This NCAA tournament could use a dose of madness to spice things up

This NCAA tournament could use a dose of madness to spice things up
Southern Methodist forward Semi Ojeleye sits on the floor as USC celebrates following their first-round game of the NCAA tournament on March 17. (Sue Ogrocki / Associated Press)

The first few days of March Madness were missing a little something.

Namely, the madness.


In a sporting event know for its unpredictability — and in a season when the field was supposed to be wide open — there were no real shockers through the first round.

But maybe, just maybe, the 2017 NCAA tournament was saving up for the weekend.

Eleventh-seeded Xavier could turn things around by knocking off third-seeded Florida State. Or it could be seventh-seeded Michigan continuing its hot streak against second-seeded Louisville.

Don't look past eighth-seeded Wisconsin against Villanova, the overall No. 1. All week long, senior Nigel Hayes has warned his teammates about the pain of losing at this point of the season.

Teams "have to be willing to die for the opportunity to play in a national championship," he said, adding: "I know it may sound extreme."

Lord knows this tournament could use a dose of extreme.

There were some close games and some favorites who looked less-than-dazzling as they advanced to the second round.

But, in all, 17 of the higher seeds won the first 19 games of first-round play. And the few upsets weren't exactly earth-shattering.

Middle Tennessee's win over Minnesota? That 5-12 upset had been widely predicted.

The success of No. 11 seeds such as Xavier and Rhode Island? Eleventh seeds have made a habit of punishing No. 6 teams in recent seasons.

USC's last-second win over Southern Methodist also had some historical precedent. Teams that started in a "First Four" play-in game have now reached the round of 32 in seven consecutive years.

"I mean, we watched them play Providence," SMU forward Semi Ojeleye said of the Trojans. "They're a team that doesn't quit."

Underdogs are a big part of the reason we love this tournament. Each spring, college basketball gives us a chance to see the little guy prevail in a one-game, do-or-die scenario.

Heading into the second round Saturday, much of that hope rests with the Big Ten Conference.


As Wisconsin and Michigan look to defeat favored opponents, Northwestern will try to extend its fairy-tale run against No. 1-seeded Gonzaga.

The Wildcats — qualifying for their first tournament in school history — played before a raucous crowd in Salt Lake City when they got past Vanderbilt. Expect more of the same Saturday.

"Like they travel with their own arena," Gonzaga guard Silas Melson said.

In other promising matchups, Middle Tennessee will try to continue its run with hopes of establishing itself as the new face of the mid-majors. To do that, they'll have to beat one of the old faces — Butler.

"We embrace that role of being where they were a couple of years ago and being in that smaller conference and kind of shocking the world or having a lot of upsets in our background," forward Reggie Upshaw said.

Seventh-seeded St. Mary's against second-seeded Arizona could be interesting. If No. 5 Virginia gets past No. 4 Florida, it figures to be a low-scoring affair between two solid defensive squads.

But of all of the potential upset games, Villanova and Wisconsin might be the most intriguing.

The Badgers know how to win at this time of year, reaching the Sweet 16 in each of the past three tournaments. Along the way, they defeated top-seeded Arizona in 2014 and unbeaten Kentucky in the 2015 Final Four.

There's a reason Villanova guard Josh Hart calls them "very dangerous."

And the Wildcats' coach, Jay Wright, knows surprises lurk around every turn in March.

"Everywhere in this tournament," he said, "teams that know how to win."

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