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NCAA Tournament: Sweet Sixteen Staff Roundtable discussion

Our Staff gives our thoughts on the first weekend of the tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Cincinnati Bearcats vs Nevada Wolf Pack Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

With the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the books, we still have a healthy dose of mid-major action left to go. Nevada, Loyola Chicago and Gonzaga all moved on to the second weekend and have legitimate chances to make the Final Four.

We’ll have plenty of time to analyze matchups and how teams can continue to advance, but here are our staffs thoughts on the best moments from the first weekend.

What was your favorite game of the first weekend?

Mitchell Northam: This is going to be a popular choice, but it has to be UMBC beating Virginia. The Retrievers pulled off the impossible. Jairus Lyles was unstoppable. Joe Sherburne had a moment. K.J. Maura hounded the Cavaliers on defense. We’ll remember this game forever. What I’ll remember is sad Virginia fans trying to sell their tickets to Sunday’s game in the concourse of the Spectrum Center. (Runner-Up: The overtime of that Nevada-Texas game was really fun.)

Kyle Cajero: I’m still kicking myself for momentarily stepping away from the Cincinnati-Nevada game with 14 minutes to play. Watching role players Kendall Stephens and Josh Hall step up was really special — especially considering the injury troubles Nevada has faced this year, and the fact that both players have been overshadowed by the Martin twins and Jordan Caroline. I would feel bad for Cincinnati — and especially Mick Cronin, who was having quite a moment on the sidelines — but that second-half meltdown was tremendous content.

Chris Schutte: There have certainly been better games, but it’s hard not to pick UMBC over Virginia. The Tournament is at its best when it gives us moments that we’ll never forget. It came at the perfect time too. It came late on Friday night, and my Twitter timeline gradually progressed from “hey, UMBC is hanging around” to “wait they might actually Do It” to “oh my god it’s actually happening”. Even people who don’t traditionally pay attention to college basketball were tuning. That’s how big of a moment it was.

Cameron Lopez: UMBC is an obvious pick, but my favorite was Nevada vs Texas. Nevada went over 40 minutes of game time without having a lead, from 18:02 left in the first half until 2:29 in OT. The back and forth between Matt Coleman of Texas and Cody Martin of Nevada in overtime was incredibly fun to watch. Players giving their all with barely anything left by the end of the game, eight players played 40 minutes or more, with Mo Bamba *only* playing 31 minutes due to foul trouble.

Ellie Lieberman: Nothing beats the last ten minutes of Cincinnati-Nevada. Coming back from 22 minutes with that little time is almost unheard of. Every player on Nevada fought their hearts out, so seeing the team effort between the Martins, Jordan Caroline, and Kendall Stephens at the end of the game was quite a pleasure. This game truly sums up what March Madness is all about.

Which player had the best performance?

Mitchell Northam: I’m going to go with 6-foot Buffalo guard Wes Clark. Against two typical college basketball powers - Arizona and Kentucky - the senior scored a total of 41 points. If that wasn’t enough, he also tallied 13 assists and seven rebounds. Buffalo shocked Arizona and hung tough with Kentucky. Clark was a big reason why.

Cameron Lopez: Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura over Ohio State is my choice, he always seems to show up in big games. His three highest point totals are @St Mary’s (21 points), vs St Mary’s (23 points), and this Saturday against Ohio State (25 points). He did it Saturday on 9-11 shooting and made just his 5th three of the year.

Ellie Lieberman: Jon Elmore leading Marshall to a first-round win over Wichita State was nothing short of phenomenal. His stat line of 27 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals doesn’t even do him justice. He was battling Conner Frankamp hard, especially from deep and I loved seeing The Herd end up on top.

Chris Schutte: Jon Elmore dropping bombs on Wichita State like a rec league star was extremely fun to watch. Some of the shots he was hitting were absolutely absurd.

What was the best moment?

Chris Schutte: Eric Musselman is owning this tournament. From dropping F-bombs following the Texas game, to discussing his potential bladder issues at the podium, to ripping his shirt off in the locker room after their monster comeback against Cincinnati, Muss is winning it all.

Mitchell Northam: Dan D’Antoni making a fashion statement after Marshall beat Wichita State.

Also, I cackled when I saw this.

Kyle Cajero: Inject this into my veins:

Ellie Lieberman: Jairus Lyles licking a peanut-butter or cheese Ritz cracker on the bench amidst their demolition of Virginia. He had already achieved legend status with his performance for UMBC, but now he’s cemented himself as one of the greats.

Cameron Lopez: Sister Jean dunking on the media is the best.

Who are you pulling for the rest of the way?

Chris Schutte: I’ve been on the Nevada bandwagon all season and there’s no point in hopping off now. I’m riding with the Wolf Pack. Awouuu (wolf Howl).

Mitchell Northam: Nevada and Loyola Chicago of course, but my grandfather lives near Morgantown, so I’m also pulling for Huggy Bear and Press Virginia. COUNTRY ROADS. TAKE ME HOME.

Ellie Lieberman: Why would I even try to bet against Sister Jean? Loyola-Chicago, all the way. They got the seasoned veteran, Clayton Custer, the ice-in-his-veins newcomer, Donte Ingram, and an entertaining coach in Porter Moser. This team is fun to watch and I don’t want the ride to end soon.

Cameron Lopez: I am a lifelong UK fan *crowd boos* Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m trying to remove it.

Kyle Cajero: Nevada and Gonzaga are 1a) and 1b). A Final Four meeting will be a great prequel to their forthcoming clashes in Mountain West play.

Make one bold prediction for the rest of the tournament.

Kyle Cajero: Gonzaga will make the Final Four. It sounds strange in light of the question marks surrounding this roster coming into the year, but the Zags are one of the deepest, most experienced teams left in the field. Zach Norvell Jr. had a hell of a night against Ohio State in the round of 32, and the upperclassmen tandem of Silas Melson and Josh Perkins can take over games as well. I have a feeling either Killian Tillie or Rui Hachimura are due for a monster game — one that not only carries the Bulldogs ahead in the Tournament, but also showcases their NBA potential.

Mitchell Northam: A mid-major other than Gonzaga will make the Final Four. I wasn’t really impressed by Kansas State or Kentucky. K-State played an uninspiring brand of basketball in Charlotte, getting by Creighton and a UMBC squad that couldn’t buy a three-pointer. Kentucky is super young. They can get got. I think Nevada or Loyola Chicago comes out of Atlanta.

Cameron Lopez: The big surprise of the rest of the tournament is that it will be almost chalk the rest of the way and Kentucky ends up winning it all. Calipari always has his players playing their best in March, and this year is no different. Also the Road to the Final FourTM has opened up beautifully for them.

Ellie Lieberman: Texas A&M slides into the Final Four. Put all the early season turmoil aside, and the Aggies are a very good basketball team. They’ve beaten two solid contenders already in Providence and UNC and I think their size will overwhelm Mo Wagner in the paint. The Aggies have three players over 6’9 who bring the intensity in the paint and average at least 10 points per game. With all key players back, the Aggies are balanced and lethal. I can see them getting by Michigan and likely Gonzaga.

Chris Schutte: The winner of Nevada and Loyola Chicago will play for the national championship. 2018 IS OUR YEAR.

Most importantly, how is your bracket?

Kyle Cajero: Anyone who cares about their bracket at this stage of the tournament is a cop.

Chris Schutte: dumpsterfire.gif

Mitchell Northam: We don’t need to talk about it.

Cameron Lopez: Around how Auburn played against Clemson levels of bad.

Ellie Lieberman: Destroyed, but who cares. March is about ruining brackets.