Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic joined Rob Dauster for an epic, two-hour podcast on the first weekend of the tournament. It was so good that we had to split the podcast into two parts. On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the South and West Regions, from Sister Jean to UMBC to Nevada’s comebacks to Kentucky’s chances at a Final Four.
On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the East and Midwest Regions, from Villanova and Duke steamrolling to Michigan State collapsing to Syracuse and Clemson and Texas Tech and Purdue. It’s all in there.
Most memorable moments from first weekend of 2018 NCAA Tournament
eric musselContrary to what people that were caught up in the moment are going to try and tell you, this was not the craziest first weekend of the NCAA tournament of all time.
We may have had the single-craziest moment ever — we’ll get to that — and we did lose a number of the top teams in the bracket, but the insanity of this weekend wasn’t quite clinical.
That said, we did get left with a number of memorable moments through out the first four days of the greatest sporting event in America. Here are the 12 that will stick with us for the longest time:
12. THE KEENAN EVANS TAKEOVER
We’ve been trying to let you know about this guy all season long. The Texas Tech star averaged 22.5 points and 3.0 assists through the first two weekends of the event, and 33 of the 45 points that he scored came in the second half of two close wins. He hit the go-ahead three to beat Florida with just over two minutes left and made all the big plays in the come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the first round. He is a killer.
If you’re not a gambler, you may not have noticed that the final, seemingly meaningless shot in Kansas’ win over Seton Hall in the second round had all kinds of weight behind it. Powell hit a running 30-footer as time-expired, cutting the Kansas lead to 83-79. Kansas was favored by 4.5 points in that game. The shot that he hit meant that the Pirates covered the spread. Millions of dollars — that’s not an exaggeration — changed hands as a direct result of that shot going in.
You may not have known who he was before this event started but you probably know who he is now. The Gonzaga freshman scored 15 points and hit the game-winning three as the Zags beat UNC Greensboro in the first round of the NCAA tournament, following that up by going for a career-high 28 points, a career-high 12 boards, a career-high six threes and his first career double-double in a second round win over Ohio State. He’s scored at least 14 points in each of his last six games. He will be the next superstar in Spokane.
9. SYRACUSE IS IN THE SWEET 16 PLAYING BASKETBALL THAT MAKES VIRGINIA SEEM EXCITING
Jim Boeheim, man. You have to give him credit. For the second time in three seasons, his Orange team has snuck into the NCAA tournament with a resume that didn’t deserve a bid and proceeded to make everyone seem like an idiot for saying they didn’t belong. The Orange are in the Sweet 16 after starting in the First Four and failing to score more than 60 points in any of their three games. Boeheim just packs in that 2-3, puts as many long and athletic people on the floor that he can and lets Tyus Battle go make plays. And it works. Sometimes basketball is an easy game, I guess.
8. TEXAS A&M MOLLYWHOPS THE REIGNING NATIONAL CHAMPS
One thing that I never thought that I would see in this event is a team with Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson getting run out of the gym. Those two dudes are so good and so tough and been through so much that I expected them to be in a dogfight every time they set foot on a court for all of eternity. Then Sunday happened, and Texas A&M — who spent four months flirting with the idea that maybe living up to their potential was a possibility — absolutely trucked them. They won by 21 points, and the outcome never really felt in doubt after the final TV timeout of the first half.
7. BUFFALO STEAMROLLS ARIZONA
Remember when we all thought that this was going to be the most memorable upset for the first weekend?
Hahaha. That was fun.
But just because Virginia happened to go full Virginia and exactly one half of the top three seeds in the tournament were knocked out before the start of the second weekend doesn’t mean that what Buffalo did should be swept under the rug. The Bulls eviscerated an Arizona team that looked like they were ready to quit on this utterly forgettable season by the middle of the second half.
6. FLORIDA STATE SENDS XAVIER PACKING
Xavier, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, looked like they were going to be able to cruise into the Sweet 16, as they led the Seminoles by 12 points with under 10 minutes left in the game. But that did not last, as they were outscored 18-4 to close out the game while Florida State reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.
It’s the first time since 2004 that we head into the Sweet 16 with two of the nation’s No. 1 seeds sitting at home.
5. NEVADA WITH TWO COMEBACKS IN THREE DAYS
Eric Musselman and the Wolf Pack managed two thrilling wins in the span of three days. First, they came from way behind to beat No. 10-seed Texas in the opening round of the event before erasing the second-largest deficit in NCAA tournament history when they came back from 22 points down in the final 11:43 to second No. 2 Cincinnati back to the Queen City.
4. JORDAN POOLE HITS HIS GAME-WINNER
This shot, to beat Houston in the second round, will be the most memorable shot from this first weekend:
While this image is one that will forever epitomize what makes March Madness so special:
3. ROB GRAY’S FIRST ROUND PERFORMANCE
The shame in Poole’s shot going in was that it ended the tournament run of Houston star Rob Gray, who put together one of the best first weekend’s in tournament history as well as a performance that should have been iconic. In the first round, against No. 11-seed San Diego State, Gray finished with 39 of his team’s 67 points, including the game-winning bucket with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.
For the first time in the history of the world, a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as the Retrievers knocked off Virginia to get their shot to play their way into the Sweet 16. They lost to Kansas State on Sunday, but who cares? It would have been terrific theater to see them get their shot in the Sweet 16, but it was not meant to be.
We’ll have to simply settle for UMBC truck-sticking the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.
Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Recap: Four top three seeds fall
Caleb Martin was, once again, a monster for Nevada on Sunday.
He finished with 25 points. He handed out seven assists. He put the No. 7-seed Wolf Pack on his back and carried them back from a 22-point deficit in the final 12 minutes of a game that looked like it was lost.
T.J. STARKS, Texas A&M: While Tyler Davis and Big Bob Williams combined for 26 points and 22 boards, it was Starks that was the star for the Aggies on Sunday, finishing with 21 points and five assists in a blowout win over UNC.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams took a moment to reflect on a special three-year run after the Tar Heels were eliminated from the 2018 NCAA Tournament with a blowout loss to No. 7 seed Texas A&M on Sunday.
After back-to-back national title game appearances and a championship win last season, Williams grew quite fond of seniors like Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson. Williams also mentioned some of the tumultuous circumstances surrounding the program from the past few years as he maintained that his players helped him through a difficult stretch in his life.
Speaking to reporters at the postgame press conference, Williams tried to subdue the emotion in his voice as he talked about this Tar Heels team.
Back in January, Texas A&M was a missed Breein Tyree buzzer-beater away from starting SEC play 0-6.
Today, after mollywhopping the defending national champions and the No. 2-seed in the West Region, North Carolina, the Aggies are headed to the Sweet 16.
Texas A&M got 26 points, 22 boards and five blocks combined from Tyler Davis and Robert Williams while shooting 10-for-23 from three in a 86-65 win over the Tar Heels. A 29-8 surge at the end of the first half opened up a 42-28 halftime lead, and North Carolina never found a way to get back into the game after the Aggies landed the first punch in the second half.
We’ll get to North Carolina in a second, because there is going to be plenty to talk about with them, but the story today should be the Aggies, who will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan in the Sweet 16.
There is a reason that, all season long, pundits covering the SEC called this group the most talented team in the league. There is a reason that they were a top 20 team in the preseason. There’s a reason that, for all of the losses they suffered and the players that couldn’t find a way to stay healthy and out of off-the-court trouble, they were still a team that was too tantalizing to complete write-off.
And we all saw it come to fruition on Sunday night in Charlotte.
Playing what was a de-facto road game, the Aggies overpowered North Carolina in the paint while holding the Tar Heels to just 33 percent shooting from the field and a 6-for-31 performance from beyond the arc. Williams and Davis were terrific, but Texas A&M’s perimeter players — Admon Gilder, D.J. Hogg, T.J. Starks — deserve just as much credit.
Because that has been the biggest question mark with this group from before the season began.
It’s not difficult to look at this Aggie roster and realize just how good their big men are. Williams is a projected lottery pick for a reason. Davis was a preseason first-team all-SEC player for a reason. But Hogg spent his first two seasons on campus as the most inconsistent elite shooter in the sport. Gilder was good when he was healthy, but that wasn’t always the case. The point guard spot? That’s been a revolving door. It was supposed to be Jay Jay Chandler and J.J. Caldwell that played that role, but both of them have been in and out of trouble; Caldwell was dismissed from the team. Duane Wilson took the job over during the middle of the season, but he fully tore his ACL after spending two weeks playing on a partially torn ACL.
Starks inherited the role almost by necessity, and he’s been really good in flashes. When he plays like he did on Sunday — 21 points and five assists on 7-for-15 shooting — this is was A&M can be.
As far as North Carolina is concerned, this loss is disappointing and certainly one that is going to draw headlines, but the fact that this group did enough work to earn themselves a No. 2-seed in the tournament says more about Williams coaching job and the play of Luke Maye than anything else.
It’s a disappointing result, and one I certainly did not see coming, but for a program that thrives on elite bigs to do what they did while essentially playing small-ball is impressive.
Joel Berry II will certainly be missed, but at some point talent wins out in March and the Aggies, the more talented team, came to play on Sunday.