March Madness is not only very alive and well, but it is truly maddening to imagine that there was a pair of No.1 seeds that were in jeopardy of an earlier exit from their regional tournaments against lowly 16th seeds on Friday. After stumbling out of the blocks in the first halves of their respective contests, nationally recognized college basketball powerhouse programs Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill woke up in the second half of their games to ultimately secure commanding opening round victories.
It feels like it was just a few short months ago but it’s actually been slightly over a year since the 16th seed Retrievers of University of Maryland-Baltimore County shocked the world and busted the brackets across the globe when the upset the top-seeded Cavilers of the University of Virginia in the opening round of the South Region of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball tournament.
UMBC didn’t just squeak out with a narrow victory that came down to the final possession, it was a whopping 20-point blowout in which the Retrievers outscored No.1 Virginia 53-33 in the second half after being tied at the intermission and ended with the final score reading 74-54.
The opening round of the Blue Devils’ and Tar Heels’ games felt eerily familiar to that game as both teams were in unprecedently tight games heading into halftime and UNC even trailed by five points after the first 20 minutes of play.
Duke’s sensational freshen tandem of RJ Barrett and the transcendent talent that is Zion Williamson lead the charge for their second-half surge. Barrett would be the only player in the game to record a double with a game-high 26 points and 14 rebounds. Williamson was right behind him in scoring in the outing with 25 points.
All of the Tar Heel fans that were relishing in the fact that their interstate and conference rivals were struggling with a 16th seed out of the gate should have found the nearest piece of wood and gave it a knock because someone must have said: “I hope that doesn’t happen to us”.
Not only did they struggle to keep pace with an inferior Iona team who couldn’t be stopped from behind the arc in the first half, but they became the first No.1 seed in tournament trail to a 16th seed at halftime as they trailed 38-33 after opening stanza.
They would settle down in the second half and get back to playing the style of quality basketball that got them their top seed. They would go on a 30-9 scoring run over the next nine minutes to grab the lead and wouldn’t relinquish it the rest of the way as they ended up winning 15 points as the final on the box score would read 88-73 when the last buzzer sounded off.
Neither team wanted to be this year’s Cavilers as they woke up and sprung into action to save their season and keep their pursuit of a national title alive. They can’t afford slow starts they experienced in the opening round against much lesser competition because the pedigree of the programs that will be facing will only get more formidable the rest of the way as the tournament rages on.