The Greatest Moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament first round
Look at the time stamp on this post.
On Thursday, March 19th.
This is the precise moment that the 2020 NCAA Tournament -- the real tournament, not that First Four nonsense -- was supposed to start.
So to honor that moment properly, here are 16 of my favorite first round moments from the NCAA tournament. Please share your favorite in the comments below or tweet at us with the video.
TAMPA, FLORIDA, IN 2008
Without question, the greatest first round site in the history of the NCAA tournament was the Tampa pod in the 2008 big dance.
Friday, March 22nd, 2008 at the St. Pete Forum will go down as perhaps the Maddest day of all the Madness.
That’s because there were four double-digit seeds landing upset wins. Two games went into overtime. Two games were won on buzzer beaters.
It just does not get any better than that.
It started with perhaps the best shot of the day, as Ty Rogers hit a three at the overtime buzzer to beat 5-seed Drake, 101-99, with a play that will remind many of the Kris Jenkins shot to beat North Carolina:
Of course, that was followed up by 13-seed San Diego pulling off an upset with a game-winner with 1.2 seconds left against 4-seed UConn:
That was followed up by 13-seed Siena beating Vanderbilt by 21 points in the third game of the day before 12-seed Villanova upset 5-seed Clemson, 75-69, in the last game of the evening.
And that may actually be the wildest part of the entire day.
As a 12-seed, Villanova upset 5-seed Clemson.
I know, completely unbelievable, right?
RJ HUNTER SENDS HIS DAD FLYING
The context of this incident is important.
Ron Hunter, then the Georgia State head coach, tore his achilles celebrating the 2015 Atlantic Sun tournament championship because that’s the kind of coach that he is. So when his 14th-seeded Panthers took on Baylor in the first round of the tournament, Ron was rolling around on a scooter and sitting on a stool.
Fast forward 39 minutes and 44.9 seconds, and Kenny Cherry missed a free throw that would have put Baylor up by three. Instead, R.J. Hunter - Ron’s son and a future first round pick - gets the rebound, and this happens:
The sneaky hilarious part about this is the announcer. “They gotta push this to the basket guys, take this to the basket. What are they doing?”
Oh, just winning the game.
STEVE MERFELD GETS A LIFT
One of the iconic March Madness moments.
15-seed Hampton was leading Jamaal Tinsley and Iowa State at the half, but a second half run put the Cyclones up 55-44 with under five minutes left. But the Pirates were going away, and Tarvis Williams capped off a 14-2 finish to the game with a bucket in the lane with a very nice 6.9 seconds left on the clock. After Tinsley missed a layup at the other end of the floor, Hampton advanced, becoming just the fourth 15-seed to win a game in the NCAA tournament.
During the celebration, this happened:
I remember watching that play happen live, and thinking that moment was the best moment in the history of sports.
The image of Merfeld punching and kicking the air while lifted four feet off the ground by a player almost twice his size will forever be etched into my mind.
But that wasn’t the wildest 15-over-2 upset we’ve seen.
DUNK CITY IS BORN
Florida-Gulf Coast, a tiny school in Ft. Myers, Florida, has only been in existence since 1991. Their basketball team has only been a thing since 2002. And yet, in 2013, under the tutelage of now-USC head coach Andy Enfield, the Eagles went on what may be the greatest cinderella run in the history of college basketball.
FGCU became the first 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16, and they did so in incredible fashion. They didn’t needed a fluky buzzer-beater or a couple of lucky bounces to win. They quite literally dunked on, around and over Georgetown (and San Diego State) en route to the second weekend:
They were the better team both days, no questions asked.
And the result was this: A nickname we created. You’re welcome for that.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE KNOCKS OFF FAVORITE, MICHIGAN STATE
Perhaps the biggest 15-over-2 upset in tournament history came in 2016, when Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee State stunned Michigan State in the first round.
A couple of qualifiers here: For starters, Middle Tennessee State was a really, really good mid-major program, one that did battle with high-majors before and after this upset win. They probably didn’t deserve to be on the No. 15-seed line in this bracket. They were better than that.
But Michigan State entered this game as the favorite to win the title. They had the co-National Player of the Year on their roster in Denzel Valentine. They would have been a No. 1-seed if they had not dealt with some injuries -- including to Valentine -- during the season. You know how there is always one team that the majority of the talking heads pick to win the title as soon as the bracket is officially announced? Michigan State was that team in 2016.
And Middle Tennessee State kicked their behinds:
KYLE O’QUINN O’VERWHELMS MISSOURI
Another first round stunner came during the 2012 NCAA Tournament, when 15-seed Norfolk State knocked off Missouri.
Perhaps the wildest part about this win is that the best pro on the floor turned out to be a player from Norfolk State.
Missouri was one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch this season. They played four sharp-shooting guards around Ricardo Ratliffe and let it fly. They scored in bunches, but they were always susceptible to a bruiser in the paint and an off-night. Enter Kyle O’Quinn, a 6-foot-10 New Yorker that ended up at Norfolk State before become a second round pick in 2012. He’s still playing in the NBA today.
He had 25 points and 12 boards in the win, including what proved to be the game-winning bucket:
THAT WASN’T THE ONLY 15-SEED TO WIN THAT DAY
In the very next session of games, 15-seed Lehigh and future top ten pick C.J. McCollum went out and upset a Duke team that featured a couple of Plumlees, Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, which made for one of the wildest and most unforgettable days of NCAA tournament basketball every.
Think about how many brackets were blown up when this happened:
That’s not even my favorite Duke first round loss, by the way.
The 2014 loss to 14-seed Mercer is, mostly because this white boy got to show off his moves:
With the benefit of hindsight, I think even Duke fans can agree that is just the absolute best.
I’D BE REMISS IF I DIDN’T MENTION THE BIGGEST UPSET EVER
UMBC picking off No. 1-seed Virginia.
That story has been beaten to death at this point.
And it also happened to turn into the greatest turnaround in the history of sports.
Virginia, if you have forgotten, won the national title the very next season.
So how about you just watch this video on how and why everything changed:
CHRIS MCNAUGHTON SENDS KANSAS PACKING
It sounds weird to think about now, after seeing Kansas win a national title, 14 straight Big 12 titles and get to a trio of Final Fours, but early in Self’s tenure in Lawrence, there were questions about whether or not he was a good enough coach to win the big one.
Part of the reason that was part of the narrative of his career was because of games like this, where the 3-seed Jayhawks lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
WHAT IF N.C. STATE LOST TO PEPPERDINE?
Jim Valvano is a legend in the sport of college basketball.
Part of it is because of his personality, part of it is because of the grace and dignity that he handled his fight with cancer and part of it is because of the way that Dick Vitale has chosen to dedicate his life to honoring Jimmy V and fighting against cancer.
The Jimmy V Classic. Jimmy V week. The speech. There isn’t a college basketball fan that doesn’t love him.
But one of the biggest reasons that he is a name that is important enough to honor that way is because he won the 1983 NCAA Tournament with N.C. State as a No. 6 seed on a buzzer-beating tip-in from Lorenzo Charles. Everyone remembers that game and that highlight.
What they may not remember is that the Wolfpack were taken to double-overtime by Pepperdine in the first round, and they needed to rally in regulation and the first extra frame just to have a chance to win at the end.
This is one of college basketball’s great ‘what ifs?’
For my money, Harold Arceneaux will forever be the name etched in my mind as the greatest underdog performer in NCAA tournament history.
‘The Show’ scored 36 points in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, leading 14-seed Weber State to a win over 3-seed North Carolina.
THE BUZZER BEATER PORTION OF THE PROGRAMMING
This is hardly a complete and definitive list of the best buzzer beaters from the first round of the NCAA tournament, but it is a few of my absolute favorites.
Let’s start with the classic: Bryce Drew and Valpo beating Ole Miss by going the length of the court in 2.5 seconds:
Or what about when Northwestern State beat Iowa and the announcers didn’t know who hit the game-winning shot?
Or Drew Nicolas beating UNC Wilmington before disappearing down the tunnel?
Since we’re talking about UNC Wilmington, how about this dunk?
But I think easily the wildest, craziest, maddest end to a first round NCAA tournament game came in 2016, when Northern Iowa and Texas did this: