Between the preseason poll and the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend, there were seven different No. 1 teams on top of the AP poll. No team held the top spot for more than three weeks at a time.
This sense of parity amongst top programs marked a change from the recent past, where office pools saw clear favorites occupying the most lines on your bracket.
Parity or not, this first weekend of the NCAA tournament was nothing short of special. Nine — count them nine — double-digit seeds won a game (most since 2012), and for the first time in NCAA tournament history a 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15-seed all won their first round game in the same year.
While the second round balanced the scales a bit, the first weekend was as epic as the NCAA could have hoped.
However, before you dig in to watch the 15 remaining games of the tourney let’s rank the first 48. No, no one was murdered — perhaps except for your bracket.
Which games were barn burners? Which games made Downton Abbey look like Homeland?
For these rankings I looked at three things: (1) the overall back and forth of the game rather than just the actual score, (2) the impact it had on the tournament field or at least how memorable it was, and (3) what every game is remembered for in March – the ending.
1 – Tie (11) Northern Iowa 75 v. (6) Texas 72 – First Round
UNREAL: Texas ties game with 2 seconds left, Northern Iowa hits half-court buzzer beater FOR THE WIN
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) March 19, 2016
1- Tie (11) Northern Iowa 88 v. (3) Texas A&M 92 (2OT) – Second Round
When you take Northern Iowa’s entire body of a season into account it’s really an incredible feat they accomplished. The Panthers finished their season winning 12 of 13 games, including a buzzer beater to win the Missouri Valley Conference tourney.
Perhaps it’s a cop-out to have a tie for first place, but I almost feel the two games played by Northern Iowa are indistinguishable in how good they were, and therefore, should not be separated. One thing is certain no team felt a greater high (Friday) and a greater low (Sunday) than the Northern Iowa Panthers locker room.
I wasn’t there but I assume it has to be the steepest roller coaster of emotional highs and lows experience in a tournament.
I just have to hope that this Panthers squad is remembered more for Paul Jesperson’s heroics against Texas rather than their full system collapse against Texas A&M.
3. (9) Cincinnati 76 v. (8) St. Joseph’s 78 – First Round
Texas-Northern Iowa was No. 1, the game that ended about three minutes and 15 seconds later is right behind it. As only an 8-9 matchup truly can, this game gave us 15 lead changes and a game winning shot that resulted in celebration for the other team by the slimmest of margins.
A cruel joke on a Cincinnati team that lost its last two games in heartbreaking fashion. Brutal.
4. (14) SF Austin 75 v. (6) Notre Dame 76 – Second Round
This game was back and forth until the final seconds, but more than others ended in a bit of dissension.
Most would argue the final minute or two of this game was a great big ref show.
Up by three with just over a minute left SF Austin’s Clide Geffrard looked to pull in a huge offensive rebound, but the refs saw it the other way. No question there was contact on the play. Was it a foul? Probably not, but I’m sure Irish fans can argue it was.
The Irish hit two free throws, got a stop, and then played volleyball for the final six seconds of the game until Rex Pflueger tapped in the game-winning bucket with just a second to go.
5. (7) Wisconsin 66 v. (2) Xavier 63 – Second Round
If Northern Iowa produced the No. 1 meltdown of the tournament, Xavier produced No. 2. And they came within minutes of each other.
After Wisconsin tied the game at 63, Xavier had a chance to win the game. Offensive foul, ball back to Wisconsin.
With about three seconds to go, Bronson Koenig comes off a down screen, gets the inbounds pass in stride and nails a fall away three at the buzzer. It was good the moment it left his hands.
Unlike Cincinnati, crosstown rival Xavier had realistic national championship aspirations. Heartbreak city.
6. (10) Temple 70 v. (7) Iowa 72 (OT) – first round
A lay in, off an offensive rebound, at the buzzer sent the Hawkeyes to the second round and saved Iowa from what would have been a heartbreaker. We’ll ignore the blatant two arm shiver to the back that cleared the way.
7. (12) Arkansas-Little Rock 85 v. (5) Purdue 83 – First Round
The first collapse of the tournament came at the expense of Purdue who was up by 14 with four minutes to go. Purdue had a chance to win it in the first overtime. Purdue even had a chance to win in the second overtime. But they couldn’t and it was a lost season for a very talented team.
8. (9) Providence 70 v. (8) USC 69 – First Round
With three seconds to go, down one, Providence inbounded the ball on the baseline. USC forgot about the Friars’ Rodney Bullock who jumped free right underneath the basket. He laid it in for the win after USC’s desperation heave fell short.
It was not a buzzer beater but felt like one.
9. (15) Middle Tennessee State 90 v. (2) Michigan State 81 – First Round
It was the biggest upset of the tournament and almost unthinkable for a Tom Izzo team of this caliber to lose to a 15-seed. Watching this game I kept thinking Spartans would come back to life and pull away. They brought the game within one point with 3:30 to go, but could never retake the lead.
Nine out of ten times Michigan State wins this game in double digits, but this was the tenth game.
10. (5) Indiana 73 v. (4) Kentucky 67 – Second Round
Yeah, Indiana was impressive in this one despite Tyler Ulis’ best efforts.
11. (10) VCU 81 v. (2) Oklahoma 85 – Second Round
Buddy Hield showed why he is projected as a lottery pick. He put up 36 points and scored 10 of the Sooner’s last 11 points to edge out a tough VCU team in Oklahoma City.
12. (11) Michigan 63 v. (6) Notre Dame 70 – First Round
The game was much closer than the seven-point difference it ended with. But it was a game of runs and Notre Dame made the important one when it mattered.
13. (12) Yale 79 v. (5) Baylor 75 – First Round
It was Yale’s first appearance since 1962 and first NCAA tournament game victory. Oh, and of course, we will never forget that Yale out-rebounded Baylor.
14. (9) St. Joseph’s 64 v. (1) Oregon 69 – Second Round
St. Joe’s had this game in hand with less than a minute and a half on the clock. But the star power of the Ducks hit big shots down the stretch and the Hawks turned the ball over twice to seal it.
15. (11) Wichita State 57 v. (3) Miami 65 – Second Round
Down 21 points in the first half, Wichita State showed why they’re one of the most respected programs in the country. Miami ultimately held on, but this game went from dud to classic very quickly.
16. (10) Pittsburgh 47 v. (7) Wisconsin 43 – First Round
Wait, Dave, how can a game with a combined score of 90 and 34.8 percent shooting even be in the top half of this list?
Despite the low score, this game still had a great ending. Survive and advance and that’s what Wisconsin did.
17. (12) South Dakota State 74 v. (5) Maryland 79 – First Round
Maryland almost pooped their pants big time, squandering a 17-point second-half lead by committing two unforgivable basketball sins.
18. (12) Yale 64 v. (4) Duke 71 – Second Round
Like Wichita, Yale was down 27 in the first half and stormed back. Coach K magic took control and Duke prevailed.
19. (9) Butler 69 v. (1) Virginia 77 – Second Round
Butler took the lead into the half, but Virginia jumped out in front with 10:30 to go and never fell behind again. Butler still made things interesting in the closing minute.
20. (10) VCU 75 v. (7) Oregon State 67- First Round
The game was tied with eight minutes to go, but VCU finished the game on a 21-11 run over the last six minutes to advance to the second round.
21. (9) UConn 74 v. (8) Colorado 67 – First Round
Colorado was up by nine in the second half. UConn took the lead and led the rest of the way. With under a minute to play Colorado was within three points but turned the ball over.
22. (14) Buffalo 72 v. (3) Miami 79 – First Round
Buffalo only trailed by two at the half, and despite trailing for much of the second half, cut it the Hurricane lead to four with under two minutes to play. However, the Bulls could never bridge the gap.
23. (13) UNC Wilmington 85 v. (4) Duke 93 – First Round
Duke’s big three were impressive as they combined for 66 points and 27 rebounds. UNC Wilmington made it interesting and gave Duke Haters something to get excited about, but that excitement ended.
24. (16) Florida Gulf Coast 67 v. (1) UNC 83 – First Round
We play this game every year, a 16-seed beating a 1-seed in our dreamscape of bracket busting. FGCU tried. FGCU failed.