NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Virginia isn’t alone as the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament has laid waste to a pair of No. 1 seeds.
On the heels of No. 1 Virginia’s loss to No. 16 UMBC on Friday, Xavier became the second 1-seed to get eliminated from the tournament when it botched a 12-point lead in a 75-70 loss to No. 9 Florida State in Nashville on Sunday.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, it is just the fourth time since seeding began in 1979 that two 1-seeds failed to reach the Sweet 16 (2004, 2000, 1981). Only seven top-four seeds made it, which ties for the fewest ever.
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton warned reporters not to call anything that happens in the tournament an upset, though. Instead, he explained, “It’s just what they call March Madness.”
Hamilton, who waited in the locker room at Bridgestone Arena as No. 2 Cincinnati lost to No. 7 Nevada, had a unique perspective.
“I think what you see happening in college basketball, it’s almost like a revolution,” he said. “What happens is, you start categorizing people by the reputation that their players get going into college. But in reality, kids are playing basketball all over the country and teams are getting better. Just because maybe they might not be in one particular conference or maybe they’re not considered to be one of the more traditional rich schools, people are playing basketball.”
He added: “See, sometimes the team that’s the most talented might not necessarily win the game. It’s the team that’s playing well at that particular time.”
Xavier coach Chris Mack watched most of the second half of Virginia’s loss to UMBC on Friday and thought the same thing, telling reporters on Saturday that seeding didn’t matter. He saw the poise of one team versus the other and said, “I think that no matter who you are, 1-seed, 10-seed, 16-seed, that’s how you have to play this time of the year to advance, because the moment, the environment can start to be overwhelming if you start to think about that and not of the task at hand.”
But against Florida State, Mack’s veteran-laden team showed signs of distress, fumbling a trip to the Sweet 16 away late in the game. Mack said they were ultimately undone because of missed free throws, turnovers and offensive rebounding.
“Obviously a tough loss for our group,” Mack said. “Pretty emotional ending, the finale of what I think is the best sporting event in our country.”
Xavier, which lost only five games all season, was ultimately undone by early foul trouble impacting several key players, including starters Quentin Goodin and J.P. Macura. Immediately after Florida State pulled even with Xavier with 2:22 remaining, Macura drove hard into the lane and fouled out.
Florida State’s PJ Savoy hit the go-ahead 3 with 1:08 remaining.
“When Trent had threw me the ball … I did hesitate just to see what the defender was going to do,” Savoy said, “and I saw he backed up and let it fly.”
Xavier’s offense struggled during stretches with star senior guard Trevon Bluiett, who averaged more than 19 points per game during the regular season, held to eight points on 2-of-8 shooting from the field. He also set a career high with five turnovers.
It might have technically happened in two different regions, but the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds both fell in the same place on Sunday, as Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena also hosted No. 2 Cincinnati‘s loss to No. 7 Nevada. Both gave up double-digit leads: Xavier gave up a 12-point lead; Cincinnati coughed up a 22-point lead.
Florida State advances to the Sweet 16, where it will face No. 4 Gonzaga.
Xavier has won 28 games in the NCAA tournament, the most without a Final Four appearance.
With a number of seniors leaving, including Bluiett and Macura, Mack was asked by a reporter whether this marked the end of an era for Xavier basketball.
“That’s a bad question to ask me,” he said sternly. “We’ve graduated 105 seniors. If you think our program is falling off a cliff, you haven’t followed Xavier basketball very long.”