It's hard to imagine any scenario better than the first five games played on Thursday.
After an underwhelming start with the inaugural First Four, the madness came back with a vengeance during the round of 64.
Surprises, buzzer-beaters and down-to-the wire battles highlighted the first day, and the first weekend for that matter. Of the first five games played Thursday, three were decided by two points, one was decided by one point and the other was a three-point game late before ending in an eight-point spread.
Heroes Juan Fernandez, Matt Howard and Demonte Harper carved their respective niches in NCAA lore with shots that propelled their teams to opening-round wins. Other heroes emerged as well, in different roles but with a similar impact on the game.
While the pace(makers) slowed somewhat as the weekend wore on, there were still a number of well-played, down-to-the-wire contests.
At the end of Sunday night, the Sweet 16 remain. Check out B/R's reports for matchups and analysis.
Undersized, overmatched and seemingly in over their heads, the 15th-seeded Long Island Blackbirds played to their strengths by running, pressing, shooting and scoring.
The only problem was that the North Carolina Tar Heels scored more.
Forget the result, which was a 102-87 victory for the Heels. Long Island, maybe a poor man's version of the Loyola Marymount Lions of the late '80s, wouldn't stop, and although it tied the game briefly in the first half, it couldn't make a prolonged run that threatened North Carolina's double-digit lead.
Still, it did force 18 turnovers, have 11 steals and take 85 shots, slightly more than two per minute over the course of the game.
Again, the outcome didn't ever appear to be in doubt, but the Blackbirds didn't quit, and it was an entertaining game to watch.
One of the inaugural winners in the "First Four," the VCU Rams didn't stop there.
Not only did they beat Georgetown and then Purdue, they hammered them.
Georgetown was a little disjointed down the stretch as point man Chris Wright recovered from a broken hand, and although he did play against the Rams, it didn't matter.
Purdue, on the other hand, mailed it in for the last 10 minutes, which was out of character for a team that overachieved for most of the season. Behind by double digits, the Boilermakers couldn't keep up with VCU, who scored seemingly at will.
The Rams made 20 three-pointers, had 37 assists and won the games by a combined 36 points.
These impressive wins land Shaka Smart's crew in the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history for an intriguing matchup with Florida State.
Honourable mention in this same category goes to the Seminoles, Richmond and Marquette, all double-digit seeds advancing.
A year after missing the tournament entirely, the North Carolina Tar Heels are headed back to the Sweet 16.
It was not without some anxious moments.
Harrison Barnes' three-pointer put them ahead to stay with just over four minutes left, and the Heels survived some curious decisions at the end of the game to prevail, 86-83.
With three seconds left, Washington's Venoy Overton launched a shot from half-court, assuming he was going to get fouled. There was no foul, and the ball appeared to be sailing out of bounds.
That's when it started to get strange.
John Henson decided to try to grab the ball but whiffed, and the ball glanced off his hands and out of bounds under the Carolina basket. Though it appeared as though there should have been at least 1.1 seconds left, the referees let 0.5 remain on the clock.
Isaiah Thomas got off a quick shot, which Henson, again for no apparent reason, then touched as it approached the rim. Fortunately for the Heels, it was only a two-point shot, and it appeared to be short of the rim.
The Michigan Wolverines would be facing a daunting task defeating Duke whether Kyrie Irving was playing or not.
The fact that he was just made the task that much more difficult.
Down by 15 at one point in the second half, the vastly improved Wolverines would not quit, twice getting to within one point in the final minute before Irving's first basket and one foul shot by Nolan Smith allowed the Blue Devils to escape with a hard-fought 73-71 win.
Darius Morris' 10-foot runner hit the back iron and bounced away as time expired, sending Duke to the Sweet 16 and into a potentially electric matchup with the Arizona Wildcats.
For Michigan, the season has to be deemed a success, with the promise of better things to come next season with all of its key players returning. For now, though, it can only think of what might have been.
In one of the most bizarre endings imaginable, the Butler Bulldogs advanced once again to the Sweet 16, upending the top-seeded Pitt Panthers, 71-70.
Up 70-69 with two seconds left, Shelvin Mack (pictured here) fouled Gilbert Brown at half court, giving Pitt two shots with 1.2 seconds remaining.
Brown made the first. His missed second shot was rebounded by Matt Howard, whose arm was grabbed by Nasir Robinson, 84 feet from the Pitt basket.
The whistle blew, and almost to a man the Panthers' hands went to the tops of their heads.
In a span of two seconds of actual playing time, two of the most inexplicable fouls had occurred. Howard stepped to the line, made the first and missed the second intentionally, leaving Pitt and coach Jamie Dixon disappointed again.
When you think of Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams, you generally think of points, rebounds, spectacular athleticism and dunks.
For the second time this season in a huge game, Williams used a different weapon to thwart his opponents—the blocked shot.
Like he did against Washington in a pivotal conference game, Williams came up big with a last-second block on Wesley Witherspoon that preserved the Wildcats' 77-75 win over a game Memphis Tigers squad.
Oh yeah—Williams also led Arizona with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
So what do you do for an encore?
Trailing by two with less than 30 seconds left, Arizona's Williams went to the paint for a shot to tie it against the Texas Longhorns.
Tristan Thompson went up to bother the shot, and despite protests from the Wildcats bench, no foul was called, and the Longhorns retrieved the loose ball and called timeout with less than 15 seconds remaining.
In keeping with the bizarre finishes, the Longhorns could not get the ball inbounds after a timeout and turned it over on a five-second violation, giving the Wildcats new life.
Who else but Williams would take the last shot? After receiving a perfect bounce pass off a pick-and-roll from Kyle Fogg, Williams went to the basket, was bumped in mid-air and made a circus shot off the glass for the tie. Despite an uncharacteristically poor game from the foul stripe, he made the and-one to send Sean Miller and the Cats to the Sweet 16.
With 35 seconds left, freshman Brandon Knight's firsthand experience with March Madness had been forgettable.
After going 0-of-7 and being pulled for defensive purposes late in the game, Knight was reinserted and given a simple task for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Score and win the game.
With 10 seconds left, Knight had the ball and began to move. He drove right, absorbed contact from Princeton's 6'8" Kareem Maddox and kissed the ball off the glass for a two-point Kentucky lead with two seconds left.
Knight's only bucket of the game ensured a second-round game versus West Virginia in a rematch of last season's Elite Eight contest.
Juan Fernandez of the Temple Owls bobbed, weaved, pivoted and finally spun away to launch an awkward 13-footer that found its way through the net with 0.4 seconds left.
The shot gave Owls coach Fran Dunphy his first tourney win and propelled the Owls to a second-round matchup with San Diego State.
Fernandez' shot followed a deep three-pointer by Penn State star Talor Battle, which tied the game at 64, and extended a very good season for Temple, considering they are playing without starters Michael Eric and Scootie Randall.
Unfortunately for the Owls, a tough, double-overtime loss to second-seeded SDSU ended their season two days later.
Milliseconds after the ball left Matt Howard's hand, the backboard light went on.
The ball wobbled a bit before falling through and giving the Bulldogs a hard-fought two-point win over Old Dominion.
Having been through six gruelling rounds last season, Howard and Butler didn't entertain any ideas of letting this one get away. Howard spoke to the experience of playing in games like this and understanding what it takes to win.
The play was remarkable, to say the least. Shawn Vanzant, while falling to the court, flung the ball into the air. Andrew Smith tapped the ball toward the basket, and Howard, all alone to the left of the basket, played the carom, gathered and went up quickly for the bucket.
Replays were clear that the shot was good, and the Bulldogs had started another March run.
All or nothing.
That's how Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall looked at it—and Demonte Harper was going to take the shot.
Despite being 2-of-9 from the field (0-of-5 from three-point range), Harper was the Eagles' best bet to create his own shot. If he missed, Kenneth Faried would be looming near the basket.
Turns out they didn't need Faried, at least on that play. Harper's three was pristine, and the Eagles were four seconds away from the biggest win in school history.
An inbounds pass to Peyton Siva resulted in a quick double-team, which sent the ball down the sideline to Mike Marra, who appeared to have a look at a three-pointer. But Faried was there for the block, and despite Bill Raftery's call for a foul, none was made. The Eagles had upset their in-state big brother and were playing on Saturday.