March Madness: Five things we learned Thursday in 2016 NCAA tournament
The opening day of the 2016 NCAA tournament is in the books, and it did not disappoint.
There were upsets, standout individual performances and plenty of great basketball all around.
Here's what we learned:
1: UConn’s still UConn
Just one week ago, UConn’s season was in real jeopardy. The Huskies were trailing by three to Cincinnati with .8 seconds left in the third overtime of their AAC quarterfinals game, and a loss very well could have put them on the outside of the bubble. But we all know what happened next. Jalen Adams drilled a 3/4-court miracle shot, UConn won the game, would go on to win the conference tournament and earned a No. 9 seed in the Big Dance.
But once again, the Huskies found themselves in danger. They trailed by nine at the half to Colorado in their first-round NCAA tournament game.
But this is March, and this is UConn.
The Huskies put together a dominant second half to overcome the Buffaloes and now improbably find themselves facing overall No. 1 seed Kansas in the Round of 32.
On paper, the Jayhawks should win easily. They rank in the top-10 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency, they have plenty of experience and, in the midst of a 14-game winning streak, they’re red hot right now.
But, let me repeat myself: This is March, and this is UConn. This is a program that just finds a way, with Adams’ buzzer-beater and its comeback win Thursday serving as the latest proof.
With Coach Kevin Ollie having a perfect 7-0 record in NCAA tournament games, his Huskies’ confidence sky high and UConn’s history, the Jayhawks need to be careful.
2: Yale is a legitimate threat to make the Sweet 16
Among teams seeded 12 or lower, Yale was the most popular pick among Capital One Bracket Challenge users to win its first-round game.
And for good reason. The Bulldogs can play.
Yale ultimately rewarded its backers’ faith, toppling Baylor 79-75 to punch its ticket to the Round of 32.
But the final score doesn’t tell the full story; Yale controlled the game and was clearly the better team. This was far from a flukey win. Yale outworked and beat Baylor at the rim, something that didn’t happen often to the Bears this season.
The Bulldogs work their tails off, especially on the defensive end, where they rank 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. And while they're not a top scoring team, they still possess a capable offense, ranking 80th in adjusted offensive efficiency.
Next up for Yale will be the storied Duke Blue Devils. Coach Mike Krzyzewski runs one of the top programs in the country. Yale is in the tournament for the first since 1962.
But the Bulldogs have a chance here.
Duke might have the fourth most efficient offense in the country, but, as we’ve talked about, Yale has the defense to match. On the flip side, Duke’s defense is fairly suspect, ranking 119th in adjusted efficiency.
Another thing working in the Bulldogs’ favor is Duke’s lack of depth. The Blue Devils play just six players more than 10 minutes per game, compared to a more traditional eight for Yale. Forcing Duke into foul trouble will be crucial for Yale.
With its elite defensive ability and depth advantage, Yale has a legitimate chance to take down Coach K’s squad and make its first Sweet 16 in program history.
3: The dream matchup we wanted to see is happening
Entering the tournament, it was hard not to get excited about the prospects of seeing Indiana and Kentucky meet in the second round.
Thanks to the Hoosiers’ victory over Chattanooga and the Wildcats’ win over Stony Brook, this college basketball fan’s dream matchup is coming to fruition.
Two of the most storied programs in the sport’s history. Two of the best point guards in the nation – Tyler Ulis and Yogi Ferrell – squaring off. Two teams that entered the tournament with a chip on their shoulder.
Both teams looked good in victory on Thursday, too. The Hoosiers dominated a solid Chattanooga team by 25 thanks to Ferrell’s 20 points and 10 assists and five guys scoring in double figures. And while Kentucky started off slow against Stony Brook, they eventually pulled away with ease.
Giddy up. This one will be a lot of fun.
4: Point guard play is crucial
The importance of guard play was on full display Thursday.
Take a look at the two biggest upsets of the day: Little Rock beating Purdue and Yale beating Baylor. Both teams received outstanding play for the floor generals. Trojans star Josh Hagins posted an impressive statline of 31 points, seven rebounds, six assists and five steals, while Yale’s Makai Mason scored 31 as well and dished out four assists.
On the other side, Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson scored five points (1-of-5 FG) and dished out just two assists, and Baylor point guard Lester Medford scored just two points (1-of-6 FG) with six assists. That’s just not going to cut it from your point guard in the NCAA tournament.
Meanwhile, there were a number of high-seeded teams that took care of business as expected thanks, in part, to their guard play. Ferrell, Ulis and Miami's Angel Rodriguez are just a few of the guards that helped their teams avoid early upsets.
5: Wichita State is a Final Four sleeper
Three teams in NCAA tournament history have ever made the Final Four as an 11 seed. Don’t be surprised if Wichita State becomes the fourth.
The Shockers have experience, excellent guard play led by Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker and are an advancement metrics best friend. Despite being an 11 seed in the tournament, Wichita State entered Thursday as the No. 10 overall ranked team by KenPom, thanks to its 82nd ranked offense and No. 1 ranked defense.
Gregg Marshall’s squad certainly lived up to that ranking on Thursday, as they absolutely dominated a really good Arizona team in Providence.
Their quality of opponent will only get tougher as the tournament goes along, obviously – the Shockers road to Houston could be Miami, Villanova and Kansas – but the Shockers can handle it. This is one of the most talented teams in the country and they appear to be peaking at the right time.