The NCAA tournament got off to a fine start, didn’t it? Twice, in the First Four’s first night, we saw a record-breaking comeback — or a record-breaking collapse, depending on how you look at it.
In the opener, President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron looked on as Western Kentucky went on a 22-3 run over the final five minutes of the game to knock off Mississippi Valley State 59-58 and earn the right to get drubbed by Kentucky. (In a press conference full of great quotes, this, from WKU head coach Ray Harper about Thursday’s game with Kentucky, was my favorite: “We need to get ahead on the tip, then have the shot clock break and hold the ball the rest of the game.”)
No team in NCAA Tournament history had ever comeback from a bigger deficit in the final five minutes.
To me, the most incredible part of the comeback wasn’t the comeback itself — MVSU completely collapsed. They froze. The majority of WKU’s run came in a nine-possession stretch where the Delta Devils committed six turnovers (the majority of which came before MVSU got the ball within 40 feet of the basket and led to layups), missed two layups and bricked the front-end of a one-and-one. They quite literally gave the game away.
No, the most incredible part was the fact that the Hilltoppers were even in a position to comeback. They finished the game shooting 30.6% from the floor with 27 turnovers, although we shouldn’t be surprised about a SWAC team being involved in a game with an inexplicable box score.
The nightcap was just as wild. Iona jumped out to a monstrous lead, getting up by as much as 25 points midway through the first half and scoring 55 points in the game’s first 16 minutes. But BYU completely changed their offensive attack down the stretch. In addition to finally deciding to play some defense, the Cougars settled down offensively and ran some offense. Once they started scoring instead of turning the ball over, the Gaels offense stagnated. They managed a measly 17 points over the final 24 minutes off the game and BYU won, 78-72.
The 25-point comeback was the biggest in NCAA Tournament history.
If you really want to get a feel for how different the dynamic was over the final 24 minutes, try this stat on for size: Iona had 17 assists and three turnovers as they built up the lead. They committed 15 turnovers and handed out just two assists to close out the game.
We could have seen all this coming, however.
Iona twice blew 18 point leads in league play, with one of them coming in the final eight minutes. And WKU overcame 13 point deficits to both North Texas and Arkansas-Little Rock in the Sun Belt tournament.
If there is one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that we don’t want this to be the highlight of the NCAA tournament this season.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.