2018 NCAA Tournament: The top 16 epic moments from an incredible first weekend

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After a four-day weekend that felt more like a week's worth of basketball, it's time to examine everything that just happened over an 84-hour span and bask in the glory of the romping and ruination that we all were witness to.

Your bracket's toast. So's mine. Maybe you've got Duke or Villanova or Kansas winning it all, but whatever. Now you can enjoy the tournament for what it is: a minefield of beautiful destruction. 

I thought it best to compile a lot of what made the past four days epic. What's listed below is everything from singular, wowing moments to the obviously historic victories. I've ranked them in terms of what struck me as "biggest" and most impactful. 

The first and second rounds of this 2018 NCAA Tournament do have a case for the best opening weekend in the history of this amazing playoff. Here are the 16 biggest items from the past four days. 

16. Reigning champion North Carolina is stunned before it can make the Sweet 16. The Tar Heels were one of many highly seeded teams to be taken out by a much lower-seeded team. No. 2 UNC fell 86-65 to No. 7 Texas A&M on Sunday in what wound up being the biggest margin of defeat (21 points) in an NCAA Tournament game for Roy Williams in his Hall of Fame career.

Even North Carolina couldn't save North Carolina. The Tar Heels got the opening weekend games in their own state, but that mattered little to the Aggies. UNC, in fact, lost as a No. 2 seed in the Carolinas to a No. 7-seeded SEC team -- just like Duke did a year ago.

This was the largest margin of victory for a reigning champ in the tournament since Arizona lost to Utah by 25 in 1998. The outcome proved continuance of a trend. Check it out:

Winning the title practically guarantees you will have a letdown the next season. For seniors Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson, it's a depressing end to very good college careers. Those guys made two national title games, winning one as juniors. Roy Williams was emotional at the press conference.  

15. Oklahoma's Trae Young and Rhode Island go to overtime in opener. Think back to a simpler time. One without chaos and fire raining down from the sky. An era in which your bracket was clean, pristine. Hopeful. That's how life was when this game, the first of the first round, tipped on Thursday. It wound up being a great game from start to finish. It was also, almost certainly, the final college game of Trae Young's career.

14. Dan D'Antoni's fashion statement and funny postgame interview. I know Marshall got sonn'd and little brother'd by West Virginia late Sunday night, but before all that came the Thundering Herd's roar over Wichita State. D'Antoni's team won that game 81-75. Junior guard Jon Elmore had 27 points and was throwing heaters from 30 feet out. It was preposterous and the type of victory that improves the tournament experience. Thursday was a quality day all around; Marshall played a big part in that. 

Then D'Antoni gave a great quote after the win, poking fun at his brother and the Houston Rockets.        

His decision to rock a Marshall T-shirt under a blazer is so counterculture it's inspiring. Really, he one-upped Bob Huggins with this. Coaches in the state of West Virginia are fashion trailblazers.

13. Robert Williams' dunk with teammate anticipating, mimicking the move. Before the Aggies scrubbed UNC out of the bracket, they pushed past Providence on Friday. I don't have much to say other than this is really cool and is obviously going to be in "One Shining Moment."

Williams, who could be a lottery pick this season, is 2 for 2 with in-game windmill dunks. Here's what he did against Carolina. The Aggies will play Michigan in Los Angeles on Thursday.

12. Houston senior Rob Gray puts up 62 points in two games. The Cougars had their hearts ripped out by Michigan (yep, keep scrolling, we'll get there). But were it not for that, Gray might be one of the four or five biggest storylines heading into the Sweet 16. He put up a tournament-high 39 points vs. San Diego State on Thursday. Against Michigan he was nearly as good. The top-knot revolution was upon us, then it was yanked away thanks to a spunky freshman in a Michigan uniform. 

By beating San Diego State on Thursday, Houston got its first NCAA Tournament win since it was in the 1984 Big Dance with the Phi Slamma Jamma group. 

11. Gonzaga freshman Zach Norvell Jr. nets career high vs. Ohio State. For the second straight season, Mark Few has a freshman breaking out in the NCAA Tournament. Last year it was Zach Collins. Now it's Norvell, who put up 28 points on the Buckeyes on Saturday night. It was his best game in a Zags uni. He buried six 3-pointers and had 12 rebounds. A lot of teams have been breakout stories, but Norvell is right there with any other player in terms of individual breakout guys who are moving on to the Sweet 16. 

Gonzaga's the only team in college basketball to make four straight Sweet 16s, by the way. Given how the left side of the bracket looks now, do you think Gonzaga is the team best equipped to win three more games? If that's the case, it would mean back-to-back championship game appearances for the school.

10. Texas Tech's Keenan Evans splits the double team, alley-oops to Zhaire Smith, kills Florida. Not all these moments are game outcomes. Some are just moments. Like this one. There's not much to say about this play, except I could write a novella on it. But I'll spare you. 

Texas Tech-Florida was probably the best "forgotten" game of the weekend. That said, it was a hot mess at times in spite of its riveting rhythm for most of the second half. Florida had a chance to tie on its final possession but blew its opportunities. Before that came the play below. Evans anticipates the hole, slips through, lifts the ball up to Smith, who puts an exclamation point on the possession. 

This is poetic.

9. Xavier steps in it, falls to Florida State. This tournament marked the first time Xavier earned a No. 1 seed. But a year after the X-Men got to the Elite Eight thanks in part to a second round upset of then-No. 3 Florida State, the Seminoles got revenge. Leonard Hamilton's team won 75-70. The Noles were helped by a couple of factors.

  1. Xavier's J.P. Macura fouled out late in the second half. Two of his offensive fouls were shaky at best. I would expect Xavier coach Chris Mack to formally log a complaint to the people in charge of handling such affairs. 
  2. Officiating wasn't why the Muskies lost. A bizarre lack of urgency on Xavier's final possession led to less opportunity to extend the game. Kerem Kanter did get a good look on a 3-pointer ... that airballed out of bounds. 

Sunday proved to be one of the worst days in Cincinnati-area basketball history. Two teams were top-two seeds playing in Nashville (not so far away from home) and both blew second half-leads. Xavier was up 12 with about 10 minutes to go. Now they're going home. Next we wait to see if Louisville offers Chris Mack that job, and if he takes it. 

8. Nevada goes nuts in OT vs. Texas. Nevada had the most ridiculous weekend of any team. Its game vs. Texas kind of got lost in the mix because it ended in that 5 p.m. transition window on Thursday. But its 87-83 overtime win is no doubt a top-five game of the tournament so far

Wolf Pack junior forward Caleb Martin was massive in OT, making three 3-pointers and pushing Nevada to victory. What made that even better was the redemption angle. Martin missed the would-be winner at the end of regulation. The teams combined for 34 points in overtime. Nevada didn't miss a field goal attempt! It was Nevada's first tournament win in 11 years. Afterward, in the locker room, cameras caught coach Eric Musselman dropping F-bombs in excitement. 

The game also had a dash of controversy, as Texas freshman Mohamed Bamba fouled out just before the end of regulation on an iffy call. Bamba is expected to be a one-and-done player who is taken in the top 10 come June. 

7. @UMBCAthletics wins Twitter and pwns fools. The Retrievers' charmed, history-making run to the second round provided a social media moment for the athletic department's official Twitter account. From Friday through Sunday night, @UMBCAthletics gained more than 104,000 followers thanks to some roasting of public figures and self-aware tweets (my favorite: "HEAVY BREATHING"). Reid Forgrave spoke with the man behind the account and discovered a back story worth telling

6. Loyola-Chicago wins in closing seconds over Tennessee in second round. You already know there's another Ramblers moment that ranks higher than this one, but still, rare is the team that gets to the Sweet 16 by winning consecutive one-possession games on their final shot in each contest. Porter Moser's team has something special going on. And given the state of the South Regional, it's completely rational to believe the Ramblers can make the Final Four. 

Here's how they ensured themselves a trip to Atlanta. Clayton Custer got some generous bounces from the rim and backboard, as if the apparatus was reassuring the ball all would be OK. 

Sister Jean must be mentioned with all of this as well. This year's tournament is providing national headlines from so many origin points across the country. A 98-year-old nun has become the biggest celebrity of this tournament.

Read that sentence again.

Only the NCAA Tournament can do this. It's terrific. Best event in sports, and you know it to be true. 

5. Buffalo bulldozing Arizona. This oddly feels like it happened a week ago, but yeah, it can't be overstated just how ridiculous this 89-68 upset was. The Wildcats were a super trendy Final Four -- if not title -- pick. Buffalo put its boot on Arizona's neck and delivered the first shocker of the tournament. It's been a nutso first weekend. Don't forget that Buffalo got this party started. 

For Arizona, we wait to see what happens with Sean Miller and his future there. The starting five is gone. If Miller resigns or is fired at some point, the program might settle into a three- or four-year hibernation. This Buffalo loss could be the trigger. 

4. Cincinnati blows a 22-point lead with less than 12 minutes to go against Nevada, loses 75-73. It's the second-worst collapse/second-biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history. The only one bigger came in 2012, when BYU beat Iona after falling behind by 25 in the First Four. Duke had a 22-point margin in the 2001 Final Four then rallied to knock off Maryland. This one won't ever be forgotten in the Queen City. 

The Bearcats are snakebitten in tournament play. The team's made only one Sweet 16 under Mick Cronin. Between No. 1 seed Virginia and No. 2 seed Cincinnati, the top two teams in the South Regional failed to make it out of the first weekend and were unable to do so despite having the two best defenses in college basketball.

Nevada could have/should have lost to Texas. Its first lead of the game against Cincinnati was its only lead: 75-73. The Wolf Pack took control with nine seconds remaining. A 32-8 run closed the game. Here's how it happened. 

3. Jordan Poole shoots, splays, splashes -- and dashes. Houston had no business losing its second-round game. But thanks to a solidly drawn-up play, and a little bit of luck, we have an immediately memorable buzzer-beater. The only one of the tournament so far!     

I also love how Poole is running around on the floor after beating Houston at the buzzer ... kind of how Jim Valvano did in 1983 after NC State knocked off the Cougars. The difference here is Poole wasn't looking for someone to hug -- he was dodging the embrace. 

The Wolverines have won 11 straight. 

This screencap of the broadcast is the image of the tournament for me.

It wasn't just the Michigan win that made this so much fun -- check out 65-year-old John Beilein going on the attack (poncho!) in the locker room. I love how Michigan's March success brings out the teenager in Beilein. Oh, yeah, he also said in the postgame interview that Poole is blessed with "an overdose of swag."

2. Loyola's late bucket beats Miami. Poole's shot is the only true buzzer-beater of the tournament so far, but Loyola's winner is bigger because the school is smaller. Sorry, but those are the rules. Plus, the flow of this play is also more frenzied, enhancing the drama. It is almost a buzzer-beater. And the sound of that ball crashing into that net is beautiful. 

What's forgotten somewhat is that Loyola was a trendy upset pick. Every couple of years we get a small-school team to deliver on that. Porter Moser's crew has been fabulous. The team also got Obama to give a shoutout

Mark me down for Loyola in the title game. I am all in on the Ramblers. 

1. UMBC over Virginia. Many thought it would never happen, but on Friday a No. 16 seed (UMBC) beat a No. 1 seed (Virginia) for the first time. If you were forced to make a top 10 list of the biggest moments in NCAA Tournament history -- well this is already in the top five. And if you eliminate any Final Four or national title moments, it's basically right there with George Mason as far as I'm concerned. My elongated thoughts on what went down on Friday night can be found here

In time, most may wind up forgetting the team (Kansas State) that bounced UMBC from the second round. But that doesn't really matter. Almost all who watched in real time will remember the Retrievers winning 74-54, doing it as 20.5-point underdogs, and beating the No. 1 overall seed Virginia on their way to immortality. 

This is being called by some the most outrageous/upset-laden/best first weekend in the history of the tournament. That may or may not be true, but it's undeniably a contender for the most memorable because of what a small Maryland commuter school did during a late tip on Friday night. The 2018 NCAA Tournament is theirs until someone wins the title on April 2 -- and even then, the championship-winning team may find in time that they'll share the bill on this season. Good doggies. 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his eighth season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics,... Full Bio

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