The 2015-16 College Basketball regular season was so unpredictable, and the first weekend of this year’s NCAA Tournament delivered its fair share of insane upsets, unbelievable collapses, and amazing games. The second and third weekends were slightly less exciting, but this did not deter viewers from watching the Villanova Wildcats win a thrilling National Championship game last week. Now that March Madness is over, it is time to distract you from your busted bracket and reflect on the NCAA Tournament.
Most Underwhelming Team: Michigan State Spartans
On Selection Sunday, many college basketball fans, including myself, were shocked when Michigan State received only a 2-seed. The Spartans were winners of 9 straight, possessed a 29-5 record, and had just topped Purdue to win the Big Ten conference tournament. As a result, many believed that the Spartans were capable of winning the National Championship, despite the fact that they were not given a 1-seed. However, Michigan State flopped in the tournament when they fell to 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee in the first round. “Sparty” allowed an uncharacteristic 90 points against the Blue Raiders, and their offense simply could not keep up with Middle Tennessee’s 11 three-pointers. Since many fans believed that the Spartans were legitimate title contenders, Michigan State’s failure to progress past the first round makes them the most underwhelming team in this year’s tournament.
Best Game: Villanova Wildcats vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (National Championship)
This was the best National Championship game that I have ever watched, and no other game in this year’s tournament was as exciting and riveting from the tip to the final horn as this matchup. It was a classic back-and-forth, well-played affair that displayed a striking resemblance to the Duke-Kentucky 1992 Elite Eight game. At the end of that historic matchup, which many consider the best game start-to-finish in tournament history, Christian Laettner hit perhaps the most iconic buzzer-beating shot in college basketball history to help the Blue Devils book a trip to the Final Four. In this year’s National Championship game, the teams remained just a few points apart during the entire first half and traded momentum in the second half, with Villanova stretching a lead to ten points with around five-and-a-half minutes to play. However, North Carolina stormed back and with the lead down to just three points, Tar Heel guard Marcus Paige hit an insane three-pointer while adjusting his body in mid-air to tie the game at 74 apiece. Just when most people thought the game would go into overtime, Villanova guard Kris Jenkins nailed the biggest three pointer of his life at the buzzer to win the National Championship for his school, producing a crazy end to a chaotic season. Jenkins will see this shot replayed every year during future March Madness footage, side-by-side in history with Laettner’s miracle game-ender.
Worst Collapse: Northern Iowa Panthers (Second Round against Texas A&M)
Northern Iowa had this game wrapped up. The Panthers held a 12-point lead with 44 seconds remaining, and a Sweet 16 berth was all but guaranteed. However, Coach Ben Jacobson’s team committed four turnovers in the last thirty seconds, and they allowed Texas A&M to tie the game just before the end of regulation. Not surprisingly, the Aggies outlasted the foul-plagued Panthers in double overtime, and some fans immediately believed that this A&M victory was the best comeback win in college basketball history. However, I am calling this category “Worst Collapse” because Northern Iowa practically gifted this comeback to Texas A&M by playing so poorly in those final 44 seconds of regulation. Now, don’t interpret this statement the wrong way; Texas A&M deserves full credit for not giving up, regardless of their massive deficit. I just believe that a team has no excuse for blowing a double-digit lead with under two minutes to go, let alone 44 seconds. This epic failure to protect a lead will surely go down as one of the worst collapses in college basketball history. I am sure the A&M fans that left this game early in order to beat the traffic home will be kicking themselves for years to come.
Best Team: Villanova Wildcats
I’m not saying that Villanova was the best team during the regular season, but I believe that they were the best team over the course of the entire tournament. The Wildcats six-game average margin of victory was almost 21 points, and they knocked off some of America’s best teams in the process. The Wildcats topped four top-15 opponents in the span of a week: Miami, Kansas, Oklahoma, and North Carolina. Villanova was also the most well rounded unit during the tournament; they scored approximately 83.5 points in each matchup and limited opposing offenses to a meager 62.8 points per game. Despite losing a double-digit lead over the final minutes of the finale, Villanova did not fold and instead drew up the perfect buzzer beater to cement their legacy. No other team achieved all of these feats, and Villanova has a National Championship trophy to prove their dominance.
Most Surprising Team: Syracuse Orange
Where do I start? Nobody expected the 10th-seeded Orange, a group that many thought should be left out of the tournament entirely, to reach the Final Four. Most people had Syracuse exiting the tournament at the hands of Dayton or Michigan State in the first weekend. However, Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, and company cruised to victory over the Flyers, and then capitalized on Michigan State’s upset loss to reach the Sweet 16. The Orange played Gonzaga in the Midwest Regional Semifinal and needed a very late comeback to top the 11th-seeded Bulldogs in order to reach the Elite Eight. At this point, the Orange had put together a nice little run, but they had hit a major roadblock: Top-seeded Virginia. The Cavaliers held a 16-point lead early in the second half, and the Orange looked destined for elimination. However, Malachi Richardson led another frantic, full-court-pressing Syracuse comeback effort to help the Orange reach the Final Four. Jim Boeheim’s squad was only the fourth double-digit seed to reach college basketball’s ultimate weekend. While North Carolina did beat Syracuse without much trouble in the National Semifinal, the Orange successfully ruined millions of brackets across the country and became the tournament’s biggest surprise.