Two 14-seeds win
No 12 or 13 seeds won, but two 14s did. In consecutive games on Thursday’s schedule, UAB beat Iowa State 60-59 and Georgia State took down Iowa State 57-56. UAB finished tied for fourth in Conference USA but won the league tournament to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance. William Lee hit a jumper from the elbow to give the Blazers a lead with 26 seconds left, blocked a shot on the next possession and then hit two free throws. Iowa State’s Naz Long got a good look at a three in the closing seconds but missed. Georgia State’s shocker was even more dramatic, as Baylor led 56-44 with under three minutes in the game. The Panthers used a full-court press to force several turnovers down the stretch and R.J. Hunter’s deep three with 2.7 seconds left won it—and caused his dad Ron, the coach, to fall off his chair.
3. No Nova in Sweet 16
Since reaching the Final Four in 2009, Villanova has not survived the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend. Considering the Wildcats have earned two 2 seeds and a 1 seed in that span, it’s especially disappointing. They entered this Tourney as Big East regular season and tournament champs with a 32-2 record. The top seed in the East, Nova blew out Lafayette in the opener but shot just 31 percent against 8 seed North Carolina State on Saturday and lost 71-68. Some programs just seem to struggle in the NCAA Tournament, and it’s not always easy to pinpoint why.
4. Conference breakdown
UCLA’s inclusion in the field was questionable but the Bruins are still playing, one of three Pac-12 teams in the Sweet 16. The other, Oregon, won a game before falling to No. 1 seed Wisconsin. The ACC is 11-1, as Virginia was the league’s only loser. Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Duke are still alive, as are Louisville and N.C. State, who play each other in Albany on Friday. Meanwhile, the country’s top-rated conference this season, the Big 12, has had a disappointing showing so far. Oklahoma and West Virginia have met expectations so far, but four of its seven teams were eliminated in the first round and Kansas lost to Wichita State yesterday.
5. The favorites
With Villanova and Virginia out, the East Region is wide open, but other title contenders are still in the hunt. Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, Duke, and Gonzaga look very good so far. If you thought highly of these teams coming into the Tournament, nothing about their play or upcoming match-ups should change your mind.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal.