The 2018 NCAA Tournament was a fun one. Let’s take a look at how it all went down.
It’s been a little more than a week since Villanova cut down the nets in San Antonio, marking the end of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, enough time has passed for you to get over the fact that your bracket was busted on Day 1. Obviously, every NCAA Tournament is special in its own way and a joy to watch unfold. But this year’s tournament could end up being one of the more memorable. Before we embark on the long college basketball offseason, let’s take one last look at all the moments that made the 2018 NCAA Tournament stand out.
For years, we were programmed to pick a 12 over 5 upset in the first round. But this year confirmed that 13 over 4 is the new 12 over 5. Every 5 seed won their first-round game, with three of them advancing to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, two 13 seeds toppled a 4 seed. Buffalo beat Arizona, busting brackets almost right away, while Marshall upset Wichita State setting up a game with in-state rival West Virginia in the Round of 32. Let this be a lesson to everyone for next year, forget about the 12 seeds, find one or two 13 seeds you like to get a win.
Most pundits slammed the committee making Syracuse the last team in the field (probably because they’re jealous they didn’t get to attend such a fine university). But the Orange took their opportunity and ran with it, much to the dismay of all the haters. As usual, Syracuse did it with exceptional defense, holding Arizona State, TCU, and Michigan State to a season-low point total. All three teams scored nearly 30 points less than their season average against Syracuse, as Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone busted brackets all the way to the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed.
Some said it would never happen, but it finally did. The 2018 NCAA Tournament will always be remembered for the year a 16 seed finally beat a 1 seed. That honor went to the UMBC Retrievers, who took down Virginia, a team that went 17-1 in the ACC this season and then won the ACC Tournament, ultimately finishing the season 31-3. The most shocking part is not that UMBC beat Virginia but that the game wasn’t even close down the stretch, as the Retrievers won 74-54.
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A lot of crazy stuff happened that opening weekend, but we should not forget about Nevada’s two unbelievable comebacks. First, the Wolf Pack overcame a 14-point deficit to force overtime against Texas before taking care of the Longhorns in overtime. Two days later, Nevada trailed Cincinnati, a team known for its hard-nosed defense, by as many as 22 points. Most people don’t know how it happened because they changed the channel to a different game. But the Wolf Pack came all the way back to beat Cincinnati, advancing to the Sweet 16 via the second-largest comeback in tournament history.
If you’re a school that relies on one-and-done talent, this NCAA Tournament probably didn’t end well for you. Arizona, as mentioned earlier, got bounced in the first round by Buffalo. Duke, to be fair, reached the Elite 8 with its freshmen-dominated lineup. However, the Blue Devils ended up losing to a veteran and experienced Kansas team. Finally, there’s Kentucky, which is essentially a one-and-done factory. The Wildcats reached the Sweet 16 and appeared to have an easy path to the Final Four. But the young Wildcats couldn’t take advantage, losing in the Sweet 16 to 9 seeded Kansas State.
Never in a million years could any of us predict that a 98-year old nun would become the star of the NCAA Tournament, but that’s exactly what happened with Sister Jean, the chaplain of the Loyola (Chicago) Ramblers. Loyola’s first three wins of the tournament came by a combined four points via multiple buzzer beaters, perhaps in response to Sister Jean’s prayers. Ultimately, the Ramblers and Sister Jean made it to the Final Four in one of the most magical tournament runs in recent memory.
Of course, the most important thing to remember about the 2018 NCAA Tournament is that the best team ended up winning, doing so in convincing fashion. Villanova won its six games by an average of 18 points, with 12 points being the smallest margin of victory in a game. That’s the textbook definition of dominant, leaving no doubt that the Wildcats were the best team in the country this season.