The big boys don’t own the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Bucknell and Vermont proved that Friday night.
Bucknell beat Kansas, 64-63, the biggest upset of the tournament as a 14 seed beat a 3.
Vermont, a 13 seed beat fourth-seeded Syracuse 60-57 in overtime.
They were about more than seedings.
They were the games that define March Madness.
Bucknell, the Patriot League champions, held on to beat Kansas, not only a co-champion of the Big 12 but one of the three teams to hold the No. 1 ranking this season.
Chris McNaughton’s banked hook shot with 10 seconds left gave the Bison a 64-63 lead. After Kansas missed a shot, John Griffin of Bucknell missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 3.5 seconds to go.
Kansas set up for a final shot and Wayne Simien got it — a wide open jumper from about 15 feet that hit the front of the rim and set off a wild celebration for the Bison.
It was the first-ever win for a team from the Patriot League and it Kansas’ first first-round loss since 1978, a stretch of 21 games.
“Certainly it’s the biggest win we’ve ever had,” said coach Pat Flannery, a 1980 Bucknell grad. “Our kids battled their big kids all night long. Our kids made them work for everything they got.”
Vermont, the champions of the America East Conference, gave Syracuse, the champions of the Big East, all it could handle. It was a team getting its first NCAA win over a school that won it all two years ago.
“It’s something you dream about,” Vermont guard T.J. Sorrentine said. “We believed in ourselves. That’s what it takes, you have to believe.”
The final season for Sorrentine, fellow senior Taylor Coppenrath and retiring coach Tom Brennan got an extra 5 minutes with the overtime and now they get at least one more game.
“I’m not surprised and I’m not trying to be a wise guy,” said Brennan, one of the most popular coaches in the business. “Synergy. Karma. The stars being aligned. There’s something to all that.”
Then he explained it in basketball terms.
“We worked that (shot) clock down. We played good defense and we have seniors,” he said. “This validates us.”
Sorrentine hit a 3-pointer from about 25 feet with 1:06 left in overtime to give the Catamounts a 59-55 lead.
“I knew it was down but I didn’t know how deep I was,” he said. Then he talked about the longest 0.4 seconds of his life as Vermont had to inbound the ball after Syracuse’s Gerry McNamara missed a tough 3-point attempt that would have tied the game.
“I looked up and said, ‘Get to three zeros,’” Sorrentine said.
It finally did and Vermont, the school and state, had its biggest win.
“I can’t even imagine what it will be like,” Brennan said of the celebration.
Gator escape: Florida found a way to avoid another first-round failure. Now the Gators have to hope this escape will again be the start to a successful NCAA Tournament.
The fourth-seeded Gators blew a 20-point second-half lead before pulling out a 67-62 victory over Ohio University on Friday.
The last time Florida found a way to scramble out of the first round was in 2000. The Gators beat Butler 69-68 in overtime in the first round that year as a No. 5 seed and they went on to the national championship game, losing to Michigan State 89-76.
The last three years saw Florida sandwich first-round losses around a blowout win over Sam Houston State in 2003. There was the 83-82 overtime loss to Creighton in 2002 and a 75-60 loss to Manhattan last year, both with the Gators seeded fifth.
“Florida teams of old would have gotten beat by 10 or 15 points,” said senior David Lee, 2-2 in first-round games at Florida.
Ohio tied it at 60 with a 25-5 run over a 9:48 span. The Bobcats got into the field of 65 by overcoming a 19-point second-half deficit to beat Buffalo in overtime in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
The Gators closed with a 7-2 run, so instead of two straight comebacks wins for Ohio, it’s a new life for Florida.
“I was happy the way our guys inside the last minute found a way to survive and win and have a chance to play on Sunday,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
And if history does repeat, that final minute could be the start of a long tournament run for Florida.
Sowing seeds: The losses by No. 3 Kansas to 14th-seeded Bucknell and No. 4 Syracuse to 13th-seeded Vermont meant another year without the top 16 teams in the tournament getting to the second round.
Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the only years when all 16 seeded teams moved on were 1994, 2000 and 2004.
In-state matchups: There were only two first-round matchups involving teams from the same state.
On Thursday, second-seeded Kentucky beat No. 15 Eastern Kentucky, 72-64. On Friday, 10th-seeded North Carolina State defeated No. 7 Charlotte, 75-63.