Just when you thought this NCAA men's basketball tournament couldn't get any weirder, we give you Texas A&M 86, North Carolina 65.
Not only are the 2017 champions — who entered this event as the No. 2 seed in the West Region — out, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams just suffered the worst NCAA tournament loss of his 29-year head coaching career.
Of course, that Aggies win was only slightly less expected than Nevada's seventh-seeded Wolf Pack shocking South Region No. 2 Cincinnati after trailing by 22 points with 11 minutes to go in Nashville.facebook
Or maybe both of those stunning results were topped by 11th-seeded Syracuse overcoming Midwest No. 3 Michigan State in Detroit, of all places. Yes, the Orange — a team more than a few folks (blush, blush) believed shouldn't even have been invited to the Big Dance thanks to a losing Atlantic Coast Conference record — are 3-0 in the tournament, including their win in a First Four play-in game.
No wonder my 13-year-old daughter Julia Caroline exclaimed after Nevada's comeback: "This is the best tournament ever."
It is certainly the most surprising tournament ever. Or as one of TNT's talking heads said of one South Regional semifinal pairing for Thursday night inside Atlanta's Phillips Arena: "I know all of you had Loyola-Chicago versus Nevada in your tournament brackets."
This isn't to say every underdog won this past weekend and every top seed lost. East No. 1 Villanova looked spectacular in its first two victories over Radford and Alabama. Midwest No. 1 Kansas and possible Wooden Award winner Devonte Graham performed as they have all season — survive and advance. Then there was Midwest No. 2 Duke, which may have looked more unbeatable than anyone.
Throw in a 20-point win by No. 5 seed Kentucky over 13th-seeded Buffalo in the South, and it's clear that all four of those blue bloods (whose primary colors are also blue) will refuse to succumb to the madness of this March without a fight.
But even with the Sweet 16 not fully set at the time of this writing, it was clear parity is more prevalent in this tournament than ever before. After all, to scan some of the biggest upsets was to see a 20-point win by the 16th-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers against overall No. 1 Virginia on Friday night, which was the first No. 16 over a No. 1 EVER.
(Side note: UMBC was applying for a trademark on "Retrievers Nation" and "Retrievers" by early Saturday in order to profit off the school's huge upset.)
But it wasn't just the Retrievers fetching a rout for the little guys. Buffalo whipped Arizona by 21 in the first round. Texas A&M, though hardly a little guy, won by 21 against North Carolina, a team many predicted to reach the Final Four for a third straight season.
So what gives? Try these four on for size: matchups; injuries to key performers at crucial times; missed free throws; and the season-long wear-and-tear of questions concerning the FBI's ongoing investigation into illegal payment of players by unscrupulous agents and coaches.
Almost anyone who watched Tennessee play all season knew the worth of Kyle Alexander in the middle of the Volunteers' defense, especially as a rim protector. His absence in their second-round loss to Loyola was devastating, mostly because the Vols are so height-challenged without him.
It's tough to say Auburn's humiliating 84-53 beatdown Sunday evening at the hands of Clemson was entirely due to the loss of its lone rim protector, Anfernee McLemore, in mid-February, but it left the Tigers forced to rely on 3-balls to win. Throw in Auburn's FBI troubles, a lopsided loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference tourney and the Clemson calamity, and it's tough to see Bruce Pearl surviving to coach next season.
The FBI investigation was also surely front and center in Arizona's anemic showing against Buffalo. Maybe — as freshman phenom Deandre Ayton's family insists — he never received $100,000 from coach Sean Miller to play for the Wildcats. But after almost single-handedly leading the Cactus Cats to the Pac-12 tourney title, against the Bison he played like a mercenary who couldn't wait to get to the NBA.
Then there's Michigan State, which is still answering questions about Larry Nassar — the former longtime university and USA Gymnastics doctor now incarcerated for sexual abuse — as well as accusations it has previously swept sexual assault cases against athletes under the rug. Spartans forward Miles Bridges was also briefly linked to the FBI probe but has apparently settled those matters.
Among other schools already linked to the FBI probe, Miami was ousted in the opening round by Loyola and its 98-year-old human mascot and team chaplain, Sister Jean. On that same FBI front, Southern California and Louisville didn't even reach the Big Dance, despite having arguably better résumés than Syracuse.
It says here — somewhat shakily, I'll admit — that order will be somewhat restored this weekend. Villanova will prevail in the East, Duke in the Midwest, Kentucky in the South and, just maybe, Texas A&M in the West.
From there, expect Duke and A&M to reach the title game and the Dookies to hand coach Mike Krzyzewski his sixth national championship on Monday, April 2, because at some point, order will surely be restored to this crazy tournament.
Or will it?
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
2018 NCAA men's bracketView