Wednesday, March 19, 2008

This is why we love March

I hope everyone is having a productive afternoon, because you should have already cleared your schedule for the next two days. Sure the Final Four is great, but the real charm of this tournament is the first round. Forget for a moment that the selection committee is conspiring against mid-majors everywhere, this Thursday in March is still the best day of the year. As anticipation mounts on Tournament Eve, we here at the Sports VU would like to pay homage to the moments that have helped shape our obsession by remembering our own favorite first round upsets:

#13 UNC-Wilmington over #4 USC: 2002 (Andrew Barge)

The UNCW faithful will never forget the 2,800 miles they trekked to Sacramento to watch their Seahawks pull off this first round upset. After starting fast and extending the lead to as many as 19 during the second half, USC fights back with a furious 31-12 run and gets an unforgettable tying three in the closing seconds. UNCW edging USC 93-89 in OT was incredible, making this the best opening round game I've ever seen. If you don't believe me (or divine intervention, for that matter), watch Stewart Hare's game deciding dunk.

#13 Vermont over #4 Syracuse: 2005 (Eric Silver)

What I remember most about Vermont's shocking 60-57 upset of 4 seed Syracuse is that "Why the hell did he jack that shot up"desperation heave by Catamount guard T.J. Sorrentine in overtime that found a way to drop. It shouldn't be that surprising though, as just about everything seemed to fall right into place that day for Tom Brennan's Catamounts. Perhaps more shocking than a team named the Catamounts winning an NCAA tournament game is the way they did it. Senior Germain Mopa Njila, who had never averaged more than 6.2 points a season, dropped a career-high 20 points as all five starters played FORTY minutes or more.

#14 Northwestern St. over #3 Iowa: 2006 (Jarred Amato)

As soon as Jermaine Wallace's fadeaway 3-pointer from the corner went through the net, I remember screaming and running down the hall in my dorm room as if I were a member of the little Northwestern State team that had just beaten third-seeded Iowa 64-63.Trailing by 17 points with 8 1/2 minutes left, the 14th-seeded Demons came all the way back to complete one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.After Hawkeye Greg Brunner made one of two foul shots with 14.6 seconds left, the Demons raced down court and missed a shot. Wallace corralled the rebound and as he was falling out of bounds, buried the game-winner with 0.5 seconds to go. March Madness at its finest.

#13 Valparaiso over #4 Ole Miss: 1998 (Greg Viverito)

Ole Miss' Ansu Sesay's two missed free throws set the stage for what has know widely become known as simply "the shot". With 2.5 seconds left, Bryce Drew took a mid-air pass and hit this off balance three at the buzzer for Valparaiso's 70-69 win. In doing so, Drew became the standard against which all first round upsets are now measured, and also secured his place in Valparaiso, Indiana history as the second greatest celebrity of all-time behind Orville Redenbacher. Skip to the 2:15 mark to see the shot itself...

#15 Hampton over #2 Iowa State: 2001 (Aram Hanessian)

In what may be the biggest first round upset, Hampton's stunning victory is preserved by an image we’ll never forget; Hampton reserve David Johnson carrying coach Steve Merfield around the court as Merfield pumped his arms and legs. This image of an elated Merfield tends to overshadow how great a game it was. Iowa St. (featuring future NBA starter Jamaal Tinsley and ESPN blogger and part-time basketball player Paul Shirley) failed to score in the last seven minutes of the game as Hampton overcame a nine-point deficit, and sent coach Larry Eustachy's career into a downward spiral of chasing college coeds.

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