Josiah Schueneman, 23 Sports

Among the four regions in the NCAA Tournament, the South was the most hectic of them all and it produced the most unexpected results. When the madness began, the top four seeds were Virginia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Arizona in that order and this region was viewed as the strongest of the big dance. The Sweet 16 begins on Thursday, but none of those four teams will be participating as each of them were upset either in the first round or second round. Couple that with historic comebacks, absolute thrillers, and shocking blowouts, the South Region played a vital part in one of the craziest opening weekends in the history of March Madness.

The first round had three upsets which included 13th-seeded Buffalo crushing 4th-seeded Arizona, 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago narrowly defeating 6th-seeded Miami, and 16th-seeded University of Maryland, Baltimore County stunning 1st-seeded Virginia which marked the first time ever a 16th seed beating a 1st seed.

Not only did the UMBC Retrievers pull off the most improbable upset in college basketball history, but they dominated Virginia. As a team, they shot 12-for-24 from the three-point line and dropped 53 points in the second half against the nation’s best defense. Jairus Lyles led UMBC in scoring with 28 points and his team cruised to a 20-point win against the Cavaliers. It took a game-winning shot by Lyles in the America East Championship against Vermont just to get to this tournament, and then they went on to shock the world against not just the number one seed in the region, but a team that was number one in the nation coming in.

The Buffalo Bulls were the culprits of another huge upset in the first round, and they too were dominant against an Arizona team that many believed should have been seeded higher than four. The Wildcats seemed like a team that was primed for a huge run in the tourney, especially after they had just come off a conference championship, and they had potential top NBA draft pick Deandre Ayton on their team. But the Bulls were not afraid of this tall task and they ran the opposition out of Boise, Idaho. The trio of Wes Clark, Jeremy Harris, and CJ Massinburg combined for 67 points en route to an 89-68 blowout.

Aside from the two other upsets, this game was much more of a nail biter as it came down to the last shot between Miami and Loyola-Chicago. The Hurricanes led for most of the second half, but the Ramblers, who were in the tournament after a 33-year drought, continued to fight until the very end. They ended up with an opportunity to win the ballgame after Lonnie Walker IV missed a free throw which would have given Miami a three-point lead with nine seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Donte Ingram drilled a 3-pointer from the March Madness logo just before the buzzer, sending Loyola-Chicago to the round of 32. The determination and resiliency of this team was aided by a pregame prayer from team chaplain, 98-year-old Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, who quickly became America’s sweetheart.

The second round would contain a few more surprises as Nevada and Loyola-Chicago would both pick up wins in dramatic fashion.

2nd-seeded Cincinnati stymied 7th-seeded Nevada through the entirety of the first half and for almost half of the second half. They seemed to be the aggressors throughout and they looked like the more talented team, and after extending their lead to 22 points with around 11 minutes to go, it looked as if the Bearcats were well on their way to a Sweet 16 appearance. Suddenly, madness ensued. The Wolfpack, who overcame a 14-point defecit to defeat 10th-seeded Texas in overtime in the first round, found new life offensively and with the help of twins Cody and Caleb Martin they went on a furious rally. Between the two brothers, Caleb is usually the better scorer, but in this game, Cody decided to take center stage. He finished the game with 25 points, while his brother knocked down a triple to tie the game at 73, and Josh Hall would give Nevada the lead with a bucket off a rebound to cap off an unbelievable 32-8 run to end it and complete the unlikely comeback.

Loyola-Chicago once again was a part of a competitive contest against 3rd-seeded Tennessee. The Ramblers led for almost the entirety of the second half, but the Volunteers remained in the ballgame and Grant Williams converted on a three-point play which gave them the lead with 20 seconds left. It became familiar territory for Loyola-Chicago and two days after Donte Ingram won it against Miami, Clayton Custer’s jumper bounced on the front of the rim, touched the backboard, and rattled a few times before dropping in to help the Ramblers pick up another upset victory.

Nevada and Loyola-Chicago will face each other in the Sweet 16 which should be a fun game to watch. The other matchup in the South Region will feature a young, but talented Kentucky team with a starting five of all freshmen. They are coming off a hard-fought win over Davidson and a decisive victory over Buffalo. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been leading the charge for the Wildcats and he’s fresh off a 27-point performance against the Bulls. After all of the craziness that has occurred, Kentucky might now have the easiest path to the Final Four, but anything can happen. Their opponent will be the Kansas State Wildcats, who found their way here from a double-digit win over Creighton and halting the Cinderella story of UMBC in a grinder. Both of those wins came without the presence of leading scorer Dean Wade due to a foot injury. Wade is confident that he’ll be able to play in the Sweet 16. Barry Brown has scored 18 points in each of the Wildcats’ victories in the tournament.

So, the Sweet 16 matchups will be 7th-seeded Nevada against 11th-seeded Loyola Chicago on Thursday followed by 5th-seeded Kentucky versus 9th-seeded Kansas State. This is the first time ever that none of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet 16. This goes to show how wacky this tournament has already been, and everybody wonders what will happen next.