NCAA Tournament 2017: Biggest Bracket-Busters Through the 1st Round

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2017

NCAA Tournament 2017: Biggest Bracket-Busters Through the 1st Round

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Every March, millions of brackets are filled out with the hopes of perfection. And every year, the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament busts that unlikely aspiration.

    Although the round of 64 in 2017 was remarkably tame compared to recent seasons, it still caused at least one incorrect choice in more than 99 percent of bracket submissions.

    We explored how the upsets affected brackets and identified the biggest resultsboth for the actual tournament and our competitions. Online pick percentages affected the choices, but Vegas odds and overall expectations were also considered.

    The upsets are subjectively listed in ascending order of how they disrupted brackets.

No. 7 South Carolina

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    Turning Point: Shortly after the clock ticked below 10 minutes, the lightbulb turned on for South Carolina.

    Marquette only trailed 68-65, but the Gamecocks dominated the final quarter of the contest. They scored 25 points while only surrendering eight more, winning 93-73.

    Bracket Impact: Yes, the Gamecocks held a higher seed than Marquette, but OddsShark listed the game as a toss-up. Plus, 55.9 percent of participants on ESPN's Tournament Challenge picked the Golden Eagles to reach the second round.

    But also, yes, South Carolina's victory didn't register on basketball's version of a Richter scale. Duke dispatched Troy, setting up the toughest possible matchup Sunday.

    What We'll Remember: A sensational finish for Frank Martin's team. NBA prospect Sindarius Thornwell scored 10 of his game-best 29 points during the game-breaking run, and the Gamecocks held Marquette to a 2-of-10 shooting mark with four turnovers.

    What's Next: South Carolina will square off with second-seeded Duke. Led by Grayson Allen's 21 points, the Blue Devils eliminated No. 15 Troy by a final of 87-65.

No. 11 Xavier

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    Gary McCullough/Associated Press

    Turning Point: Maryland clung to a small lead during the opening third of the second half. Once Trevon Bluiett buried a trifecta to even the score at 50, Xavier unleashed its offensive fury.

    Over the next four minutes, the Musketeers put together a 14-0 run. Maryland made things interesting with a six-point deficit around the two-minute mark but couldn't get closer.

    Bracket Impact: Much like South Carolina, this result didn't drastically change the outlook of its region. Xavier was a quality back-end addition to the field and a rough matchup for a struggling Maryland squad. ESPN lists the Terps as a 56.5 percent pick.

    What We'll Remember: Perhaps most of all, that it was Melo Trimble's final game for Maryland. He totaled 13 points and three assists in the loss, going 1-of-9 from three. Bluiett scored a game-best 21 points, and it felt like "taking care of business" for the program.

    What's Next: The Musketeers will oppose a Florida State squad that fended off a spirited Florida Gulf Coast upset bid. Seeded third in the West Region, the Seminoles opened March Madness with a respectable 86-80 victory.

No. 12 Middle Tennessee

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Turning Point: Minnesota fought back from a 17-point second-half deficit, pulling within four points while 6:44 remained in regulation. However, Middle Tennessee senior Reggie Upshaw responded with a personal 7-3 run to spark the Blue Raiders.

    A three-minute scoring drought for the Gophers allowed Middle Tennessee to build a late 11-point lead, and Richard Pitino's technical foul sealed the Blue Raiders' win.

    Bracket Impact: All things considered, this wasn't a significant shocker. Pitino even played the underdog card before the game. Still, 57.1 percent on ESPN picked Minnesota in the first round.

    What We'll Remember: After dethroning Michigan State as a 15 seed in 2016, Middle Tennessee surged to 30-plus victories and another NCAA tourney this season. Even if the run stops in 2018, the Blue Raiders have become a multiyear story.

    What's Next: Middle Tennessee will take on fourth-seeded Butler, which defeated Winthrop 76-64 in the opening round. Butler (24-8) never trailed in that matchup.

No. 11 Rhode Island

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    Turning Point: Rhode Island held a lead between six and 10 points for most of the second half. Shortly after the six-minute mark, the Rams started to pull away and never looked back.

    Kuran Iverson buried a trifecta that sparked a 9-2 run that built a commanding 13-point advantage. Additionally, Rhode Island hit 20 straight free throws during the final 7:11.

    Bracket Impact: Similar to Middle Tennessee, this was an unsurprisingly popular pick. On ESPN, 60.4 percent of participants chose Creighton to win in the first round.

    The Rams are seeking their first Sweet 16 appearances since the magical run of 1998 that ended in the Elite Eight. To get there, however, they'll need to outlast Oregon and would find either No. 2 Louisville or No. 7 Michigan waiting in the next round.

    What We'll Remember: Rhode Island took control of this matchup and never relinquished it. Creighton stuck around for 35 minutes, but the Rams never trailed and maintained a two-possession edge for the entire second half before sealing the win.

    What's Next: Danny Hurley's club will face third-seeded Oregon. Four starters scored 16-plus points for the Ducks in their 93-77 tournament-opening win over Iona.

No. 11 USC

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Turning Point: USC overcame a 10-point second-half deficit, but the biggest moment for the Trojans was the game-winning three. Jonah Mathews found a wide-open Elijah Stewart with less than 40 seconds remaining, giving USC its 66-65 lead.

    SMU didn't go down without a fight, but two errant shots and a missed free throw in the bonus knocked out the No. 6 seed.

    Bracket Impact: Not only were the Mustangs a widely popular choice (81.7 percent) to defeat USC, but also 38.7 percent of brackets featured them advancing to the regional semifinals. No team seeded six or lower had as much support.

    Instead, the Trojans will try to secure the program's first Sweet 16 berth in a decade.

    What We'll Remember: Other than Stewart's trifecta, SMU's final possession was a head-scratcher. With only nine seconds on the clock, the Mustangs wasted about six seconds dribbling or passing well beyond the three-point line. Shake Milton tried a buzzer-beating floater in traffic that fell short.

    Other critics may point to Tim Jankovich not using a timeout despite having three, but that was less problematic than a casual possession in the game's most pressing moment.

    What's Next: USC will challenge third-seeded Baylor. The Trojans will need their bench to play a larger role, considering the reserves managed just seven points against SMU. Baylor received a combined 40 points from Al Freeman and Terry Maston in a 91-73 victory over New Mexico State.