clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Winners and Losers of the Second Round of March Madness

The Peacocks are here to stay. The defending champs are going home. And the most outrageous sequence in NCAA tournament history is ready to be parsed. Let’s break it all down.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

Who shined the most in the second round of March Madness? Who fell short? Let’s dive into a special edition of Winners and Losers.

Winner: 14 Seconds of Madness

Sometimes we’ll say that a March Madness ending is wild, and it’s, like, a play where a guy hits a 3-pointer. College basketball fans are still freaking out about the time that Gordon Hayward almost made a buzzer-beater 12 years ago. We can overhype things.

So I need you to watch the ending of regulation in Sunday’s matchup between top-seeded Arizona and ninth-seeded TCU, which was perhaps the maddest in the history of March. First, Wildcats star Bennedict Mathurin drilled a 3-pointer from the logo to tie the game at 75 with 14 seconds to go. (Yes, it’s an extremely large logo, eating up roughly 25 percent of the court—we’re still counting it as “from the logo.”)

After that, competence completely left the building. Everybody screwed up to varying degrees in regulation’s final 14 seconds. Let me attempt to sum up everything that happens in this sequence:

  • TCU has the ball in a tie game with under 14 seconds to go. The ball is in the hands of point guard Mike Miles Jr., who is in a lot of trouble, as he’s stuck in a double-team roughly 40 feet from the hoop. He tries to get around 7-foot-1 Arizona center Christian Koloko, but the nimble big hounds him all the way to the sideline. When Miles turns around, the 6-foot-7 Dalen Terry is there waiting for him. Miles is now trapped by two large, long-armed men. Luckily, TCU has a timeout.
  • Miles doesn’t call the timeout. Instead, he spins toward the sideline and half court. There are now 4.5 seconds left on the game clock, and he is moving farther from the hoop. If he steps in one direction, he’ll go out of bounds; if he steps in the other, he’ll commit a backcourt violation. I want to scream this: TCU still has a timeout.
  • Somehow, Miles gets an angle on Terry, who essentially tackles the TCU guard to the ground. Miles loses possession, sending the ball skittering free into the backcourt.
  • The referees do not call a foul on Terry for tackling Miles, even though tackling is not allowed in basketball.
  • In the process of being tackled, Miles also crosses the midcourt line with the basketball. If there was no foul, then Miles surely committed a backcourt violation. But remember: Competence has left the building. The officials also do not call a backcourt violation.
  • For some reason, the clock stops briefly at 2.2 seconds. Obviously, the clock on the TV broadcast is unofficial—but we can also see the official game clock on top of the basket stop. It’s unclear why this happened; the clock stops via an automated system controlled by officials’ whistles, and there was no whistle on this play. However, it stops at almost exactly the same moment as the uncalled foul or backcourt violation. It sure feels like someone stopped it in anticipation of a call being made.
  • Terry scoops up the ball. The game is tied, and there is nobody standing between him and the basket. He sprints toward the hoop and throws down a dunk.
  • The dunk is too late. The buzzer buzzed while Terry was dunking. A layup could have won the game; the extra time required to dunk sent this contest into overtime. Terry sprints down the court to celebrate his basket while his Arizona teammates cringe in horror as they realize the win has slipped through their hands.

This was a Matryoshka doll of basketball confusion. Miles made a series of increasingly poor decisions with the basketball, but he probably got fouled, or committed a backcourt violation, both of which the officials ignored. Terry should have realized he needed to lay the ball in to beat the clock, but even if he had, the temporary clock stoppage meant that the time listed was likely inaccurate. The refs should have blown the whistle on the play, but instead watched in horror like the rest of us. Somehow, all these failures canceled each other out, resulting in overtime and an 85-80 Arizona win.

These 14 seconds were a perfect encapsulation of the chaos of this tournament. This is not March Competence. It’s the other thing, which is infinitely more fun.

Loser: TCU’s Understanding of Height

To pull off an NCAA tournament upset, underdogs must convince themselves they are the same size as the giants they have to slay. They have to ignore the records, the no. 1 seed next to their opponent’s name, and the fact that virtually everybody expects them to lose. They have to believe that their opponent is beatable.

TCU center Eddie Lampkin Jr. was up to this challenge. Not only did he convince himself that TCU was equal to top-seeded Arizona, but he also apparently convinced himself that the Wildcats player he was matched up against was not big enough to guard him. After scoring on Christian Koloko late in Sunday’s game, Lampkin signaled that Koloko is “too small.”

The “too small” signal has become a trend in NBA games. LeBron James told the world that the shorter Dillon Brooks wasn’t big enough to guard his jumper; LaMelo Ball did the same after muscling past 6-foot-1 point guard Mike Conley; the 6-foot-6 DeMar DeRozan told perennially pesky 6-foot-1 Patrick Beverley that he’s too small. It’s caught on in the NFL too: 6-foot-4 receiver Tim Patrick was penalized in December because he told 6-foot cornerback Trae Waynes he’s too small after a touchdown catch.

Notably, this messaging is generally given from taller people to smaller people. In this case, Lampkin is 6-foot-11; Koloko is 7-foot-1. Lampkin is heavier than Koloko—he’s listed at 268 pounds, while Koloko is listed at 230—but he didn’t do a “too thin” celebration. He expressed that Koloko is too short, when in reality Koloko is massive. After getting an and-1 down the stretch, Lampkin did it again.

This was working. For a while, Lampkin absolutely dominated Arizona in the paint and on the glass, shooting 8-of-9 from the field and finishing with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Arizona had two players defend him, Koloko and Oumar Ballo, both of whom are 7-footers—but in Lampkin’s mind, he was bigger, and he was playing like it. The Horned Frogs weren’t a David slaying a Goliath. They were also a Goliath.

Unfortunately for TCU, the Wildcats realized in overtime that they are, in fact, huge. On the final two possessions of the game, Arizona missed four shots. You’ll notice that’s more shots than possessions. That’s because the Wildcats grabbed offensive rebounds on all four of those misses, scoring on both possessions anyway. On one of these, Kerr Kriisa missed three 3-pointers, but Koloko grabbed two rebounds, then Bennedict Mathurin grabbed a third and finished through contact for an and-1:

And on the next play, Mathurin missed a 3, but Koloko skied over Lampkin with a putback dunk that essentially sealed the Arizona win:

It’s also worth noting that earlier in the game Mathurin victimized Lampkin with one of the most brutal poster dunks in NCAA tournament history:

As it turns out, Arizona was much larger than TCU. After the game, Terry mocked Lampkin by doing the “too small” celebration and hoisting a big “L” for the camera before dipping into the handshake line:

Lampkin won my fandom for his efforts in this game, but his belief that he is larger than Arizona’s players turned out to be untrue. Sometimes the giants win in March, even if their opponents convince themselves they’re the right size for the fight.

Winner: The Strutting Peacocks

In March Madness, the games are supposed to get harder the further that teams advance. As the rounds go on, the good teams survive and the bad ones go home, leaving just the best of the best. It’s like any tournament from a sports movie: The protagonist takes out rando after rando until facing the villain in the finals.

There is only one way to avoid this: be a Peacock. No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s permanently entered the college basketball lexicon on Thursday by knocking off second-seeded Kentucky, a team many expected to make the Final Four. Saint Peter’s had to scratch and claw for that 85-79 win, rallying from a six-point deficit with four minutes to go, forcing overtime, and hitting a series of improbable 3-pointers to pull out the victory.

And although tournaments are generally structured to get harder the further that teams go, that’s not how it works for those that pull off a historic upset in the first round. After beating Kentucky, the Peacocks faced no. 7 seed Murray State—a good team, but not Kentucky good. Saint Peter’s led for the final 25 minutes of that contest and won 70-60:

Against Kentucky, Saint Peter’s was physically outmatched. The Peacocks had fewer rebounds, blocks, and steals than the Wildcats, but emerged because of an uncharacteristically hot shooting night. Against Murray State, they actually shot poorly—going just 3-of-13 from 3—but played the type of characteristically great defense that got them into the tournament in the first place. Here’s KC Ndefo, who ranks among the top 12 nationally in blocked shots per game, making the play of the game, a chase-down block on a Murray State player who had a solid three or four steps on him to begin the play:

No. 15 seeds have won 10 of the 146 all-time games against no. 2 seeds (6.8 percent) in the men’s NCAA tournament. Of those 10 teams, three (30 percent) have also won in the second round to make the Sweet 16. There’s a bit of selection bias here—these are, after all, the best no. 15 seeds. But the jump from 6.8 percent to 30 percent shows that it’s obviously easier to beat a no. 7 or 10 seed than it is a no. 2 seed. This is the second straight year in which a no. 15 seed has reached the Sweet 16—Oral Roberts did so last year. The Golden Eagles also needed overtime to beat Ohio State, but took down seventh-seeded Florida in regulation.

Now the Peacocks get a week to regroup, reflect on what they’ve done, and move forward. They’re going to an East regional in Philadelphia that features three big-name programs: Purdue, UCLA, and North Carolina. But all of those teams have lower seeds than Kentucky did, and they’re rated lower in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. When you make history, things actually get easier from there.

Loser: Refs

Here it is, the worst call of the men’s tournament. I don’t need to watch the next four rounds to decide. After Illinois guard RJ Melendez slammed home a dunk on Sunday afternoon to cut Houston’s lead to four points, the officials slammed him with a technical foul for hanging on the rim too long:

Melendez clearly wasn’t trying to show up the opposition by hanging on the rim—he was simply trying to avoid being flipped upside down by his body’s momentum. No one interpreted this act as showboating, and no tempers flared. This call was not needed to maintain order. But the official refused to be subjective, issuing the T even though hanging on the rim was necessary for Melendez to prevent injury. In the refs’ eyes, he should have suffered bodily harm to avoid potentially disrespecting his opponent.

This call changed the game. In the final eight minutes of action, Houston extended its lead from four to 16, eventually winning 68-53. Referees were not made available to comment on the technical.

I get that officials need to maintain order during games to keep things from getting out of control. At some point, referees need to be able to penalize players and coaches for taunting. But those calls should be minimized. Things always become stupid when hypothetical acts that could be interpreted as taunting—like hanging from a rim—are forbidden by rule, convincing some officials to make entirely unnecessary calls because the rule book dictates that a specific behavior is inflammatory.

The refs also changed the course of another second-round game. In no. 8 seed North Carolina’s matchup against top-seeded Baylor on Saturday, officials ejected Tar Heels big Brady Manek for what appeared to be an inadvertent elbow. Manek was North Carolina’s leading scorer at the time, with 26 points. He had led the Tar Heels to a 67-42 lead with just over 10 minutes left in regulation. After his ejection, Carolina blew a 25-point lead, although it eventually beat Baylor 93-86 in overtime. Again, this was an instance in which a strict rule against a specific act was applied with no subjectivity. Obviously players shouldn’t be allowed to elbow each other in the head, but Manek wasn’t trying to headshot his opponent.

The game needs better rules, but it also needs refs with common sense. Maybe somebody in a league office would ding these officials if they failed to make these calls, but the whole sport looks bad when referees make unnecessary, season-changing calls that have little to do with the sport.

Winner: One Leaky Moment

Saturday’s North Carolina–Baylor game was a March Madness classic, by which I mean it was one of the most viscerally upsetting games I have ever seen. As I watched it, I was simultaneously entertained and regretful that I had ever learned about the sport of basketball. The Tar Heels cruised to a massive lead midway through the second half, at which point Manek was ejected for a stray elbow. From then on, the combination of a vicious Baylor defense and vicious pro-Baylor refereeing allowed the Bears to get back into the game. I’d say Baylor was responsible for about 17 points in its 25-point comeback, while the refs were responsible for about eight. Both were incredibly impressive performances.

The experience was all worth it, though, because the Bears’ stunning surge forced the game into overtime. And in overtime, North Carolina guard Leaky Black attempted the following pass:

The Tar Heels struggled with Baylor’s pressing and trapping for most of the late stages of the game, and no play better represented that than this work of art. Black saw 6-foot-10 teammate Armando Bacot standing wide open roughly 50 feet away. Somehow, he rocketed a pass that probably would have sailed over Bacot’s head if he were 75 feet away. It had the zip of a Josh Allen touchdown pass and the accuracy of a Nathan Peterman interception. This is what used to happen in NBA Street Vol. 2 if you pressed the button for an alley-oop when none of your virtual teammates were ready to receive one; it happened to Black in the final moments of an equal parts baffling and thrilling NCAA tournament game.

Had Black chucked this pass elsewhere on the court, it would have simply sailed into empty space, like Carlton’s game-winning shot attempt on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. This would have been funny, but it would’ve been forgotten. But Black’s heave hit the backboard, producing a THUNK the likes of which have never been heard on a basketball court. We’ve all seen players shoot bricks; this was a slab of concrete.

The best part? UNC won. After collapsing down the stretch, losing their leading scorer, and having their guard temporarily become possessed by Chuck Knoblauch attempting to get the ball to first base, the Tar Heels pulled away in overtime and won. Sometimes, great March Madness basketball is beautiful. Sometimes, it is the worst pass you’ve ever seen. This is the only play that needs to be featured in this year’s “One Shining Moment” montage.

Loser: Men’s NCAA Tournament Defending Champions

With Saturday’s loss, last season’s national champions are out. A year after winning the title, Baylor got dropped in the second round. No men’s team has won back-to-back titles since 2006-07, when Florida did it. Hopefully Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, and Lee Humphrey are all together popping bottles of champagne.

It’s not just that men’s reigning champs aren’t defending their titles—it’s that they aren’t even coming close. The last five champions have failed to make the next Sweet 16. No reigning champ has reached the Final Four—or even Elite Eight!—since those Florida teams. Defending champions are more likely to miss the next year’s tournament altogether (North Carolina in 2010, Kentucky in 2013, and UConn in 2015) than they are to win the title.

While this may seem like a fluke or a curse, it makes sense given the structure of college basketball. This Baylor team was very different from last season’s squad, as the 2020-21 Bears roster was loaded with seniors. MaCio Teague scored 19 points in the championship win over Gonzaga; Mark Vital led the team in rebounding. On top of that, then-juniors Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler left for the 2021 NBA draft, with Mitchell going ninth to the Kings. The champion Bears were built on experience; this season’s Bears relied on freshmen Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan, as well as transfer James Akinjo. Baylor had the same uniforms and same coach as in 2021, but it wasn’t the same team.

College basketball is made up of players who are, well, in college. This is relevant to the lack of repeat men’s champs, because college-aged men are the least reliable human beings on earth and cannot be counted on to do anything, let alone the same thing twice. Meanwhile, women’s teams regularly repeat as NCAA tournament champs, most recently with UConn’s four-peat from 2013 to 2016. As you might expect, they’re way more reliable than the guys.

Winner: Lauren Jensen

One of the great things about the women’s NCAA tournament is that early-round games are played at the home stadiums of the top-four seeds. I’ve attended men’s tournament games, and the atmosphere varies based on how far the neutral site is from the schools involved. But the women’s games seem raucous, and few have been more raucous than Sunday’s game between second-seeded Iowa and 10th-seeded Creighton. A sellout crowd filled Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the final time this season to cheer on the Big Ten champions and superstar sophomore guard Caitlin Clark.

But the star of the show was actually one of Clark’s backups—from last season. Creighton’s Lauren Jensen played for Iowa in 2020-21 as a freshman, but rarely saw the floor. She transferred because there weren’t a lot of minutes to go around. Creighton found a spot for her, and Jensen thrived: She shot 43.7 percent from 3-point range, 10th in the nation.

Jensen says there is “no bad blood” between her and Iowa, which seems probable. (Then again, she’s from Minnesota, so she probably wouldn’t say anything bad about her worst enemy.) Regardless, she played on Sunday like she was on a mission for vengeance, as she willed her new team to victory over her old one. With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bluejays trailed 58-54. From that point on, Jensen did not miss, while nobody else on Creighton hit a field goal. She made four straight shots, including the game-winning 3-pointer with 15 seconds left. The crowd of 14,000 had been ear-splittingly loud all day. Suddenly, they went silent.

Jensen’s shot not only sealed a 64-62 victory that pushed Creighton into its first women’s Sweet 16; it also ended the season of a team that many expected to vie for a Final Four appearance. The Hawkeyes—who had the no. 1 offense in the country, according to HerHoopStats—just couldn’t find their rhythm. Clark led Division I by averaging 27.4 points per game this season; she scored a season-low 15 against the Bluejays, going 0-of-8 from the field in the second half. Iowa scored just 62 points, its fewest in any game since Clark began playing for the team last season.

After scoring just 23 points in her lone season for the Hawkeyes, Jensen dropped 19 in her return to her old floor, eliminating her former school and disappointing a stadium full of fans she once hoped would cheer for her. It was one of the most cold-blooded performances in NCAA history—and it was made possible only because of the superior early-round structure on the women’s side.

Loser: Rex Chapman

Fan interest in college basketball spikes massively during March Madness, as a sport with a niche following puts on the most talked-about event in the United States. So CBS and Turner Sports, the networks that jointly air the men’s tournament, don’t always use full-time college basketball analysts that many viewers won’t be familiar with. Instead, they stock broadcasts with announcers who are more famous for other roles. I think this is a bad call; when we watch the Olympics, we can feel the energy and knowledge of the broadcasters getting really excited about the sports that they cover full time, and it helps us get into events we mostly don’t know about. That element would be lost if NBC had, say, Cris Collinsworth cover the luge.

Some March Madness part-timers, like Kenny Smith and Candace Parker, put in the work to catch up and provide insightful analysis of the games. Others, like Charles Barkley, don’t try to hide that they don’t know much about the teams or players on the court. (To be fair, Chuck is roughly the same way with the NBA teams he covers full time.)

The strangest of these part-time analysts is Rex Chapman. Chapman was a college hoops star in Kentucky who played for more than a decade in the NBA, but in 2022 he’s best known for his presence on Twitter. By sharing viral videos, Chapman has amassed 1.2 million followers. I suspect roughly a million of those don’t even know that Chapman was in the NBA. The first time I saw one of his tweets cross my timeline, I remember thinking, “Wait, is this the same Rex Chapman who was once on the Phoenix Suns? Did he film this video? And why is he sharing it?” (The answers: Yes, no, and I have no idea.)

Chapman’s Twitter popularity has launched a second career: In January he was hired to host a show on CNN’s streaming service that looks for “the silver lining beyond today’s toughest headlines.” This brought him under the corporate umbrella of WarnerMedia, which perhaps explains his presence on the tournament feed. While Chapman called NBA games for TNT in the 2000s and was part of Kentucky’s radio broadcast team until recently, he hasn’t worked in a major on-air basketball analysis role for some time.

Unfortunately, Chapman has struggled at times during this tournament. His worst gaffe came on Saturday, when he commented on Providence’s Sweet 16 run by reminiscing about the Friars teams of the 1990s, and closed by offering condolences for the team’s late coach, Pete Gillen.

Gillen, however, is alive and well. In fact, he regularly announces games for the CBS Sports Network, including this month’s Colonial Athletic Association title game, which sent Delaware to the NCAA tournament. Devoted college hoops fans know that Gillen is alive, because he’s regularly on our TVs.

Chapman is not the first person to accidentally declare a living person dead. (It happens on Twitter, like, four times a week—and Chapman is great at sharing stuff that other people do on Twitter.) But most of the time, such statements are made about people who have been out of the public eye for a long time. Chapman’s mistake was embarrassing in the way that falsely saying someone is dead is always embarrassing—only it had an additional layer, as it showed that Chapman probably isn’t paying enough attention to the sport to adequately analyze its biggest games of the year.