NCAA Tournament 2014: Biggest Surprises from Day 3
March Madness lived up to its name Thursday as the NCAA tournament began play in what is now known as the round of 64.
There were upsets, overtime games, blown leads and magnificent individual performances. All in all, it was as entertaining as America has come to expect on this first full day of Madness.
There was even one game—won by Saint Louis over North Carolina State in overtime—that led veteran announcer Dan Bonner to say on-air: "I don't know that I've ever seen anything quite like this."
Of course, mixed in with all the rest there were a number of surprises. See what surprised us the most.
Pupil Gives Pitino the Master All He Can Handle
So as it turns out, Louisville coach Rick Pitino claimed that he had no real beef with the NCAA Selection Committee for making his defending national champions a No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region.
It was the committee’s pairing of Louisville with 13th-seeded Manhattan, a team coached by former Pitino assistant Steve Masiello, that had Pitino all riled up. And on Thursday night, we found out why as Manhattan gave the Cardinals all they could handle before falling, 71-64.
“I think the pairings lack common sense,” Pitino told Fox Sports before the game. He went on to tell Fox Sports that he was certain members of the selection committee were “very fair, very honorable people, so I can’t protest too much because they’re doing the best job they can do. Maybe they’re a bunch of soccer ADs, I don’t know.”
Masiello served as a ball boy with the NBA’s New York Knicks when Pitino coached there, played sparingly for him for two years at Kentucky in 1996 and 1997, and then spent six years as one of his assistant coaches at Louisville before taking the Manhattan job in 2012. He obviously learned well at the teacher’s side and put it to good use Thursday night, matching Pitino strategic move for strategic move throughout until the Cardinals’ obvious edge in depth and talent finally won out in the end.
But Louisville's victory wasn't certain until Luke Hancock, hero of last year's national title game, hit two huge three-pointers late.
Dayton Rules over Ohio State
It was the Battle of Ohio between two schools a mere 67 miles apart that rarely meet.
No. 11 seed Dayton stunned its bigger Ohioan brother, 60-59, when Vee Sanford drove and hit what proved to be the game-winning bank shot with 3.8 seconds left, marking the first major upset of the tournament in the very first game of the day. Sixth-seeded Ohio State's Aaron Craft then drove the length of the court and had his attempt to the save the season for the Buckeyes bank off the glass and then rattle the rim at the final buzzer.
This was not as much of a fluke as some might think, as Dayton is a fine basketball team. But it still came as a shock to those who thought Ohio State of the Big Ten might advance deep into the tournament.
Michigan State Pours on the Payne Against Delaware
What do you expect from the team picked to win it all by none other than President Barack Obama? Well, while it was no surprise that fourth-seeded Michigan State rolled to a 93-78 win over Delaware, Michigan State's Adreian Payne did the unexpected as he exploded for a career-high 41 points. That total also set a MSU record for most points scored by an individual player in the NCAA tournament, breaking a record held by Greg Kelser since 1979.
Payne's previous career high of 33 points was set against Texas in a December win for the Spartans.
Payne hit 10 of 15 field-goal attempts against overmatched Delaware and did much of his damage from the free-throw line. He set an NCAA tournament record for most free throws without a miss with 17.
Cincinnati Scorekeeper Screws Up
What was this, a youth recreational league with an old man as scorekeeper or an NCAA tournament game with monumental stakes?
It was the latter, of course, but seemed more like the former when fifth-seeded Cincinnati was hit with an unusual technical foul early in what became a narrow loss to No. 12 seed Harvard. One of Cincinnati's assistant coaches who keeps the scorebook on the bench left Jermaine Sanders out of the official scorebook at the start of the game, leading to an administrative technical foul that led to two free throws and the ball for Harvard when Sanders attempted to enter the game.
Although it came early—the score was only 12-6 at the time the technical was assessed—and Harvard's Siyani Chambers made only 1 of 2 of the free throws awarded, it was symbolic of the mistake-riddled game that favored Cincinnati played overall. Harvard, as one might expect of the Ivy League champion, played smart throughout and pounced on the Cincy mistakes for a 61-57 victory.
Wisconsin Forced to Rally
Wisconsin, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, was expected to dominate American in a game played at the Bradley Center in Milwaukwee a mere 90-minute drive from the Wisconsin campus.
But halfway through the first half, the Badgers trailed the Eagles 17-10. Shortly thereafter, it was 19-13 in favor of American.
That's when Wisconsin seemed to wake up. The Badgers closed the game with a 62-16 run for a 75-35 victory, with the 40-point margin of victory the largest in the school's postseason history.
"In a half, you don't get flustered, you don't get down," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan told The Daily Cardinal. "We've got some really smart guys. We've got some tough guys. So I think they've handled it well when we've gotten behind."
In this case, that was a massive understatement.
N.C. State Blows 16-Point Second-Half Lead
With eight minutes left in its game against No. 5 seed Saint Louis, No. 12 seed North Carolina State was up 16 points and poised to post another of the days notable upsets.
Then the Wolfpack bit themselves repeatedly with stupid mistakes and a slew of missed free throws. N.C. State ended up missing 31 free throws in all—the most in an NCAA tournament game since 1976. That turned the big lead into a 83-80 loss in overtime.
Despite all the mistakes and missed foul shots, the Wolfpack still had a chance late. But leading scorer and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year T.J. Warren first stepped over the line on one free-throw attempt and then missed yet another one when he had the chance to complete a three-point play and tie the score at 81 with 30 seconds left.
"I don't know that I've ever seen anything quite like this," said veteran announcer Dan Bonner on air as the Wolfpack imploded.
North Dakota State Shocks Oklahoma
Isn't North Dakota State University supposed to be a football school?
Well, the Bison did win the Football Championship Series national title for the third year in a row in early January. But No. 12 seed NDSU proved it can play some pretty good basketball, too, with its 80-75 overtime upset of No. 5 seed Oklahoma.
The surprise within the surprise victory was that Oklahoma even let NDSU's Lawrence Alexander get off what proved to be the game-tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left in regulation. The Sooners could have fouled him before the shot and sent Alexander to the line for two free throws instead.
It was the first NCAA tournament victory in school history for NDSU, a school that notoriously travels with a rowdy and surprisingly large contingent of fans. After the game, according to USA Today, the team quickly tweeted, "We'll gladly be your Cinderella, America."
Albany Tests No. 1 Florida
The No. 1 seed of the South Region and the top-ranked team in the nation, Florida was supposed to destroy No. 16 seed Albany from start to finish.
It didn't happen. The final score was only 67-55 in Florida's favor and afterward, head coach Billy Donovan was fuming.
"This isn't going to be enough to keep our season going," Donovan told his players in a quiet Florida locker room afterward, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
No kidding. The 33-2 Gators almost fell to a team with the nickname of the Great Danes, for goodness sakes, and one that came in having already lost 15 times this season. Donovan told the AP that he was especially displeased with his team's defense, which permitted the Great Danes to hit 10 of their first 15 shots on the night to keep the score close.