It took a while — too long, some might say. But in the second round on Saturday, the NCAA men’s tournament finally delivered the kind of bracket-shattering jolt that basketball fans have grown accustomed to this time of year.
A stunning 65-62 defeat of top-seeded Villanova, the defending national champion, by eighth-seeded Wisconsin at last supplied a dose of exhilarating chaos.
It followed a tepid opening round that was largely devoid of upsets, buzzer-beaters and where-did-that-team-come-from charm and left the second round lacking a team seeded No. 13 or lower for the first time since 2007. The top four seeds in each region combined to go 16-0 in the first round for just the fifth time.
An 83-71 win by fourth-seeded West Virginia against fifth-seeded Notre Dame in Saturday’s first game prolonged the streak of victories by the higher seeds. And a 79-73 victory by top-seeded Gonzaga against eighth-seeded Northwestern in the West Region later Saturday made sure the tumult did not extend too far, with the Bulldogs withstanding a Wildcats rally that nearly erased a 22-point lead.
Some of the drama in that game emanated from the officiating. With Northwestern down by five points with just under five minutes remaining, the Wildcats’ Dererk Pardon went up for a layup that was rejected by Gonzaga’s Zach Collins. The referees, however, failed to note that Collins’ arm went through the rim to block the shot — a clear infraction.
Northwestern coach Chris Collins stomped onto the court, drawing a technical foul. Gonzaga converted its two free throws, and the Wildcats never bounced back.
“It would have been a 3-point game,” Chris Collins said. “We had all of the momentum.”
Afterward, the NCAA released a statement saying that the referees had missed a violation of Rule 9 Section 15, on basket interference. Northwestern, which had never made the NCAA tournament before, was left wondering what might have been.
“I believe we had a great chance to win if the correct call was made,” Collins said.
Ahead of the weekend, the dearth of close finishes had created some unrest, among fans and an occasional reporter on social media. Near the end of Friday’s late games, David Worlock, the NCAA’s director of media coordination, posted a rebuke on Twitter to the complaints over how the events had unfolded.
“Sorry if you found the first round boring,” Worlock wrote. “I’m sure you have your countdown clock to the AutoNation Cure Bowl. Enjoy that.”
The message was later deleted.
Still, criticism of the seeding decisions by the tournament selection committee seemed, for the most part, to have some merit. Midmajor programs, which can typically be counted on to spice up the opening rounds, were buried below teams from the power conferences, forcing matchups like the one Friday night between seventh-seeded Dayton and 10th-seeded Wichita State in the South Region. Both teams could have been positioned to make a deep tournament run, as each has done in the past. Instead, Dayton went home.
“A 4 seed,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said afterward, describing where he thought Wichita State deserved to be placed.
Coaches who complain about their draw — particularly after a tough loss — are not all that unusual. But their opinions largely aligned with what analysts had said before play began. Middle Tennessee State’s seeding, at No. 12 in the South Region, left the oddsmakers so unimpressed that the Blue Raiders were actually favored to win their first-round game against fifth-seeded Minnesota. And they did, by nine.