N.C.A.A. Men’s Tournament: No. 1 Xavier Falls in Night of Upsets

Florida State’s players were so jubilant they didn’t quite know where to go, so they ran up into the stands to shake hands with whomever they might find. The program had never beaten a No. 1 seed in the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament before.

But Sunday was a feeding frenzy for the underdogs in this epic tournament as five top seeds went down one after the next.

Xavier, in the West region, became the second No. 1 seed to lose before the Round of 16 this year — the first time that’s happened since 2004. The Musketeers joined Virginia, which was the first top seed to ever lose to No. 16 seed, falling to Maryland-Baltimore County on Friday.

That loss seemed to jolt the bracket. But Sunday made a total mess of it.

No. 2 seeds Cincinnati and North Carolina were eliminated, as were Michigan State, the No. 3 in the Midwest Region, and Auburn, the No. 4 in the Midwest.

Xavier had a 12-point lead with 10 minutes 15 seconds to play, and a 7-point advantage with 5:30 remaining. But the ninth-seeded Seminoles closed the game with an 18-4 run in a 75-70 victory.

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Down by 3 with seven seconds left, the Musketeers got an open look for Kerem Kanter, a 6-foot-10 center, who attempted a 3-pointer from the top of the key and airballed. They would hit just one shot from beyond the arc in the second half and had more turnovers (six) than points (four) in the final 5:30.

Earlier, the other team from Cincinnati experienced a similar fate. The Bearcats, the No. 2 seed in the South, had a 22-point lead with 10 minutes to play against No. 7 Nevada, but the second-best defense in the country could not get stops late against the Wolf Pack, who pulled off the second-largest comeback in tournament history.

Equally surprising was the performance from No. 11 Syracuse, the last team chosen by the tournament selection committee to enter the field of 68. It was their third game in five days, they had only seven scholarship players, and they were battling in an arena filled to the rafters with the green-and-white colors of their opponent.

But the players for Syracuse had already shown that they belonged in the tournament on Wednesday vs. Arizona State. On Friday vs. Texas Christian, it looked as if they had been, perhaps, a bit overlooked.

And on Sunday, with a stunning 55-53 upset over No. 3 Michigan State, the Orange officially crashed the Big Dance.

Their style won’t inspire poetry, but it has proved effective at disrupting and disarming opponents, and even belying the statistics that normally augur success in this tournament. The Spartans out-rebounded the Orange on the offensive glass, by a staggering 29-7 margin, but, despite all those second-chance opportunities, Michigan State managed a meager 17 field goals all game.

Syracuse made even fewer, only 15. The team is Coach Jim Boeheim’s worst offensive squad in recent memory and practically an affront to the modern game predicated on spreading the floor, moving the pace, driving and dishing for deep open shots.

So what? The Orange keep winning.

It helped that Michigan State missed its last 14 shots. Down by 3 with the ball and 7.8 seconds remaining, Boeheim elected to foul the Spartans’ sharpshooter, Matt McQuade, before he could get a shot up. He would do the same to Cassius Winston with 3.7 seconds remaining.

By making the game essentially a free-throw contest, Syracuse was hoping the Spartans would not come up with any miraculous shots. That gamble paid off. After Paschal Chukwu missed one of his two free throws with 2.4 seconds remaining, Winston had a chance for a half-court buzzer-beater, but it sailed too far left.

For the game, the Spartans went 21.6 percent from 3-point range. More than half their shot attempts were from beyond the arc. Those were the looks that Syracuse’s 2-3 zone would allow.

A balanced team, Michigan State was seen by many as a national title contender. Playing in Detroit, just an hour from Michigan State’s campus, the Spartans had an arena filled with fans eager to see them advance to a Round of 16 matchup with No. 2 seed Duke.

It has been a tumultuous year for the university and the program. The school’s president and athletic director both left in the fallout over its handling of Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, the former university doctor who is serving the first of several lengthy sentences for multiple sex crimes against young athletes, particularly gymnasts.

Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo was also accused of not properly handling multiple cases of sexual assault involving his players in the past. He has said only that he is cooperating with any investigations.

Instead of the Spartans, Syracuse will face Duke in Omaha next weekend. The Orange were forced to play in Dayton, Ohio, in one of the First Four games on Wednesday.

After beating Arizona State in that game, the Orange held T.C.U. to a season-low in points in a win Friday night. All the while, the Orange remain the only team to win a game in this tournament without scoring more than 60 points. They have now done it three times in a row.

Source : NyTimes

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