In the beginning, Yale beat Baylor, and basketball fans saw that it was good.
Then, Little Rock beat Purdue, and that was awesome (and something I totally called).
Then there were some good games and minor upsets, like 13 seed Hawaii beating a fourth-seeded Cal team without two key players, and tournament-tested 11 seed Wichita State sending sixth-seeded Arizona packing.
And then, on the second High Holy Day of Hoops, Middle Tennessee State beat Michigan State, becoming the eighth 15th seed to knock off a two seed. And that was incredibly awesome (crying Tom Izzo aside). The Blue Raiders led wire-to-wire in their 90-81 victory and showed nothing but onions the whole game, answering every Spartan run with a 3-pointer or driving bucket. With 23 seconds to play, a kid named Giddy (Potts) rose up to cleanly block Spartan sharpshooter Bryn Forbes’s 3-point try, and it was over.
One of the greatest coaches, especially in March, of all time and consensus All-American and player of the year candidate Denzel Valentine lasted just one day in a tournament many thought they could win.
MTSU’s coach is named Kermit, and on Friday, it wasn’t easy being green.
And then. And THEN.
I expected Northern Iowa, seeded 11th, to give No. 6 Texas a game. The Panthers have been to the Big Dance – and won there – before, going to the Sweet 16 in 2010 after beating top seed Kansas in the second round. What I didn’t expect was Paul Jesperson to bank in a half-court shot after Texas had tied the game with 2.7 seconds to play for a 75-72 win and the greatest ending to a first-round game in tournament history.
The shot, which went in as the buzzer sounded and the backboard lit up with suddenly festive red lights, bested (at least in my mind) Bryce Drew’s 18-year-old heroics, left the Longhorns and coach Shaka Smart stunned, and touched off a firestorm of celebration on the court and social media. I’ve watched it at least five times this morning.
I had barely finished tweeting – “What a Shaka!”was a good one, I thought – when I directed my March Madness app – the greatest thing ever – to the finish of the St. Joe’s/Cincy game, where I saw a Bearcats dunk that appeared to have tied the game at the buzzer being reviewed. Eventually, the officials waved off that basket, and a two-day span of Madness unlike any March had seen ended.
The 2016 first round set a record: Ten double-digit seeds survived and advanced, breaking the mark of nine reached in 2001 and 2012. Eight of those were seeded a tournament-record 11 or higher.
Among other highlights: The 14th-seeded Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin were more than OK after beating third-seeded West Virginia; the 12th-seeded Jackrabbits of South Dakota State gave Maryland all it could handle before coming up five points short; and Providence got a last-second layup off an inbounds play to edge Southern Cal 70-69. I don’t think an 8 beating a 9 is an upset, but it was yet another great game in a 48-hour span chock full of them.
I can hardly wait to see what the second round holds.
And I’d just like to say thank you, basketball gods. This past month has been one of the most challenging times of my life. I am more appreciative than I can probably make most normal people understand that my favorite sports stretch has made the past two days so much fun.