The NCAA Tournament is referred to as March Madness for a reason. Every year, something different happens to set it apart from the previous tournament – Cinderella stories, buzzer-beaters and players rising up to become household names are commonplace occurrences in March. However, despite the expectation of unrivaled drama, the first weekend of this year’s NCAA Tournament was a different monster.
For the first time in history, a 16-seed defeated a 1-seed, as the University of Maryland Baltimore County not only beat the University of Virginia, but also dominated in the second half. Incredibly, a Virginia team that prided itself on lockdown defense allowed 53 second-half points to a team that was deemed inferior in all aspects of the game. To put UMBC’s offensive outburst in perspective, Virginia held opponents to 53 points or fewer in 13 of its regular season games. The Retrievers matched that number in one half.
UMBC did not just beat a No. 1 seed; it beat the No. 1 overall seed. Billed as a near-lock to make the Final Four, Virginia was exposed by UMBC. Averaging just 67 points per game in the regular season, the biggest critique surrounding Virginia entering the tournament was that it did not have enough offensive firepower to keep up with other college basketball blue bloods in its region, such as Arizona or Kentucky, who Virginia could have seen in the Sweet 16.
Instead, a Retrievers team from the America East that only made the tournament after a buzzer-beating-win in their conference tournament, turned out to be Virginia’s kryptonite.
When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, logic goes out the window. Never in a million years was it expected that Virginia would bow out to a No. 16 seed, nor was it anticipated that a loaded, DeAndre Ayton-led Arizona team would lose by 21 points to a 13-seed Buffalo team that did not boast a single recruit over a three-star rating.
That is what draws fans into the NCAA Tournament each year; teams even the most engaged college basketball fans know next to nothing about finding a way to shock the nation. Even Loyola-Chicago, a trendy upset pick as an 11-seed, won the hearts of college basketball fans everywhere with clutch shots and the presence of Sister Jean, a 98-year old nun who serves as the team chaplain on the sideline.
There is nothing quite like the NCAA Tournament. While college basketball has had to endure its share of scandals this season, the tournament embodies what is great about the sport – college kids playing their hearts out with the goal of bringing glory back to their respective schools.
The passion that NCAA Tournament games are played with is unmatched, and the emotions following a season-ending loss are as raw as it gets. Even coaches, who maintain stone cold personas throughout the season, show their true colors in March as they say goodbye to the players who helped carry their respective teams to that point, just as Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard did after the Pirates’ loss to Kansas on March 17.
If anyone needed a reminder of how special March Madness, even with the black cloud of the FBI investigation hanging over it, look no further than last week. While the best of the NCAA Tournament is still to come with the Sweet 16 approaching, the memories made in the first weekend of this year’s tournament put a permanent stamp on the tournament’s lasting impact.
Tyler Calvaruso is a journalism major from Howell, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.