There is a reason why they call this time of the year “March Madness.”
The best sixty-eight college basketball teams, determined by the NCAA Selection Committee, in the nation go head-to-head in an one-game elimination tournament. What makes the tournament so exciting are the players, and the many upsets that take place. These college kids play with a lot of heart and lay it on the line for their programs because they know, it’s either you win or go home.
Here is a recap of some of the action that took place in the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the NCAA Tournament in the West and Midwest brackets:
On the first day of action, the major upset was #12 North Dakota State Bison with a 80-75 victory over the #5 Oklahoma Sooners in overtime. This victory was the first ever in the NCAA Tournament for ND State.
Junior guard Lawrence Alexander led the way for the Bison with 28 points and 8 rebounds -- his three with 11 seconds left in regulation forced the game into overtime. Carlin Dupree, who only played two minutes, came into the game in OT and scored four major points in the final 75 seconds to push ND State to the huge win.
13 Manhattan Jaspers took #4 Louisville to the edge, but Louisville escaped victorious 71-64. This was a matchup between teacher and pupil. Manhattan’s coach Steve Masiello served as Rick Pitino’s ball boy with the New York Knicks in the 80s, played for him in the ’96-’97 season at Kentucky, and spent six years as his assistant coach from ’05-’11.
At times throughout the game, Masiello was calling out Louisville’s plays, and it was easy to tell why Pitino was weary of this game.
Manhattan, who has eight players on the roster from New York City, represented well for the city and we’re all proud of them. Ashton Pankey led the Jaspers with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Russ Smith, a Brooklyn product, led Louisville with 18 points.
12 North Carolina State were almost able to pull off the upset against the #5 Saint Louis Billikens, but fell short in overtime 83-80. NC State blew a late 16-point lead, and allowed Saint Louis to take over and win the game. Big man Rob Loe had a massive game for Saint Louis with 22 points and 15 rebounds. T.J. Warren led the way for NC State with 28 points and 8 rebounds.
The major upset on the 2nd day of action was #3 Duke falling to #14 Mercer in regulation, 78-71. A lot of brackets in America felt the wrath of this result because many didn’t think Mercer had a realistic chance to pull off the upset. Mercer boasts a lineup of five seniors, and it was their poise and their experience playing as a team which propelled them to victory.
Duke held a five-point lead with 4:52 to go, but Mercer erased that lead in the midst of a 20-5 run. During that run, Mercer scored eleven straight points which helped them seal the major win. Jakob Gollon led Mercer with 20 points and 5 rebounds. Quinn Cook led Duke with 23 points off of the bench.
11 Tennessee Volunteers dismantled #6 Massachusetts Minutemen 86-67. Tennessee were led by Junior forward Jarnell Stoke’s 26 points and 14 rebounds, and Senior guard Jordan McRae’s 21 points. Maxie Esho and Chaz Williams led the Minutemen with 12 points each.
In the 3rd round, undefeated #1 Wichita State suffered their first defeat at the wrong time as they lost to the #8 Kentucky Wildcats 78-76. Every time it seemed like Wichita State would pull away with the victory, Kentucky would come roaring back.
Kentucky were fighting from behind the majority of the game, and finally took the lead when James Young hit a 3-pointer to go up 73-71 with less than two minutes to go.
Andrew Harrison hit two free throws to give the Wildcats a four point lead, and Ron Baker responded with a 3-pointer off the glass. Julius Randle hit two more free throws afterwards, and Cleanthony Early cut the lead back to one with two free throws of his own with 9.8 seconds remaining.
Andrew Harrison made one of two free throws to give Kentucky a two-point lead, and on the final possession, Fred VanVleet was unable to nail a three for the win.
Kentucky’s freshman starters combined to score 65 of their 78 points. Andrew Harrison scored 20 points, and his twin brother, Aaron, scored 19 points. James Young finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds, and Julius Randle finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Cleanthony Early had a huge game for Wichita State, scoring 31 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. Ron Baker finished with 20 points and 5 rebounds.
6 Baylor Bears hammered #3 Creighton Bluejays 85-55. Baylor jumped on Creighton from the start, and put this game to bed quickly.
The Bears had all five starters in double-digits -- Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip both finished with 17 points. Cory Jefferson and Kenny Chery both finished with 14 points. Royce O’Neale finished with 10 points and 8 assists.
Doug McDermott led the Bluejays with 15 points.
The marquee matchup for the sweet sixteen is the #8 Kentucky Wildcats vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals. John Calipari and his talented freshmen versus Rick Pitino and his experienced squad. Should be a very fun game to watch!