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The first round of the NCAA Tournament is arguably the best round of the tournament, even though the championship isn't decided until much later on. That is because there are 32 games in two days, making for an all-you-can-eat buffet of hoops from which nobody wants to leave the table. And, with so many games going on, it's only natural that some of the most exciting moments in tournament history have come from its first two days. These three games specifically were some of the best openers in March Madness history for a number of reasons.
UMBC vs. Virginia - 2018
For many years, it was thought to be impossible that a 16-seed could ever beat a one-seed in the first round of the tournament. That is because it had never happened. There were 135 16-seeds who tried to beat a top seed, and all of them had failed. That was until UMBC came along as the last 16-seed to play in the 2018 first round. Their opponent was Virginia, who came in with a suffocating defense that frustrated even the best teams in the mighty ACC.
On that day, though, it was UMBC whose defense was suffocating, as they held Virginia to just 54 points in a blowout 74-54 win that sent shockwaves throughout the sport. This game wasn't one of the best first-round games because of how competitive it was, but rather because of how surprising it was. A Virginia comeback was expected but never came, as the Retrievers kept finding new avenues to add to their lead as a nation watched with its collective jaw on the floor. In victory, UMBC showed that it was possible for a 16-seed to triumph in the first round of the tournament and that nothing is truly impossible.
Siena vs. Ohio State - 2009
The 2009 tournament saw the Siena College Saints get in as a nine-seed out of the MAAC, as the league was experiencing a period of success that it can only long for now. Siena had a great team during that era, with coach Fran McCaffrey soon to depart for Iowa and several of their players getting ready to enjoy productive professional careers. But, before all of that, Siena had a first-round game with Ohio State out of the Big Ten, in a game that featured twist after twist.
It was Ronald Moore who was the hero for Siena, draining several big threes to keep Siena alive and to put them ahead for good in the second overtime period. Bill Raftery's famous "double order" call has lived on in tournament lore since this game, while the Saints moved on in truly dramatic fashion. In the next round, the Saints gave top-seeded Louisville everything they could handle as well, with the small school from Albany, New York making quite the name for itself on the big stage.
Richmond vs. Syracuse - 1991
At the time, Richmond's upset of Syracuse was the biggest in the history of the NCAA Tournament, as no 15-seed had ever beaten a two-seed before. But Richmond proved that they had the depth to get the job done in a way that no team ever had before, clinging to a slim lead as the clock hit zero to score an iconic victory. The game was great because of the tension, as it was close throughout and the underdog managed to prevail in spite of all of the pressure on them down the stretch. It was the quintessential tournament upset.
Of course, the real reason for the upset was the Richmond bench, which outscored the Syracuse reserves by a margin of 32-3. The Orange saw its bench players take just three field goal attempts for the entire game, which is not a recipe for success in any level of basketball, let alone in the NCAA Tournament.