Biggest Bracket Busters from Round of 64 in NCAA Tournament
Brackets are meant to be busted.
This is what we're all telling ourselves now, after watching all of that effort, all that careful and meticulous research that went into filling out one (or many) NCAA tournament bracket sheets go right out the window with each and every unexpected upset.
Sure, we might have picked a couple of lower-seeded teams to make it through to the third round. We might have even tried to be bold and throw a couple wild cards into our picks, just to keep things interesting.
But these upsets? And by those teams? Come on, now.
These early-round upsets—only teams seeded 10th or higher were considered for this list—are a staple of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, and it's one of the many reasons we love this event so much. But that doesn't mean we have to like them when they wreck any chance of winning our office pool, let alone becoming an instant billionaire.
(Take solace, though, in knowing that everyone's bracket in the Warren Buffett-sponsored $1 billion contest had at least one wrong game by Friday evening, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell.)
With the round of 64 in the books, here's a look back at the biggest bracket-busting upsets of Thursday and Friday. For some of these winners, this might be the peak of their postseason run, while for others it could be just the start of an invitation to Cinderella's ball.
7. Stanford Cardinal
Seed: No. 10
Result: Beat No. 7 New Mexico 58-53
Stanford's first NCAA game since 2008 was also its most impressive defensive performance of the year. Aside from Cameron Bairstow, the Cardinal shut down the rest of New Mexico's scorers, rendering Kendall Williams almost nonexistent.
That was the polar opposite of Stanford's previous outing, when it was blown out by UCLA by 25 in the Pac-12 tournament. The Cardinal (22-12) were almost an afterthought in the NCAA field, as New Mexico had looked so good in its conference tourney and was considered a pretty safe bet to meet Kansas in the third round.
Now that will be Stanford facing the Jayhawks in what would seem like a no-win situation: playing in St. Louis, with likely a very pro-Kansas crowd booing its every move. But it wasn't supposed to beat New Mexico, either, so...
6. Harvard Crimson
Seed: No. 12
Result: Beat No. 5 Cincinnati 61-57
It shouldn't have been that much of a surprise, seeing as much of Harvard's lineup was composed of many of the same guys that upset New Mexico in last year's NCAA tournament. Even still, the Crimson's takedown of another higher seed Thursday in Spokane did do plenty of bracket damage.
Harvard (27-4) was a trendy upset pick, but not so much that it didn't help wreak absolute havoc on ESPN's Tournament Challenge contest after just the opening quartet of games on Thursday.
This is the Crimson's third straight year in the field, but to get to their first Sweet 16 it will mean having to go through red-hot Michigan State on Saturday. If that happens, we all might as well just tear up our brackets.
5. Tennessee Volunteers
Seed: No. 11
Result: Beat No. 6 Massachusetts 86-67
Tennessee's name wasn't even on many brackets, as its presence in the First Four caused many bracketeers to have to pick this round of 64 matchup without knowing who UMass was going to play. But after outlasting Iowa in overtime on Wednesday, the Volunteers obliterated the Minutemen on Friday to make it four times in as many years that a First Four participant reached the round of 32.
The Vols (23-12) were actually a favorite in most Las Vegas sports books, according to VegasInsider.com, but by the nature of their seed this still counts as an upset.
And now they're in great position to make the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010, as they'll be the higher seed in Sunday's third-round game against No. 14 Mercer.
4. Dayton Flyers
Seed: No. 11
Result: Beat No. 6 Ohio State 60-59
Talk about busting brackets: The first game of the round of 64 squashed the billion-dollar dreams of a good portion of the world, not to mention put the majority of participants in other contests behind the eight ball early.
Only 15 percent of Bleacher Report's Bracket Challenge entries picked the Flyers (24-10) to upset Ohio State on Thursday in Buffalo, while only 19.7 percent of people entered in ESPN's Tournament Challenge didn't have the Buckeyes advancing.
You can all blame Vee Sanford and his go-ahead bank shot with under four seconds left for all that lost wealth.
Now Dayton gets a chance to take down another storied program, No. 3 seed Syracuse, in Saturday's third round in Buffalo. Pull that one off, and the Flyers will officially be fitted for a glass slipper.
3. North Dakota State Bison
Seed: No. 12
Result: Beat No. 5 Oklahoma 80-75
Fear the Bison, for they trampled many brackets with this upset.
North Dakota State (26-6) earned its state its first-ever NCAA tournament win, first forcing overtime on a three-pointer from Lawrence Alexander with 12 seconds remaining and then dominating the extra frame on Thursday night in Spokane, Wash. The Bison were able to do it despite their best player, Summit League Player of the Year Taylor Braun, having an off night while getting kicked in the face.
NDSU now gets to face No. 4 San Diego State on Saturday. And what do you know? SDSU just happens to have the same initials as one of NDSU's fiercest rivals, South Dakota State.
As if the Bison needed more motivation to stampede through our brackets.
2. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
Seed: No. 12
Result: Beat No. 5 VCU 77-75 in OT
It's hard enough to figure out where some of the teams in this year's NCAA tournament are from, but when they're named after a person, everything is thrown out the window. After Stephen F. Austin's shocking upset of VCU on Friday night in San Diego, there were no doubt thousands of Google searches about the school.
(FYI, SFA is located in Nacogdoches, Texas, and is named after one of the Lone Star State's founding fathers. You're welcome for saving you a search.)
The Lumberjacks (32-2) entered the tourney on a 28-game win streak, having not lost since a Nov. 23 setback to East Tennessee State, but were still given little shot to get past VCU and its vaunted "Havoc" style of play. And down 10 points with fewer than four minutes left, SFA looked done, but then VCU missed free throws and Desmond Haymon pulled off the rare four-point play to force OT. From there, SFA prevailed 77-75.
SFA will face UCLA on Sunday. By then everyone watching will know who the 'Jacks are and where they come from.
1. Mercer Bears
Seed: No. 14
Result: Beat No. 3 Duke 78-71
There's no stopping the Atlantic Sun Conference, which for the second year in a row pulled off the NCAA tourney's biggest upset.
The Bears (27-8) might not have been as flashy as Florida Gulf Coast and its "Dunk City" shtick from last year, but what they are is an experienced, composed bunch of mid-major players who took every one of Duke's best shots and just kept punching back.
Mercer has started five seniors all year, and that kind of veteran leadership usually translates into solid play at this point in the season. The Bears will again be the underdog against No. 11 Tennessee on Sunday, but after showing little trepidation dealing with such a storied program as Duke, it's unlikely they'll play scared the next time out.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.