No.14 Georgia State and UAB, just a few parts of the wildness that took place on the first weekend of March Madness
It was a wild first four days at this year’s NCAA March Madness tournament, with some of the biggest upsets and bracket busters beginning right from the get-go. As it does every year, the tournament began with 64 collegiate teams from across the United States, splitting into four conferences of 16, based on their success over the course of the season. It takes six straight wins to bring home a national championship, but just one loss and your school’s season is over.
The tournament opened with a bang on Mar. 19, as No. 3 Baylor took on No. 13 Georgia State in a wild affair in Jacksonville, FL. With less than three minutes to go in the game, Georgia State trailed by 12 points. Georgia State guard RJ Hunter, son of Head Coach Ron Hunter, began to make a run and cut the Baylor lead all the way down to two with 10.9 seconds left. Baylor’s Kenny Chery, who had made 35 of his last 38 free throws, had a chance to ice the game at the line in a one-and-one situation. He missed his lone free throw and RJ Hunter charged back down the court to hit a three-pointer from about eight feet behind the line with 2.6 seconds, as Georgia State pulled off the massive early upset over Baylor 57-56.
“That’s backyard stuff with pops right there,” RJ said. “For me to do that on a big stage is definitely a blessing. I was numb, but I knew it was money as soon as I let it go.”
Ron Hunter’s reaction to his son’s infamous game winning shot has gone viral on social media ever since. Ron was coaching the game from the sidelines on a stool on wheels, because he had broken his achilles while celebrating their win at the Sun Belt Championship, which got them into the Madness tournament. When RJ scored the winning bucket, Ron went flying off his chair, cracking the cast on his left foot, as he lay on the ground in tears of joy.
“He’s always dreamed about making that last shot,” Ron said. “I knew he was going to make it.”
RJ Hunter has now moved up in the rankings for this year’s NBA draft, and the Toronto Raptors could be the future destination for the 21-year-old.
Only a half hour after the wild scene took place in Jacksonville, about 1200 kilometres north in Louisville, KT SMU went toe-to-toe against UCLA. This game was another nail-bitter, but ended in huge controversy. With 10 seconds remaining in the game, SMU was leading by two, UCLA’s Bryce Alford put up a long range three-pointer that was caught just in front of the rim by an SMU defender. The officials called a stoppage to the play and ruled that the SMU defender, Yanick Moreria caught the ball while the ball was over the cylinder of the basket, thus creating a goaltending violation. With that basket, UCLA won the game by one point. It’s a game that people continue to talk about days after, but it’s a simple judgment call by a referee without video review.
Sticking with the city of Louisville, another No. 14 UAB took on No. 3 Iowa State. Ever since the midway point of the first half, UAB controlled the momentum of the game and pulled off another early upset 60-59. Iowa State, who plays in one of the toughest conferences in all of America, the Big 12, had a record of 25-9 this year, but came out with a very sloppy performance. UAB took advantage of 11 Iowa State turnovers and held onto the lead throughout the entire second half. UAB is a team that not many people would have heard of before they pulled this upset. The furthest they’ve ever gotten in the tournament was to the Elite Eight, but that was back in 1982. They posted a record of 20-16 in the C-USA conference (which doesn’t involve any IVY league schools), and just squeaked into the tournament this year. Iowa State did make a comeback against UAB towards the end, eventually cutting the UAB lead to just one, but it was too little, too late. UAB lost in the second round of the tournament on Mar. 21 to UCLA, and have been eliminated.
When it comes to the favourites, No. 1 Duke and Kentucky cruised their way into the Sweet 16. The first No. 1 to be upset was Villanova, who lost to NC State, but this wasn’t a huge surprise to some, as Villanova has been one of the most inconsistent teams all year long. The lowest seed remaining is UCLA, ranked 11. As well, No. 4 Louisville is matched up against No. 8 NC State in the Sweet 16, so it is guaranteed that one of those teams will make it into the Elite Eight.
After four days of Madness, the tournament has been cut from 64 teams down to the sweet 16, which will turn into the Final Four after games that take place from Mar. 26-29. The tournament will conclude in front over of 80,000 screaming fans at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL) on Mon Apr. 6 where the NCAA’s greatest prize will be presented, the national championship trophy. 38 of the projected 60 players that will be drafted to the NBA in June 2015 participated in this year’s NCAA tournament. The future talent of basketball is bright.