Photos by Todd Turner
On Friday and Sunday, the Greensboro Coliseum once again played host to the first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the biggest and most exciting event in sports. Eight teams competed in six elimination rounds over two days of play: Iowa State, Kansas State, Kennesaw State, the University of Kentucky, Montana State, Pitt, Providence and Xavier. In the end, Xavier and Kansas State advanced to the Sweet 16. Look for our coverage of these games on the website.
A shorter schedule
The first rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament have been held at the Greensboro Coliseum four times since 2000. I was there in 2012 and 2009, and maybe 2006, but I’m not sure. I know I was at the LJVM in 2007 when they held it there. Generally, this has meant four days of basketball, two of each round, and 16 teams winnowing down to four. This year we just had two days. I get it — it’s a way to spread the games around the nation for everyone’s favorite tournament. And frankly, after covering so much basketball this month I needed the break.
A full house
Maybe they didn’t sell out, and tickets were going awfully cheap on Ticketmaster last week. But I saw very few empty seats this weekend during three rounds of games. Most of the out-of-towners seemed to be from Kentucky and Pittsburgh, with a strong contingent of Xavier fans and, on that first day, a LOT of Kennesaw State fans. But every team brought people out — even Montana State, which had almost 100 people here for their game.
Let’s talk a minute about Kennesaw State’s very first trip to the NCAA Tourney. It’s a big school — 43,000 students — in Atlanta, granted a 14-seed after winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. They’d play 3-seed Xavier, a high-flying team from the Big East with lots of tourney experience. And damned if they didn’t almost win this one. They kept coming back against Xavier leads, and were up 13 points with just 10 minutes to go. That’s when Xavier poured it on. But they will remember their encounter with the Owls of Kennesaw for a long time to come.
This year’s tournament will be known for improbable upsets across the board. Princeton, a 15-seed, beating 2-seed Arizona busted everyone’s brackets — Princeton would go on to upset Missouri on Sunday, just the fourth 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16. Virginia’s 4-seed loss to 14-seed Furman also hit some local brackets hard. For just the second time in history, a 16-seed, Fairleigh Dickinson University, beat a 1-seed, Purdue. We had one here, too: 11-seed Pitt, who had to win a play-in game just to make it into the tournament, the only ACC team to come to Greensboro. The Panthers landed an ugly win over 6-seed Iowa State on Friday.
Wildcats v. Wildcats
On Sunday evening, the 3-seed Kansas State Wildcats took on the 5-seed Kentucky State… Wildcats. As if that weren’t enough to make it noteworthy, this was the best game of the weekend, with barrages of shooting, excruciating defensive streaks and astounding statistics. There were 12 lead changes — eight of them in the second half, and six in the last 10 minutes. In a losing effort, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshwiebe scored 25 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. Markquis Nowell scored 23 of his 27 points in the second half. Kansas State took it in a tight one, 75-69.
Speaking of the ACC, five teams from our formerly local conference made it to the Big Dance: Duke, Miami, NC State, Pitt and Virginia. Only Miami, a 5-seed, made it to the Sweet 16 after taking down Indiana on Sunday night. I am as guilty as anyone else around here for filling out a bracket weighted with ACC wins — I had Virginia in the Sweet 16 and Duke getting to the Final Four. I know I am not alone.
A basketball marathon
For the last three weeks, photographer Todd Turner and I have been covering college basketball: Five days of the Women’s ACC Tournament, five for the Men’s ACC Tournament and then these last two for the NCAA. I filed more than a dozen pieces about the games; Todd shot thousands of pictures before winnowing them down into galleries. We’ve felt so fortunate to be able to bear witness to these displays of athleticism and skill. And also, we’ve had about enough. Before it was all over, Turner knew every coliseum employee by their first names, and I still hear the squeaking of Nikes on hardwood in my dreams.
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