It is joy. It is pain. And we cannot get enough.
Every NCAA tournament opening weekend is memorable, but 2014 was particularly hellbent on taking the cake with its mix of upsets, overtime games and improbable buzzer beaters. Yet for all that brilliance, there is an equal amount of sorrow.
Sure, no team from North Carolina has reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1979, giving the impression that the meek are inheriting the March earth. Yet at the same time only one true Cinderella remains in the field — Dayton — erasing hopes this year can reprise the mid-major glory that saw the likes of Butler and VCU in the same Final Four.
Here’s a region-by-region look at the best and worst moments, and most dominant performances, of Week 1.
Best Moment: Desmond Haymon’s improbable four-point play to send No. 12 Stephen F. Austin to overtime against No. 5 VCU, where the Lumberjacks would eventually prevail for their first-ever NCAA win. Four-point plays as time is winding out simply don’t happen. For Haymon to drill the three, and then the ensuing free throw with all the pressure in the world on him — this is why we watch this. Like Bryce Drew, we’ll be seeing clips of Desmond Haymon’s shot 20 years down the line.
Worst Moment: JaQuan Lewis’ foul that sent Haymon to the free-throw line. If he’s nowhere near the play, it doesn’t matter if the shot goes in. The game is over. Granted, Lewis and his teammates had a chance to bail out the boneheaded play in overtime. But it is rough to be on the wrong side of history in that scenario.
Best Player: Jordan Adams, UCLA. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to bring a Steve Alford-coached team to the Sweet 16? It hasn’t happened since 1999, when Alford was at what was then called Southwest Missouri State. Think about that. It’s been so long, he’s not only gotten three different jobs, but the school he got that far changed it’s damn name.
That’s what Adams was up against, and he delivered, leading the Bruins in scoring with a 20 points per game average in a pair of easy wins.
Best Moment: Roy Williams’ calm acceptance of North Carolina’s second-round loss to Iowa State after a bizarre ending. DeAndre Kane scored for the Cyclones with 1.6 seconds left before the Tar Heels inbounded the ball and for some reason tried calling a timeout with possession near midcourt. Only the clock hadn’t started on the inbound, and after an official review it was determined time had expired before the Heels called timeout.
Rather than throwing a fit, Williams shook the hand of counterpart Fred Hoiberg, congratulated him on the win and did not go after the officials after they made the right call while placed in a difficult position. This is the way grown men are supposed to act when setting an example for their players.
Worst Moment: Iowa State’s Georges Niang being lost for the tournament to a broken foot after scoring 24 against North Carolina Central in the first round. It’s a shame for any player to be lost at this point in the season after working so hard, but it’s an even worse blow to a team with title aspirations.
Best Player: Michigan State forward Adreian Payne, who ate Delaware for breakfast in a 41-point, eight-rebound first-round performance.
Best Moment: New Mexico State’s Kevin Aronis hitting a second-chance 3-point attempt to send the Aggies to overtime with San Diego State. It was ultimately a futile effort for the Aggies, but that shot capped off a remarkable rally to send the game into an extra session.
Worst Moment: Oregon’s Jason Calliste picking up a technical on a sore-loser shove of Wisconsin guard Traevon Jackson with one second remaining in the game.
Best Player: Xavier Thames, San Diego State. Thames has taken control for the offensively-challenged Aztecs with 23 points against New Mexico State and 30 against North Dakota State.
Best Moment: Mercer beating Duke. The 14th-seeded Bears were the biggest underdogs to advance this year, and very few people are sad when the Blue Devils make an early exit. However, Coach K’s post-game visit to the Mercer locker room was certainly a touch of class.
Worst Moment: Kentucky beat Wichita State. Sadly, the end result will fuel ignoramuses who felt the Shockers were undeserving of a No. 1 seed. But this game showed that they were very worthy of that seeding. It was a captivating classic, the most memorable tournament game since… heck, I don’t even know.
Unfortunately, the Shockers were also what it took to galvanize and wake up the sleeping giant that the Wildcats have been all season. Kentucky is easily the best 8-seed in the field and looking capable of a Final Four run. There is simply no other second-round matchup the Shockers would have lost, and it’s hard to imagine UK would not have knocked off Arizona or Virginia had that pairing come up.
Best Player: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee. A team from the play-in game has once again reached the Sweet 16, and Stokes is the reason why. He put up 26 points and 14 boards in the Vols’ win over UMass, then dominated against Mercer with 17 points and 18 rebounds.