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David J. Phillip/Associated Press
The Villanova Wildcats are the national champions in men’s college basketball for the second time in three years.
It was a topsy-turvy tournament filled with upsets and last-second drama, but the No. 1 seed out of the Big East was immune to the chaos and the close calls. Villanova won all six of its games by at least a 12-point margin, including a 79-62 cruise-control victory over Michigan in the title game.
It goes without saying that the Wildcats were the biggest winners of this Big Dance, but they weren’t the only ones—nor were the Michigan Wolverines the only losers.
The One Shining Moment montage was a nice walk down memory lane of the past three weeks, but that only scraped the surface of everything that transpired in this edition of March Madness.
Here’s the full list of the biggest winners and losers from the 2018 men’s NCAA tournament.
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Loyola-Chicago’s run was an unbelievable story, but we’ve seen No. 11 seeds reach the Final Four before. In due time, the Ramblers will be interchangeable with 2006 George Mason and 2011 VCU on the list of the unlikeliest national semifinalists.
But a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed?
That’s what the 2018 NCAA tournament will always be remembered for.
UMBC didn’t just beat No. 1 overall seed Virginia, either. The Retrievers made history by stomping the heavily favored Cavaliers. No team this season had scored more than 68 points against Tony Bennett’s vaunted pack-line defense, but UMBC scored 53 just in the second half of the 74-54 beatdown.
Jairus Lyles battled through leg cramps for most of the second half to finish with 28 points on a scant 11 field-goal attempts. As a team, the Retrievers—who mustered up a mere 39 points in a blowout loss to Albany in late January—shot 54.2 percent from the field and 12-of-24 (50 percent) from three-point range.
A No. 16 seed was bound to win one sooner or later, but that inevitability didn’t make UMBC’s victory any less mind-blowing.
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Otto Kitsinger/Associated Press
Generally speaking, using NCAA tournament results to make overarching statements about the strength or weakness of a conference is a silly exercise.
People who don’t like a certain conference—usually the ACC or Big 12, since those have been the top leagues for the past few years—will point to the league’s .500 or worse record after the first weekend and say, “See! They aren’t that good!” It’s dumb to disregard hundreds of regular-season games and instead focus on a couple of results in an unpredictable tournament, but what are sports without hot takes?
That said, the Pac-12 was clearly the worst power conference during the regular season, and it didn’t do much to refute that stance by getting completely eliminated from the tournament by the end of the first full day.
Only three Pac-12 teams received an invitation to the Big Dance. Arizona was a No. 4 seed and a strong candidate to win the title. UCLA and Arizona State were sent to Dayton for First Four games.
Both the Bruins and the Sun Devils were downright dreadful in their immediate exits. UCLA scored just 58 points against St. Bonaventure, but that’s better than Arizona State’s 56 points against Syracuse. As a result of those duds, the Pac-12 only had one team in the round of 64.
Buffalo promptly blew out Arizona 89-68, ensuring that many brackets across the nation were busted about 12 hours after the first round began.
To make matters worse, both the West Coast Conference (Gonzaga) and Mountain West Conference (Nevada) reached the Sweet 16, so those leagues have temporary bragging rights over the Pac-12 as the best of the West.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
As was the case in 2016, we can argue about whether Syracuse belonged in the NCAA tournament in the first place, but there’s no denying how well the Orange (and their defense) did with the gift they were given by the selection committee.
To get things started, they held Arizona State to 56 points in the First Four. It was just the third time all season the Sun Devils failed to score 70 points and the first time they were held below 64—despite making 11 three-pointers in the game.
After that, Syracuse shut down TCU and Michigan State, allowing 52 and 53 points, respectively. Both the Horned Frogs and Spartans are still ranked in the top 20 in the nation in three-point percentage, but neither squad could get anything to fall against the 2-3 zone from hell. They were collectively 11-of-54 (20.4 percent) from downtown.
Even in the Sweet 16 loss to Duke, Syracuse’s defense was fierce. The Blue Devils averaged 85.7 points in their other three tournament games, but they could only manage 69 points against the Orange.
Here’s the scary news for the rest of the country: Syracuse’s entire starting lineup has at least one more year of eligibility remaining, so that stingy zone isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If the Orange can just figure out something on offense next season, there shouldn’t be anything controversial about their invitation to the 2019 NCAA tournament.
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It was a rough year for seed-based axioms.
“A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed.”
So much for that.
“At least one No. 12 seed almost always beats a No. 5 seed.”
Looks like that one belongs in the garbage, too.
However, there were a couple of close calls for the underdogs in the sexiest annual upset pick.
Davidson gave Kentucky one heck of a run for its money, storming back from an early 13-point deficit to tie things up in the final 10 minutes. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as the Wildcats from Lexington edged out the Wildcats from the Charlotte area.
South Dakota State had Ohio State on the ropes, as well. The Jackrabbits were tied with the Buckeyes in the final two minutes prior to fouling Kam Williams on back-to-back three-point attempts to blow the game.
In the end, No. 12 seeds went 0-4.
No. 13 seeds, on the other hand, went 2-2 in the first round, and each of those losses came by just a four-point margin. Meanwhile, No. 9 seeds had a combined total of seven wins with both Kansas State and Florida State reaching the Elite Eight. In the previous four tournaments combined, No. 9 seeds had just five wins and zero Sweet 16 appearances.
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Houston’s Rob Gray Jr. and Purdue’s Matt Haarms were two of the most popular players of the early rounds of the tournament.
Yes, both guys are excellent players. Gray was unbelievable in the first round, scoring 39 of Houston’s 67 points in a win over San Diego State. And at 7’3″, it should come as no surprise that Haarms is a fine shot-blocker. In fact, he rejected multiple shots in each of Purdue’s three games.
However, it wasn’t the play that had social media buzzing about them so much as it was their (drastically different) hairstyles.
Gray has been rocking a top knot all season. (Yes, it’s a top knot. It’s not a man bun. Nor was Kyle Guy’s situation a man bun last year. Learn the difference.) And what we all found out in March is that his 10-year-old brother, Jackson, has the same hairstyle. Reporters in Wichita really dropped the ball by not asking Rob how much hair product he uses to keep that hair tied up so neatly all game.
Then there’s Haarms, with his comically unkempt hair. Haarms readjusts his hair so often within the game that the NCAA March Madness Twitter account made a mixtape of nothing else. And during Purdue’s Sweet 16 game against Texas Tech, TBS even flashed up a graphic of how many hair adjustments Haarms had already made at an early point in the game.
Unfortunately, this was the last we’ll s