The 2016 Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament ended in a win for Villanova over the University of North Carolina on Monday night. With two clutch three-point shots in the last ten seconds, the final will go down as one of the most exciting finishes to a tournament in NCAA history. As always, the tournament itself was full of shocking upsets and eye catching moments, as well as the inevitable destruction of many carefully researched and crafted brackets. Let’s look back at some of the highlights from this year’s Madness.
My pick for the player of the tournament is University of Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. The Naismith Award winner was almost unplayable at times and was a major part in Oklahoma’s trip to the Final Four. Up until the semifinals he averaged 29 points per game as Oklahoma blew away most competition. While he was forgettable in their blowout loss to Villanova, I believe he demonstrated his talent and ability over the course of the tournament. If anything, the 44-point loss to Villanova in the semifinal serves to demonstrate how solid team basketball can cancel out mercurial talent. Look for Hield to go very high in this year’s NBA draft.
The upset of this year’s tournament has to be 15 seed Middle Tennessee State’s unbelievable win in the first round over number two seed Michigan State. The Spartans were one of the pre-tournament favorites to win the entire thing with the second most votes on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge. While previous number two seeds have fallen in the first round before, this was far and away the most unlikely upset. Fresh off a Big Ten Tournament win over Purdue, Michigan State was inexplicably denied a number one seed. Yet Middle Tennessee’s remarkable victory left brackets in shambles and Tom Izzo in tears. In fact, this year’s Round of 64 contained a record breaking number of upsets. A total of ten double-digit teams advanced to the next round, with it being the first time a 13, 14 and 15 seed won on the same day.
The contest between the University of Northern Iowa and Texas A&M University was one of the greatest comebacks (or collapses depending on who you ask) in the history of sports. Down by 12 points with 44 seconds on the clock, the Aggies put together a 14-2 run to close out the final minute and force overtime. A mixture of insane three pointers by A&M and foolish turnovers by UNI saw the biggest last minute comeback in tournament history, as Texas A&M went on to clinch the game in the second period of overtime.
The 6 Atlantic Coast Conference teams that made the field performed exceptionally well during the tournament. Lowest seed Syracuse made a sparkling run to the Final Four, which only ended with a defeat to regular season ACC champion North Carolina. While the ACC was excelling, the PAC 12 imploded, giving credence to pre-tournament criticism of the selection committee’s favorable seeding of the seven PAC 12 teams in the tournament. With Utah, Cal, Arizona and Oregon State losing to double digit seeds within the first two rounds, only number one seed Oregon made it past the first weekend. Definitely a year to forget for the West Coast programs.
The final was a fitting end to an amazing tournament. When Marcus Paige made a desperation three-pointer to tie the scores at 74 with four seconds remaining, it appeared that UNC had fought back to force overtime. Villanova had other ideas and after driving the length of the floor, guard Ryan Arcidiacono kicked to Kris Jenkins. Jenkins took a quick look at the shot clock and let loose a three pointer that fell perfectly into the basket sending the Villanova players into an instant celebration. The elation on their faces, and the subsequent despair from the North Carolina bench was a perfect image of the roller coaster of emotions this season and in March Madness. The only problem is that we have to wait another year to see it all again.