It was, in the end, a tale of two first rounds.
At the top of the NCAA tournament ladder, all was well. The three highest seeds in each region won and moved on, including Roy Williams going 29-0 in his first game at North Carolina and Kansas. But just below? Carnage.
So behold the weekend to come, after what the past two days gave us:
Zion Williamson in full gallop. His freshman running mate, too
In the first NCAA tournament game of their lives, Duke’s Williamson and RJ Barrett combined for 51 points against North Dakota State and made 21 of 34 shots. “I think last night, when I was sitting in my hotel room, I’m like, `wow, I’m actually here,” Williamson said.
So North Dakota State noticed. Coach David Richman was asked about not playing anyone like Williamson. His answer: “Is there any guys like him?”
Mike Krzyzewski mentioned how “I’ve had a lot of wow guys.” And these two are both lefthanded, whatever that means. So Krzyzewski’s latest wow guys now go against UCF, coached by Johnny Dawkins. Krzyzewski’s first wow guy at Duke. Zion, meet 7-6 Tacko Fall.
Seven Big Ten schools
Which means 22 percent of the bracket is now composed of one league. So many, they can no longer keep out of each other’s way, which is why it’ll be Michigan State vs. Minnesota Saturday. Michigan State, the team that hit 25 of 26 free throws hustling past Bradley. Minnesota, the team that was outscored in bench points 29-0 but went 26 minutes without a turnover to upset Louisville.
For a while there, it looked the Big Ten would never lose, until Wisconsin did. The conference office is waiting for your apology, Badgers. “We’ve been saying all year long it’s the most competitive league in the country top to bottom,” Iowa’s Fran McCaffery said after rallying past Cincinnati. “And you sort of expect Big Ten coaches to make those kinds of statements. But the reality is, we actually believe that, and so I think it’s proving it."
Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann added late Friday night, when his Buckeyes made the Big Ten 7-1: “You’re careful to talk too early. There’s a lot of tournament left to be played . . . But it’s the best league I’ve ever been a part of from top to bottom, this year in the Big Ten. I can’t explain how difficult it is to play on a given night.”
A No. 13 seed, three 12s, an 11 and three 10s
That’s bad news for a lot of higher seeds. Had New Mexico State come up with two more points against Auburn, the No. 12 seeds would have had a four-game sweep over No. 5. Remarkable.
Only five of the 16 games involving the two highest possible seeds. At least one upset has altered the other 11 games.
A No. 13 seed vs. a No. 12 for a spot in the Sweet 16
Lots of double digits in that sentence, for a second round game. That’d be UC Irvine – winner of 17 in a row – and Oregon. There isn’t much anything scarier out there right now – short of trying to take a charge from Zion Williamson on a breakaway – than the Ducks’ defense. On Feb. 23, they gave up 62 points to UCLA in the second half. In the nine wins since, they have allowed that many points once in an entire game.
Teams from 13 different conferences
The joy has been spread around. So far.
A wish for more close finishes
Out of 32 first-round games, only 12 were decided by single digits, only three with a final margin of one possession. March is still waiting for the first buzzer-beater.
Virginia still breathing
“We’re ready to put on a show this year so we can talk about something else,” Kyle Guy had said about the UMBC memory. But how nervous was the Commonwealth – and the Cavaliers – when it was down to Gardner-Webb by 14 points? “Well, it was just intense,” coach Tony Bennett would say later. “That’s the reality of it.” And now that the first round matter has been settled, what’s next? Oklahoma, who scored 42 points against Mississippi before its first turnover.
Florida State will now see what it can do with Ja Morant and his gang. Murray State has never been in the Sweet 16. The Seminoles will be one of only two teams in America – with Auburn -- who can say they have played the two hottest names in the sport, Morant and Williamson. By the way, Auburn lost to Williamson by six, beat Morant by five. And the Tigers are still playing, too.
The most prolific 3-point shooter of all time
Wofford’s Fletcher Magee passed the career record of 504 Thursday night. But look who’s going to be guarding him Saturday. . .
Kentucky vs. Wofford
A team with 129 NCAA tournament victories against a team with one. It’s Goliath and David, right? “I hate it,” Wofford coach Mike Young said of that concept Friday. But even he had to admit that in 1988, “I came down and interviewed for the job, and I had never heard of Wofford.”
Young put together a non-conference schedule this season that included North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi State, with this moment in mind. “We may get our ears pinned back tomorrow, but it will not be because my team is intimidated,” he said. “You know, there’s a method to the madness.”
Still, Magee is going to be chased by an awful lot of future NBA guys.
“I think that’s something that you try to block out and ignore as much as you can,” he said. “Getting the chance against great competition is always a great chance to prove yourself.”
An all-Virginia second round game
Virginia Tech and Liberty. Who saw that coming?
Speaking of Iowa’s McCaffery, that’s his redshirt freshman son Connor, who besides hitting a 3-pointer to give the Hawkeyes the lead Friday had four hits in three games the past week, playing outfield for the Hawkeyes’ baseball team. He was in the clubhouse between games of a doubleheader when Iowa was called out on Selection Sunday. He heard the opponent was Cincinnati. Then he went out and hit two doubles. “This moment’s going to pass and I’m going to look back on it and kind of like go wow, this was crazy,” he was saying in the locker room Friday. “But I need to appreciate everything for what it is.”
P.S. He had his baseball equipment sent to Indiana this weekend just in case the Hawkeyes were eliminated Friday by Cincinnati. The Iowa baseballers will have to face the Hoosiers without him.
But then, a lot of plans have been changed the past two days.