By Forest Stulting, Sports Editor
With a few days to recover from 48 games in four days, it’s time to buckle up once again for another wild weekend of college basketball.
Here is a recap of the first two rounds: Excluding the eight and nine matchups, there were 10 higher-seeded teams knocked off by the “cinderellas” in the first round. 11th-seeded Northern Iowa hit a half court buzzer beater to beat sixth seeded Texas, 13th-seeded Hawaii outshined third-seeded California and 12th-seeded Yale outsmarted fifth-seeded Baylor, trapping the Bears.
But the biggest shocker of all was 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State raiding second-seeded Michigan State to become the eighth 15 seed to beat a two seed ever.
In the second round, the pandemonium continued in the Midwest bracket as 11th-seeded Gonzaga and 10th-seeded Syracuse both advanced to the regionals. Fifth-seeded Indiana was forced to play fourth-seeded Kentucky and knocked off the Wildcats in their first game since 2012.
Sixth-seeded Notre Dame knocked off 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin, and 10th-seeded Wisconsin drilled a three-pointer from the corner to knock off second-seeded Xavier.
To cap the thrilling weekend, third-seeded Texas A&M made a miraculous comeback against 11th-seeded Northern Iowa. Down 12 with 44 seconds to play, the Aggies etched their name in NCAA tournament history.
After forcing three-straight Norther Iowa turnovers, Texas A&M trailed 69-66 with 21 seconds to play. The Panthers would convert a dunk to push the lead back to five, but the Aggies attacked the basket and capped the sensational comeback with a 14-2 run while forcing four turnovers to send the game into overtime with the score knotted at 71.
In the first overtime, the teams traded baskets not allowing either to grow a lead bigger than three. The Aggies nailed a tear-dropper to with six seconds left to tie the game at 83 and send it to a second overtime.
The Aggies defense stepped up just as they did near the end of regulation and limited the Panthers to just five free throws while not allowing a field goal in the period. Texas A&M would win by a score of 92-88
With six teams seeded fifth or lower, we are bound more bracket-busting action. Here are my predictions.
In the South region, Kansas did not fear the turtle and beat Maryland in a blowout, while Miami slipped past Villanova. In the regional final, the Hurricanes send the Jayhawks back home to reach their first Final Four appearance in school history.
Out in California, the Wast region will see Duke escape top-seeded Oregon behind a clutch performance from sophomore guard Grayson Allen. Texas A&M’s magic continues and ousts Big 12 foe Oklahoma and glides past the Blue Devils to also reach its first Final Four appearance in school history.
The success of the ACC continues in the East region as North Carolina dominates Indiana in the paint and Notre Dame ends Wisconsin’s bid to reach back-to-back Final Fours. But just like in the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels dig in and beat the Irish to reach their 19th Final Four.
In the Midwest region, top ranked Virginia will suffocate Iowa State with their tenacious defense to advance, and Gonzaga will beat Syracuse, preventing the ACC from having four teams in the Elite Eight. However, the ACC will reign in the Final Four as Virginia will make it a party of three in Houston reaching their third Final Four, UVa’s first since 1984.
In the first semifinal game, Texas A&M finds another way to win in dramatic fashion ,outlasting Miami in its home state. In their third meeting of the season, the Cavaliers revenge the ACC tournament loss against the Tar Heels as ACC Player of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon carries the Wahoos to the championship game.
What has become the staple of their program, the Aggies cannot find a way to score behind the methodical defense of head coach Tony Bennett. Virginia brings home its first NCAA Championship in Bennett’s seventh year at the helm of the Cavaliers.