So where do you want to start? Should we talk about Yale beating up on Baylor? How about Cincinnati losing because of a last second dunk attempt? What if we discuss Iowa’s hilarious tip-in off of one of the worst last-shot-attempts in tournament history? How about Purdue losing to fucking Little Rock?! Or Stephen F. Austin tripping up West Virginia???
IT’S TOTAL MADNESS I TELL YOU!!!
Ok, I’m done now. Seriously. After the first weekend, almost everything starts to level out. One of the worst things we can do as gamblers is reflect too much on the past. We all know that the favorites usually ball out of control in the Sweet 16 and that the opening weekend is almost always full of surprises.
So instead of revisiting all the amazing moments from the opening rounds, let’s just look at a handful in a condensed March Madness recap before launching in to a super Sweet 16 Power Rankings.
BIGGEST UPSET – #15 Middle Tennessee over #2 Michigan State
Was there anything more insane than watching Middle Tennessee wipe the floor with the heavily touted Spartans? Let’s put this in perspective from an angle that you gamblers might understand.
Michigan State was +500 to win the national title at this time last week. That put them right in line with Kansas, a top seed and a tournament favorite. By basically all metrics outside of the idiotic pollsters who decide the seeds, MSU was perhaps the best team in the tournament. They should have been a one-seed.
That a team this heralded lost to a program which has just three tournament victories in its history is nearly impossible to get your head around. In fact, 61.8% of all ESPN brackets and over 70% of Yahoo! Brackets had MSU going to the Final Four. Among those, nearly a quarter of all brackets submitted across the internet had the Spartans in the Final Four.
Even without all the nerdy metrics, gambling angles and bracketology breakdowns, we can safely call this loss what it is: the greatest upset in NCAA March Madness history. Never has a tournament favorite gone down in the Round of 64. It’s never, ever happened.
MOST HEARTBREAKING TEAM – #11 Northern Iowa Panthers
Friday night simply couldn’t have been better for Northern Iowa’s Paul Jesperson. The senior guard had been waiting his entire college career for a moment like this: A beautiful, half court buzzer beater that beat a big name team like Texas.
The Internet went nuts with the replay. Everyone suddenly knew the kid’s name. He was trending because anybody that touches a basketball imagines moments like that.
Nobody ever horses around in the driveway envisioning a nightmare scenario like what unfolded on Sunday against Texas A&M. The Aggies needed an unfathomable 13 points to tie the game. The problem? There were only 44 seconds left. The probability of them coming back was actually 1 in 3,000. It felt like one in a million.
So the Aggies swarmed and the Panthers suddenly imploded on a level like we’ve rarely seen. They turned the ball over on almost every position with less than a minute remaining, and the Aggies made them pay for every single mistake. Then they tied it. Then they won in overtime.
It’s hard to remember a team going through that big of a swing in the span of one weekend. Sure, we’ve seen lots of teams upset a top seed only to get blown out in their next matchup. But to lose like that after winning with a buzzer beater? The basketball gods can be cruel, but to Northern Iowa they were straight up pricks.
BEST PLAYER OF THE WEEKEND – Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
As if Buddy Hield needed to remind you guys, he put up a game to remember with the VCU Rams pressing hard down the throats of Oklahoma. The Sooners had run out to a pretty clear 13-point lead in the second half, but VCU refused to go in to the night quietly.
So Buddy came to the rescue with a 29-point second half effort that saw him shoot a dazzling 9-of-12 from the field. If he was touching the ball, it was going in and the Rams were at his mercy for twenty straight minutes despite outscoring Oklahoma in the half. Hield would finish the game with 36 total points and cement his standing as the lead dog in the Wooden Award race.
The clear runner up for the weekend’s MVP was Domantas Sabonis, who had 40 points and 26 boards over the weekend and was a wrecking ball in Gonzaga’s upset of Seton Hall. For once we have the son of a basketball legend that can actually dominate! Yes, that last part was (sort of) meant sarcastically. No offense, Gary Payton II.
SWEET 16 POWER RANKINGS
Get ‘em while they’re hot! The bookies have adjusted the NCAAB futures market just for you (and the millions of other gamblers that want to bet on this thing).
- Kansas Jayhawks (+350 to win March Madness)
- UNC Tar Heels (+425 to win March Madness)
Take your pick. Now that Michigan State is out of the running, the Tar Heels slip in as the second favorites in the tournament and there’s a ton to love here. They’re wonderfully deep and led by Brice Johnson, one of the best players you can find at this level. I thought that the only team that could run with UNC in the East Regional was Xavier, and they’re gone too.
So UNC basically gets the slim pickings that come out of the Midwest and then face whomever survives the other side of the bracket. That team should be Kansas, who remain undefeated since January and stomped all over UConn. They get Maryland next and stand as the best championship bet. Their number has shaved from +500 since the tournament started so get in while the getting’s good.
- Oklahoma Sooners (+750 to win March Madness)
Read everything I wrote about Buddy Hield up top and then remind yourself that one of the best reasons to bank on this team long term is that their starting unit has been together for three straight years. They’re not as highly regarded as other teams in terms of output, but this team also reacts to who they’re playing. A date against a vigorous Aggies team could help them realize their full potential as a world beater. I love the return on their championship odds too.
- Duke Blue Devils (+1800 to win March Madness)
You can hate Duke all you want. Go right ahead. Just keep in mind that I don’t even want to slot them in this high. But after watching how they undressed Yale and NC Wilmington, I get a baaaaad feeling we’re in for a whole lot of Grayson Allen’s dumb face for the rest of the month. I’m scared too, guys.
But they’re a very worthy team. Marshall Plumlee may not be as profound as his big brothers were, but he’s damn near as effective. And the duo of Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram seems entirely unstoppable. I really don’t know if you can win a tournament with three stars like…oh wait…you can totally win a championship with players like that!
This is Duke we’re talking about. We didn’t expect them to win last year, and now they’re right on the verge of being the first team to knock off a one-seed. At 18-to-1, they’re a terrific underdog to bank on in the futures market.
Duke likes to win in these centennial moments. They celebrated their ’91 title by winning in ’01. Then they rang in the new decade by beating Butler in 2010. Then they won in 2015. Winning in 2016 would be 15 years after winning 2001. You get the idea. It would also be the 25th anniversary of their back-to-back titles at the turn of the 1990’s.
- Virginia Cavaliers (+575 to win March Madness)
The nerds love Virginia because they’re actually the top ranked team in the country by advanced metrics. They rank 6th on offense and 4th in defense in adjusted efficiency, making them the team to beat if you trust points-per-possession metrics. The Cavaliers get an added boost in March Madness futures considering that the only teams standing between them and a Final Four berth are #4 Iowa State, #11 Gonzaga and #10 Syracuse.
- Villanova Wildcats (+1200 to win March Madness)
I continue to have this love-hate relationship with Villanova. I should like them more since they play terrific defense (15th overall in the country, 7th in adjusted defensive efficiency), while boasting an offense that is one of the strongest in the country by all accounts.
But I hate the way they play, and despise that a program that has routinely been seeded so high never seems to go deep in to the tournament. The biggest reason their odds are what they are compared to everyone else? They have to get through Kansas in the South Region.
- Oregon Ducks (+1200 to win March Madness)
Is it me, or are you having serious trouble envisioning them as national champions? It just don’t feel right, you know? I might not have to be too concerned about it, to be honest. The Ducks barely survived their brawl with Saint Joseph’s and have to deal with Duke next.
- Gonzaga Bulldogs (+2800 to win March Madness)
It’s stupid to call the ‘Zags a Cinderella just because they’re an eleventh seed. This is also their seventh trip to the Sweet Sixteen. But it must be incredibly frustrating for this team to be where they are without three of their best players.
Przemek Karnowks, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell all went down before the season really started. In their place have risen Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjier. This team has been cresting towards a peak for the better part of the season, and blindsiding Seton Hall then Utah should put them firmly on your radar.
Listen, I could write a lot about Gonzaga here. What I will say is this: they’re a worthy flier play if you love lobbing grenades at big odds. There are fewer things as gleeful as chasing a huge payout by cheering on the son of Arvydas Sabonis and we all know how well good teams do when they can build around a legitimate big man at the college level.
(Hint: a team did that last year and won the national title)
- Iowa State (+2800 to win March Madness)
Would you believe that Iowa State has scored the second most points in the country according to advanced metrics? Well they have with a whopping 120.6 points per-hundred possessions. The only team that exceeds that mark is Michigan State. The Cyclones don’t have a great defensive brand to stand on, but can turn their games in to track meets, like they did against Iona and Little Rock. Doing that against Virginia is a whole other ballgame.
- Indiana Hoosiers (+2000 to win March Madness)
I’m not in the mood to write even a hundred words about a team that’s about to get devoured by UNC. By the way, it gets pretty ugly from here on down.
- Miami Hurricanes (+2800)
The Canes may not have the muscle to go the distance, but I actually like their chances against Villanova. Give me a day or two to stew on this before I lock in a pick but that’s where I’m leaning.
- Texas A&M Aggies (+2000)
Staging one of the best comebacks in tournament history aside, the Aggies would have to stage a history defying coup to upend Oregon, Duke or Oklahoma to reign supreme out west. And again, it’s worth reminding yourself that rallying against Northern Iowa is not the same as beating any of those three teams outright.
- Wisconsin Badgers (+3300)
Greg Gard has done a masterful job getting the most out of a limited lineup, and made his predecessor Bo Ryan proud in the process. Getting past Xavier was a huge boost, and stomping on Notre Dame would go a long way in setting up Wisconsin as the “can they really do it?!” team of the moment. It’s hard to believe that there’s enough firepower to get the job done, but a berth in the Elite Eight would be far better than anyone anticipated in the first place.
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish (+3300)
I’m still pissed at Notre Dame for sending Stephen F. Austin home too early so screw these pompous fucks.
- Syracuse Orange (+3300)
The big winner of Michigan State getting upended in the first round was Syracuse, who got to feast on Middle Tennessee in the second. The Orange do have wins against Duke and Notre Dame under their belt but they haven’t shown much of anything since February. One week in to March Madness and they still haven’t, though it’s not entirely their fault.
- Maryland Terrapins (+2800)
You go ahead and bet long term on a team that’s lined up with Kansas next. I’m off to do far dumber things with my money.