It’s the list so many want to be on this time of year — and so many don’t. Every surprise ending in the NCAA tournament needs an upstart that finds a way and a victim that must get over the result.

We're not counting any 9s over 8s; those are near tossups anyway. But for all the other games when the real underdog rises up, here it is, the Upset Journal of March:

SUNDAY, ELITE EIGHT

No. 7 South Carolina 77, No. 4 Florida 70

Watch Now

Elite Eight: South Carolina takes down Florida

The metamorphoses is complete, from the South Carolina team that had the February blahs and dropped six of nine to the March tough guys who could not be stopped. Not by the No. 2 seed in the East (Duke), nor the No. 3 (Baylor), nor the No. 4 (Florida).

HOW IT HAPPENED

Sooner or later, the physical, swarming South Carolina defense usually gets to an opponent. It took until the second half Sunday. Florida led 40-33 at halftime and was breezing along with 56 percent shooting, but it didn’t last. The Gators faded to 31 percent in the second half, including 0-for-14 in 3-pointers — an echo from a January loss to South Carolina, when they went 0-for-17 for the game. The last tie was 65-65 with three minutes left. From there, Florida missed six of nine shots and had three turnovers, and somehow the Gamecocks played all that defense while committing only three fouls the last 9:22. Meanwhile, South Carolina lived at the free-throw line. The Gamecocks took 28 free throws the second half and made 20. South Carolina trailed at halftime in three of its first four tournament games.
 
THE MAIN MAN

It’d be natural to say Sindarius Thornwell, who scored 26 points, and is averaging nearly that much for the tournament. But it was Chis Silva, the sophomore native of Gabon, who pushed Florida out of the way with 13 points and eight rebounds in the second half, going the last nine minutes with four fouls.

WHAT IT MEANS

Move over Gonzaga; another Final Four newcomer is headed for Arizona. And as fate would have it, they’ll meet Saturday night. Talk about your barrier breakers, the Gamecocks not only earned the first Final Four trip in the history of the school, but also the entire state of South Carolina. And Frank Martin’s journey from a challenging one-parent childhood in Miami to the main stage of college basketball is about to get a lot of attention. Meanwhile, Florida ran into the Elite Eight wall again. This is the fourth regional championship loss for the Gators in seven years to go with the one they won in 2014.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Martin: “Anyone that’s in sports dreams of moments like this. It’s not something that you start dreaming in the year you win 25 games. You dream it every single day.”

Thornwell: “All we wanted was to make it. All we wanted was a bid in the tournament, to see our name on the board. And when we got our name on the board, the rest takes care of itself. All we wanted was a chance.”

Florida’s Mike White on Thornwell: “He’s shown the country now why, in my opinion, he’s been unappreciated, why our league has been unappreciated. He’s one of the best players in the country.”

White on the second-half 3-point shooting: “I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know we were 0-for-14. I know we were really struggling to make a shot, I didn’t know how bad it was.”

SATURDAY, ELITE EIGHT

No. 3 Oregon 74, No. 1 Kansas 60

Watch Now

Elite Eight: Oregon thumps Kansas

The three main features in the Midwest regional, with Kansas playing in Kansas City, had been location, location and location. None of the three mattered much to the Oregon Ducks. They might have lost to Georgetown and Colorado this season and been pounded by Baylor, but they’ve brought their A game to the tournament.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Kansas was seeded No. 1 and playing in front of an adoring and loud audience. All that, and the Jayhawks led for just 32 seconds. There was trouble everywhere, Outside, Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey, Dillon Brooks and Tyler Ennis were peppering Kansas with 11-for-22 shooting from the 3-point arc. When Dorsey banked one in for a 44-33 halftime lead, the Jayhawks’ peril was clear. Inside, Jordan Bell crunched them with 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots, forcing Kansas to an outside game. Frank Mason III had 21 points for the Jayhawks, but prized freshman Josh Jackson struggled with fouls and did not score until midway through the second half, and Devonte’ Graham missed all six 3-pointers he took. Kansas rolled through its first three tournament games by an average margin of 30 points. Saturday, the Jayhawks were down 18.

THE MAIN MAN

Another night, another Dorsey shooting clinic. He led Oregon with 27 points, on 9-for-13 shooting and 6-for-10 from the 3-point arc. That would be sensational, if it hadn’t become so routine. The hottest player in March has averaged 24.5 points in four tournament games, while shooting 70.6 percent. He has missed only nine of his 26 3-pointers.

WHAT IT MEANS

History, for one thing. The last time the Ducks made it this far, they won the first national championship. That would be 1939, or 78 years ago. Two other things. Oregon and Gonzaga both advanced the same night, so after nine years, the West Coast is really back in the Final Four business. Also, this had to be the best day in recent Oregon basketball annals.  The No. 10 seed women upset Maryland in the afternoon to go to the first Elite Eight in program history. As for Kansas, the Jayhawks have a perception problem. All those Big 12 titles are going to start being obscured by all the NCAA tournament disappointments.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Oregon coach Dana Altman: “I am so happy for our team, our staff, our university; 1939 was a long time ago.”

Altman on the Bell factor: “I can't overemphasize Jordan controlling the paint in the first 10 minutes of the game and just putting a thought in their mind that they were not going to get easy baskets. Because of that, they took 25 3’s, and almost half their shots were 3’s because they were looking over their shoulder for Jordan, I think.”

Kansas coach Bill Self: “Sure it’s going to stick with us. But the one thing that did happen today, it’s hard to admit, the best team did win today.”

FRIDAY, SWEET 16

No. 7 South Carolina 70, No. 3 Baylor 50 

Watch Now

Sweet 16: South Carolina dominates Baylor

Back home, people had been calling the second round win over Duke the biggest win in South Carolina history. That’s when a Gamecocks team that had not scored 65 points in 10 games this season scored 65 in the second half. But should that night now be moved to No. 2, or at least 1B? South Carolina might have stumbled down the regular season stretch 3-6 in the last nine games, but it has stormed into the Elite Eight for the first time ever.

HOW IT HAPPENED

The momentum from the second half against Duke obviously kept over the week. South Carolina went on an 18-0 run in the first half to go up by 16. Baylor pulled off a lot of comebacks this season, but not a chance against what this team has become. Frank Martin gets annoyed when people don’t respect the South Carolina offense, but defense is still the Gamecocks’ best weapon, and it showed Friday. Baylor’s attack crumbled against the physical array of South Carolina defenses and the Bears shot 25 percent the first half, 30 percent for the game.

THE MAIN MAN

Sindarius Thornwell was on suspension and missed South Carolina’s Madison Square Garden game in December; a 67-64 loss to Seton Hall. So welcome to New York. He had 24 points to lead the charge, giving him a 25.4 average for the tournament. His four 3-pointers were one more than the entire Baylor team.

WHAT IT MEANS

Nine days ago, South Carolina had not won an NCAA tournament game in 44 years, and had only four victories to its name in the 78 years of the event. Now the Gamecocks have won three in eight days, and are growing more and more confident. They just outscored the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds in the East by 34 points over three halves. And former bar bouncer Martin is one victory from moving into a very ritzy coaching neighborhood. He was this far once before, with Kansas State in 2010, and ran into Butler. Baylor’s season included a cameo at No. 1, and 27 wins, but this was one wet blanket of an ending.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT
 
South Carolina’s Duane Notice: “It's a good feeling when we continue to make history and I think once we got a taste of it, we kind of got addicted and want to continue doing it.”
 
Martin: “Our fans are taking this ride with us and eventually we're either going to party together or we're going to cry together. It's one or the other. There's not another alternative there. But that's the way it needs to be. In fact, I want fans to cry when I cry. I want them to be mad when I go home mad. That's the only way you know that you got something going on.”
 
Martin on Sunday’s final: “Seven years ago, I mismanaged the practice between the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 game. I'm not making that mistake this time. I learned.”

THURSDAY, SWEET 16

No. 11 Xavier 73, No. 2 Arizona 71

Watch Now

Sweet 16: Xavier takes down Arizona

Michigan wasn’t the only team in the Sweet 16 with magic. The 13-loss Musketeers might not have had a plane mishap to survive, but they had a train wreck in February with six consecutive losses. That seems light years ago.

HOW IT HAPPENED

The game tilted toward Arizona a number of times. Start with the 10-2 lead in less than five minutes. The Wildcats were up by eight again later in the half, and still again at 69-61 with 3:44 left. But the Musketeers wouldn’t go away. That can happen when a team is shooting nearly 53 percent for the game. Trevon Bluiett and Malcolm Bernard both hit 3-pointers to close in on Arizona, and the Wildcats’ offense seemed to melt. They had depended on Allonzo Trier so heavily – he scored 15 consecutive Arizona points in the second half – so when he started missing, there was no Plan B. In the last 2:17, the Wildcats went 0-for-5 – Trier missing three of them -- with a turnover. A nifty high-low play that Xavier coach Chris Mack drew up freed Sean O’Mara for a layup with 40 seconds left that gave the Musketeers the lead. The Wildcats had no answers at the end, just shots that clanged off rims. “He had his way with us tonight,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said afterward of Mack’s play calling.

THE MAIN MAN

Bluiett has emerged as one of the shiniest stars of the month and had 25 points. But the real fireworks show for the Musketeers came from Bernard, who was averaging only 6.8 points a game. The graduate student transfer from Florida A&M scored all his 15 points after halftime, and hit five of the six shots he took.

WHAT IT MEANS

It moved Xavier to within 40 minutes of one of the unlikeliest Final Four trips in recent history. The last 11 seed to get to the Elite Eight was Xavier’s neighbor to the north, Dayton, in 2014. The last 11 seed to get to the Final Four was VCU in 2011. For Arizona, it was a lousy time for Miller to lose to the school he once coached. And it ruined the Wildcats’ dream of playing in the Final Four up the road from campus in the Phoenix area.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Mack: “I know it’s heartbreaking for (Arizona) because they had a special year, a special season. And I know it’s tough. But today is a Xavier day.”

Bernard on his second half heroics: “I just didn’t think it was time for our season to end.”

Miller: “We could not guard them . . . Very few times, if we’re up eight points with under four minutes left, do we lose. But we did.”

SUNDAY, SECOND ROUND

 No. 7 South Carolina 88, No. 2 Duke 81

Watch Now

Second Round: South Carolina defeats Duke

The Gamecocks had lost six of their last nine coming into the NCAA Tournament. They were in the field for the first time in 13 years, and had not won a tournament game in 44 years. What did they know about winning in March? A lot, it turns out. Defense can be so helpful, and they have a ton of that. And they could score, too.

HOW IT HAPPENED

One number overshadows everything. South Carolina scored 65 points in the second half. On Duke. The defensive lapses that troubled the Blue Devils so often this confounding season were still there at the end. South Carolina had five players score in double figures, four with at least 15 points. Duke leaked everywhere. Another enduring Blue Devil season-long woe was lack of a true point guard. Hence, 18 turnovers Sunday. The pre-game stat sheet had shouted for Duke. The Blue Devils were 34th in the nation in shooting, South Carolina 306th. They were 37th in turnovers, the Gamecocks 212th. Duke had been to five Sweet 16s in seven years, South Carolina never, in its current format. The two teams had played only once in the previous 45 years, and South Carolina had not beaten Duke since 1970. None of that mattered. What mattered was how well the Gamecocks play defense – fifth in the nation in turnovers forced and 3-point shooting allowed. And how relentlessly they attacked. Duke had a 10-point lead, and they never blinked,

THE MAIN MAN

Sindarius Thornwell, as is customary? The SEC Player of the Year did just fine against ACC opposition, with 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. And when he wasn’t scoring, he had lots of help shredding the Blue Devils’ defense. South Carolina shot 71 percent the second half.

WHAT IT MEANS

South Carolina had never been to the Sweet 16 before in its current format. As in ever. But Friday the Gamecocks will be, against Baylor. And if you throw out a couple of consolation third place games back in the day, they just doubled their school’s all-time tournament victory total from two to four in 48 hours. This is not just a good week for South Carolina basketball, it is landmark. As for the Blue Devils, who started this season No. 1 in the polls and ended it gone the first weekend, questions will linger for Mike Krzyzewski. Yes, there were injuries and unusual tumult, but just what happened to this team? And while we’re at it, what happened to the ACC? Nine teams in the bracket, eight gone by Sunday night.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Sindarius Thornwell: We're not satisfied with just winning one game or this game. We're in it; why not win it? Why not us? We feel like we can compete with anybody in the country.

Thornwell on trying to keep an even keel for the Sweet 16 after this: It’ll be hard. It's one more thing we can to add on the list that the school hasn't done. But we'll be all right.

Mike Krzyzewski: “You all keep talking about expectations. I mean, look, a lot of these kids were just hurt at the start of the year. And they never used it as an excuse. And they became close. And so I just told them I love them and I'm proud of them. I wish I could keep coaching them this year. But that's not going to happen.

 No. 7 Michigan 73, No. 2 Louisville 69 

The Michigan Wolverines were eighth seeded in the Big Ten tournament, so what are they doing in the Sweet 16? Was it new confidence in the offense? The considerable senior leadership of Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin? Or walking away — make that running away — from the plane mishap on the way to the conference tournament? Whatever, they’ve won seven in a row.

Watch Now

Second Round: Michigan downs Louisville

HOW IT HAPPENED

Michigan’s Plan B. The Wolverines drew wide notice for torching Oklahoma State with 16 3-pointers Friday, Rick Pitino calling them the Golden State Warriors of college basketball. But they went 6-for-17 from the arc in this game and instead did the damage inside. This time it was Moritz — call him Moe — Wagner, the sophomore from Germany, with 26 points, and fellow forward DJ Wilson with 17. Down eight at halftime, Michigan swept past the Cardinals with 63 percent shooting in the second half. And of course, the Wolverines did it all without many mistakes. The nation’s top team in turnovers had only six.

THE MAIN MAN

Were they watching in Berlin? Wagner had his way with the Louisville defense, outside, inside, all around the court. He took 14 shots and missed three of them. Nice time for a career high. He averaged 2.9 points a game last season as a freshman.

WHAT IT MEANS

The Wolverines have gone from being the lowest seed to ever win the Big Ten tournament to their third Sweet 16 in five years. That’s a pretty good couple of weeks. Taking out last season’s absence from the tournament because of self-imposed sanctions, this is Louisville’s shortest NCAA tournament ride in six years.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Walton: “Found another way to win. That’s pretty much been our identity the last month and a half, finding different ways to win. Whether it’s the 3-ball or not, it’s finding multiple ways to win and taking what the game gives you.”

Michigan coach John Beilein: “People think we’re a 3-point shooting machine. You can’t do that anymore unless you drive the ball. They [guards Walton and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman] can take the ball to the basket and finish. We’ve been working on it endlessly. We’ve been working on it for four years.”

Louisville’s Deng Adel: “They shot 63 percent from the field in the second half, which is unheard of against us. We just gave them no resistance. We stopped playing defense and were too worried about offense.”

SATURDAY, SECOND ROUND

 No. 11 Xavier 91, No. 3 Florida State 66

Obviously, Xavier wasn’t kidding with its first-round upset of Maryland. The Musketeers didn’t just swerve away from all their late-season struggles — star guard Edmond Sumner’s injury and a six-game losing streak that ate up most of February — they made a U-turn and ran right over an opponent that tied for second in the ACC. They haven’t looked like a 13-loss team all week.

Watch Now

Second Round: Xavier stops Seminoles

HOW IT HAPPENED

Xavier led by 15 only 11 minutes into the game and never looked back. Notice the 3-point line on the box score. The Musketeers put up 17 and made 11. Florida State tried 21 and made four. Xavier shot nearly 56 percent, and 53 percent for the first two rounds. The Seminoles went splat against the Musketeers’ zone and could get nothing from their transition game.

THE MAIN MAN

Trevon Bluiett became a Xavier folk hero this week, if he wasn’t already. First, 21 points against Maryland. Then, 29 points Saturday. He was 15-for-29 in two games and scored 39 of his 50 points after halftime.

WHAT IT MEANS

The sixth Sweet 16 in 10 years for Xavier, and the fourth in eight years for Chris Mack. His coaching has always been highly regarded, but his stature will reach a new altitude with the recovery act he’s done the past six weeks. Also, this eases the Xavier pain from the second round last year when the Musketeers were ousted by a Wisconsin buzzer-beater. Florida State got a lot of national recognition for going 5-1 against six consecutive ranked ACC opponents in mid-season. But for whatever reason, the Seminoles were never quite the same after that.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Mack: “Our guys, despite all the adversity they’ve been hit with and the social media that tells them how bad they are and how poor they are, they stayed with it.”

Mack, on if this helps his players put the Wisconsin loss behind them: “I hope so. I don’t think they’ll ever forget the finality that comes with losing your last game in the NCAA tournament,”

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton: “You’ve got to give Xavier credit because they got into that magic level, that emotional frame of mind you have to be in that allows you to be at your peak and play sometimes even better than you normally do,”

No. 8 Wisconsin 65, No. 1 Villanova 62

What happened to Wisconsin in February? Does it matter anymore? The Badgers lost five of six as their shooting went south. But that was then, and this is now. They faced Villanova Saturday with two guys – Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig – who were playing in their 16th NCAA tournament games, and had been to two Final Fours. They knew what to do.

Watch Now

Second Round: Wisconsin upsets Villanova

HOW IT HAPPENED

That lousy Wisconsin shooting late in the season? The Badgers hit 53 percent Saturday. This, while Villanova was at 41 percent. With the score tied and the game on the line, Wisconsin had the vets to finish the job. First, Koenig’s 3-pointer pushed them ahead 62-59 with two minutes left. Then, with the scored tied again at 62-62 and the clock dipping below 20 seconds, Hayes feinted his way to open space on the baseline, and made the layup that ended Villanova’s repeat run. The Wildcats’ star Josh Hart had two turnovers trying to score in heavy lane traffic in the final minute. Wisconsin pulled it off despite missing nine of 16 free throws, making six more turnovers and trailing late 57-50.

THE MAIN MAN

Make that men. Hayes had 19, Koenig 17. They played like the masters of March they are.

WHAT IT MEANS

Yes, there still hasn’t been a repeat national champion since Florida 10 years ago. Good thing the Wildcats did what they did last season, or else the stigma of premature exits would still be hovering over them. As for Wisconsin, the Badgers have become real NCAA Tournament buzzkills. Two years ago, it was Kentucky’s perfect season. Now, Villanova’s repeat hopes. By the way, the Badgers have also gone to six Sweet 16s in seven years. Team March.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Koenig: “I felt terrible, to say the least, when I got my fourth foul and I was just sitting on the bench trying to be a coach from the bench and help all our guys out. I knew that’s not how my career was going to end. I knew that when coach gave me the opportunity to get back in there, I was going to make something happen.”

Hayes, on Wisconsin’s low seed: “You have all types of your ranking systems, statistics, analytics . . . the thing is with all those algorithms, they can’t calculate heart, will to win, toughness, desire. They can’t put that into a formula to come out with a percentage chance to win, and that’s the things that we have, the things that we’ve grown with. We’ve seen the older guys, they have that.”

Hayes on the two late baskets by Koenig and him: “I just made a lay-up. lay-ups are easy. He made the tough jump shots.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright: “These were what NCAA tournaments come down to. Down the stretch, they made two great offensive plays, two great defensive stops, and that was the difference in the game.”

FRIDAY, FIRST ROUND

No. 10 Wichita State 64, No. 7 Dayton 58

The Shockers were 30-4 and had won 15 in a row, all but one by double figures. They were scoring at better than 82 points a game. If that doesn’t sound much like a No. 10 seed to you, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall would like to shake your hand. This didn’t have the feel of an upset.

Watch Now

First Round: Shockers shock Flyers

HOW IT HAPPENED

It was a taut struggle the first 33 minutes with 14 lead changes and 11 ties. Neither team shot well against earnest defense, but when Dayton’s second half percentage dipped below 30 percent with a 1-for-16 dry spell, the night began to tilt toward Wichita State. Other numbers displaying Shockers’ muscle: Eight blocked shots – four on one frantic Flyers’ possession – and a 48-29 rebounding dominance.

THE MAIN MAN

That would have been Scoochie Smith and his 25 points. But he played for Dayton. With Wichita State’s balance – 82 points a game but no individual averaging more than 12 – everybody’s the main man. Freshman Landry Shamet led with 13 points, but the basket that doomed the Flyers for good was Conner Frankamp’s 3-pointer with 1:27 left and the score 55-51. It was his only basket of the night.

WHAT IT MEANS

The Shockers get to say hello to the Kentucky Wildcats. Again. Just as in 2014, Wichita State is in John Calipari’s flight path in the second round. That year, the Shockers took a 35-0 record into the game and lost a 78-76 classic. It hurt them. A lot. Archie Miller has built a consistent and highly-regarded program at Dayton – you can tell by all the other open coaching jobs where his name is mentioned – but some rebuilding starts now. The Flyers started four seniors.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Marshall on Wichita State’s chemistry and balance: “This is the true definition of a team. These guys love each other. I don’t follow them, I don’t have the Instagram, but my daughter does. She showed me some of the things they posted going into this game and what it means to them. It would bring tears to your eyes if you knew them.”

Dayton coach Archie Miller on Wichita State: “All they’re advertised, and more.”

Marshall, returning to a theme that Wichita State was under-seeded and too strong for a No. 10: “I think Dayton deserved a better draw in this tournament. I’ll finish with that.”

No. 11 Rhode Island 84, No. 6 Creighton 72

Rhode Island started the season ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press rankings, then ran into trouble with injuries and five losses by five points or less. But all was well at the end with an eight-game winning streak that gave the Rams their first NCAA Tournament trip in 18 years.

Watch Now

First Round: Rhode Island rams Creighton

HOW IT HAPPENED

Some of these numbers don’t compute. Freshman guard Jeff Dowtin came in averaging 4.9 points for Rhode Island, and scored 23. Creighton’s Justin Patton came in second in the nation in field goal percentage, and missed nine of his 12 shots, defended well by Hassan Martin. Can it be March? The Rams led wire to wire, with all five starters in double figures, and defended the perimeter well, as Creighton shot only 30 percent from the 3-point line.

THE MAIN MAN

Who could have seen Dowtin coming? He had just scored 20 points – in his last seven games combined. Friday he turned into Stephen Curry, hitting six of eight shots and all 10 from the free-throw line.

WHAT IT MEANS

First, Dan Hurley matched brother Bobby for coaching a team into the NCAA Tournament, and now he’s one-upped him by winning a game. The Rams’ last NCAA victory came in 1998, when Jim Harrick led them to the Elite Eight three years after he coached UCLA to a national championship. Creighton’s once-shining season, rocked by the mid-season loss of Maurice Watson Jr., did not end the way it looked like it might in early January.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Hurley on Rhode Island’s 3-point defense: “We do close-out drills ad nauseam. These guys don’t like it. They don’t love those drills. They probably ask themselves why they’re doing it, 99 straight practices during the course of the season.”

Martin: “This feels like I’m dreaming.”

Creighton coach Greg McDermott: “That’s a top-25 basketball team, and a team that can, on the right night, beat anybody in this tournament.”

No. 11 USC 66, No. 6 SMU 65

USC began the season 14-0 for its best start in 46 years, and that included a 78-73 home win against SMU in November. The Trojans sputtered late in the season and landed on the NCAA Tournament bubble, while SMU rolled to a 30-4 record through the league tournament, winning 26 of its last 27. But Friday, it was November all over again.

Watch Now

First Round: USC shocks SMU

HOW IT HAPPENED

The usual Trojans’ comeback. They trailed by 12 points in the first half, but for them, that’s only a minor convenience. They had rallied from double-digit deficits to win 12 games this season. Make that that 13. They shot 58 percent the second half and slowed down SMU with the zone to pull even, and Elijah Stewart’s 3-pointer with 36 seconds left ended up being the game-winner. The Mustangs’ Shake Milton missed a floater in the final seconds. SMU, using only six players, lost after leading for nearly 36 minutes.

THE MAIN MAN

Stewart hit the shot from the corner that changed everything for the Trojans, the last of his six 3-pointers and 22 points. “I was open and just let muscle memory take place.”

WHAT IT MEANS

The power of the First Four lives on! This is the seventh year in a row, an at-large winner in the First Four won its first round game against a much higher seed. Now the Trojans will seek their first Sweet 16 trip in 10 years. This was SMU’s return to the tournament after last season’s sanctions. It didn’t last long.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

USC coach Andy Enfield: “It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re going to get down, and then we’re going to come back, and hopefully we’ll pull it out.”

Stewart on SMU’s last possession: “I noticed that two players were arguing about who was going to take the last shot. Usually when something like that happens, whoever shoots it, it just messes with you. The floater was short. I felt like it could have went either way. Honestly, I had my eyes closed.”

Enfield: “Now you know why we get down so many games. He closes his eyes for about two-thirds of the game.”

SMU coach Tim Jankovich: “There used to be a show on TV when I was little, talking about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I think it was Wide World of Sports. I can certainly relate to that show right now.”

THURSDAY, FIRST ROUND

No. 11 Xavier 76, No. 6 Maryland 65
 
Never doubt a team that has been in 11 of the past 12 NCAA tournaments or a coach who has been in three Sweet 16s in eight years. Xavier and Chris Mack understand this road, even with the six-game free-fall the Musketeers took after losing point guard Edmond Sumner to injury. That was February. This is March.

Watch Now

First Round: Musketeers moving on

HOW IT HAPPENED

Xavier was down 50-47 with 13 minutes left when the Musketeers hit Maryland with a 14-0 run. The Terps had trouble adjusting to Xavier’s variety of man-to-man and zone defenses, and lost their tournament opener for the first time since 1997. Among the pertinent numbers were Xavier’s 34-24 dominance in rebounding and 30-13 gap in bench points.

WHO DID IT 

Trevon Bluiett can be a fireworks show whenever his fuse is lit. He was 1-for-8 in the first half, then 6-for-7 for 18 points in the second. He’s the guy who went 9-for-11 from the 3-point line against Cincinnati.

WHAT IT MEANS

Clearly, Xavier’s win over Butler and tight game with Creighton at the Big East tournament were signs the Musketeers had hit the reset button for the postseason. Maryland finished by losing five of its last seven.

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Bluiett: “Once I got a couple to go in, then you get a little rhythm going, and then everything starts to fall in and everything you shoot just feels good.”

Mack: “I don’t think that we were as beat up as people think. We play in a hellacious league. A three-game road trip was sandwiched by two of the best teams in the country. And I’m just proud of our group for being able to stick with each other and not necessarily worry about outsiders’ expectations or outsiders’ perceptions of our so-called problems.”

Coach Mark Turgeon on Maryland’s late-season woes: “If I had the answer, I would have fixed it.”

No. 12 Middle Tennessee 81, No. 5 Minnesota 72

The tournament’s first upset belongs to ... the same team responsible for the biggest one a year ago. The Blue Raiders sent a jolt through the 2016 NCAA tournament as a No. 15 seed, dumping No. 2 seed Michigan State. Same song, different Big Ten team. Two of this season’s big three for Middle Tennessee — Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts — had 21 and 19 points, respectively, against the Spartans, so they’re used to the business of March surprises.

Watch Now

First Round: Middle Tennessee State upsets Minnesota

HOW IT HAPPENED

Minnesota’s early 7-0 lead was a mirage. Middle Tennessee steadily, relentlessly took command by creaming the Gophers in rebounding (37-24) and attacking with a balanced, efficient offense; 19 assists on 28 field goals, with only eight turnovers. The lead was as large as 17 in the second half before Minnesota made a charge.
 
THE MAIN MAN

Upshaw. When the Gophers cut a 17-point deficit to four and Middle Tennessee was a tad wobbly, he scored seven consecutive Blue Raider points, starting with a 3-pointer. Crisis averted.

“He’s been making shots like that all season,” Potts said. “As soon as he shot the ball, I knew it was going in."

WHAT IT MEANS

The annual custom of a No. 12 seed derailing a No. 5 continues. Not that the Blue Raiders ever considered themselves a 12-seed, with a 30-4 record, and their view certainly looked pretty valid Thursday. They didn’t mind the déjà vu in the first round, but they’d like the next game to be far different. In 2016, they were crushed by Syracuse by 25 points in the second round. As for Minnesota, the season of revival from an 8-23 record was still remarkable, just not as long as the Gophers had hoped.

RELATEDIrish outlast Princeton | Virginia tops UNCW | NU gets first tourney win

WHAT THEY SAID ABOUT IT

Potts: “People know who we are now, because of that game last year and our record. We’re 31-4. Not a lot of teams have got 30 wins.”

Blue Raider guard Edward Simpson: “Tonight on TV, people will say that it was a 12-5 upset, but a lot of the analysts and us as a team, we came into this game thinking it wouldn’t be an upset.”

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino: "We talked about defending and rebounding. We didn't really do either one."