Whether you pick your bracket off basketball knowledge or everyone’s favorite pastime — mascots, this year’s opening weekend left no shortage of busted brackets. Each year I think it can’t get any better, and that couldn’t be the furthest from the truth. Thursday through Sunday was filled with Retrievers, buzzer beaters, and a lady named Sister Jean. Here are my favorite moments from the opening weekend of the greatest sporting event around.
UMBC Retrievers (16) over Virginia (1)
Every year the question is asked, “Could this be the year a 16 seed beats a 1 seed?” For the 135 ‘16 vs. 1‘ match ups prior to Friday night’s duel between Virginia and the UMBC Retrievers, the answer was a resounding, no. Well this year it finally happened — and it not only happened — but it wasn’t even close. The University of Maryland Baltimore County (Google got a workout as everyone looked that one up) missed out on covering Virginia’s 20.5 point spread by one point as they torched the Cavaliers 74-54 in the most unlikely fashion.
Virginia’s play style is very vanilla at times because they focus on suffocating their opponents on the defensive end. In 15 games this season they held opponents under 53 points all game… UMBC scored 53 in the second half alone en-route to the most improbable upset in tournament history. Only in March could this happen and “U Must Be Cinderella” danced on to the round of 32.
If it weren’t for UMBC, Loyola Chicago would be the darlings of the tournament, and their most important player may not even be a scholarship athlete. “Sister Jean,” the Ramblers 92 year-old team chaplain has captivated fans all over the world. Whatever she has been telling the team in pregame prayer is working as Loyola advanced past Miami (FL) in the first round on a buzzer beater, and squeaked out a victory against Tennessee in the round of 32 on a shot that hit every part of the rim before falling.
March Madness is never short on story lines, and Loyola will have plenty of people aboard their band wagon as they take on Nevada for a trip to the Elite Eight.
Poole Party in Wichita
You didn’t think I forgot about Jordan Poole did you? He sent Michigan into the sweet 16 in the most dramatic fashion. With just over 3 ticks left, Houston missed two free throws that could have iced the game. That was enough time for an in bounds pass, two dribbles, another pass, and a vintage Jordan Poole prayer that was answered. As a die-hard Michigan basketball fan, the instant comparison is to the Trey Burke shot vs. Kansas in 2013. This one rivals Burke’s in every way because of the instant gratification of it being a true buzzer-beater and Poole sprinting around the court just as every Wolverine fan was doing in bars and homes alike.
Michigan hasn’t been themselves offensively since cutting down the nets in MSG for the Big Ten tournament title. They have still won 11 straight and are riding a wave of emotion into the second weekend.
With all the carnage in the bracket, they are now the highest seed left in their side of the bracket. This may mean very little, but the path to the Final Four and beyond that started as a road filled with Michigan potholes now sports a fresh coat of asphalt.