Can the NCAA tournament thin a crowd or what? For months, the discussion is about 68 teams . . . 68 teams . . . 68 teams.
In a little over 72 hours, 36 of them are gone. And this March, that includes — have the therapy sessions started yet in Lexington? — Kentucky.
These are some of the messages from the first round.
Plenty of room for the underdogs to squeeze through. Seven double-digit seeds survived, including 2022’s Upset Special, No. 15 Saint Peter’s over Kentucky on St. Patrick’s Day. That sets up a moment Saturday night you won’t see every tournament. Murray State vs. Saint Peter’s in prime time, baby!
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No serious problems for the No. 1s. Baylor by 36, Kansas by 27, Arizona by 17 and Gonzaga by 21. The first three trailed for a total of 1:56 (Kansas was down 2-0 to Texas Southern) but Gonzaga actually was behind Georgia State in second half. Then came a Zags-like 21-0 explosion and that was that. “I think it’s really important to be the hunter and not the hunted,” Mark Few said afterward. “I thought we were trying to be that in the first half.”
A rocky ride for the Big Ten. Illinois by one over Chattanooga, and fortunate to still be around. Michigan State by one over Davidson. Wisconsin fighting for its life before finally getting rid of Colgate in Badger-red Milwaukee. Michigan needing to rally from 15 down to beat Colorado State. Iowa upset, Indiana battered, Rutgers heartbroken. The wide range of emotions for the Big Ten symbolized the tournament as a while these past days.
The Coach K retirement moment put on hold for at least 48 hours — and longer if Mike Krzyzewski has anything to do with it. Duke beat Cal State Fullerton by 17, and Krzyzewski was concerned about the slippery floor in Greenville — especially after Wendell Moore Jr. fell — mentioning that Nike had already called to make sure he bloody well didn’t say it was the shoes.
The theory was put forward that maybe Krzyzewski could just relax and coach now, the season farewells over. “Well, that’s not happening,” he said. “Relax has not been there since June, which is fine.”
And now Cal State Fullerton’s Dedrique Taylor must wonder — as any other man will, whom Duke beats — will he be the last coach to lose a game to Mike Kryzyzewski?
Extraordinary individual performances, in both winning and losing causes.
New Mexico State’s Teddy Allen with 37 points to beat Connecticut, describing the moment he realized he had to take over the game. “They had tied it or something like that, and the media timeout’s a long as hell, and I was getting my breath. I was like, all right, it’s time. I know my team needs me . . . it was just my turn.”
(The next day, his brother Timmy would contribute 14 points in Texas’ win over Virginia Tech. Big week for the Allens).
San Francisco graduate student Jamaree Bouyea pushing Murray State to the brink with 36 points before the Racers finally could escape in overtime. “I just didn’t want to leave anything, leave any regrets out there. So that’s basically how I played,” he said of his final college game. Murray State’s Tevin Brown was asked to describe Bouyea. “One word: Pro,” he answered. “That man can do everything.”
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Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, unable to stop the Saint Peter’s moment with 30 points and 16 rebounds. “And they had five guys playing him,” John Calipari said.
Cormac Ryan, with a season average under nine, leading Notre Dame past Alabama with 29 points. Clearly, the Irish travel better than Indiana. That late-night flight from Dayton to the West Coast seemed to sap the Hoosiers and set them up for the mashing by Saint Mary’s. It didn’t faze the Irish, or Ryan, now a 12 seed with two victories and looking for more against TCU. “I think we were just hungry,” he said. “We were hungry down in Dayton and I don’t think we ever lost it.”
Daryl Banks III, fearlessly leading the Saint Peter’s charge against Kentucky with 27 points and soon hearing already from possible NIL exposure options. “You have to stay locked in,” he said. “A couple reached out, but I didn’t get the chance to look into it.”
Jacob Gilyard, who has seemingly been at Richmond half his life, having the day of his dreams with 24 points, six rebounds and six assists to lead the upset of Iowa. Obviously, he intends to carry this final ride to his last breath. He has gone all 40 minutes eight games in a row. “I think the last time I came out of a game, I told (coach Chris Mooney) to take me out,” he said. “I couldn’t remember the last time he tried to take me out. I would just wonder what he was thinking. I would be interested to know what the logic was behind that.”
Joey Hauser, who has spent some maligned days as a Michigan State Spartan. He was scoreless in 21 minutes in the Big Ten tournament loss to Purdue, and had broken double figures only once in 13 games. But he saved Michigan State against Davidson with 27. “It’s a new season, that’s the beauty of the tournament,” he said. “Anything can happen.”
The tag-team attack Gonzaga’s two stars put on Georgia State: Drew Timme with 32 points, Chet Holmgren with 19 points and 17 rebounds and five assists and seven blocks.
Same for Auburn against Jacksonville State: Jabari Smith with 20 points and 14 rebounds, Walker Kessler nearly a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks. He blocked four more shots than he missed. “Tell Bruce (Pearl) to enjoy them the next few weeks,” Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper said. “Because he won’t see them much after that unless he goes to an NBA game.”
But glory in some places meant pure anguish in others.
Kentucky, of course. Including the blue army that went to Indianapolis to see the Wildcats begin their appointed rounds to the Final Four, and instead went splat against Saint Peter’s. “They were shellshocked like we all were,” John Calipari said.
A staggering fact: Add this loss to not making the field in 2021, and the 2020 cancellation, and Kentucky will go into next season not having won a single NCAA tournament game in three years.
Also, the Chattanooga Mocs, who had Big Ten co-champion Illinois ready for the deep fryer, if only they could made one more shot. Just one more, that Malachi Smith took in the last seconds with the Illini clinging — clinging — to a one-point lead. “I just let me teammates down and I just missed a shot I usually make,” he said. “It hurts because I can’t get it back.”
Murray State had to claw past San Francisco to go 31-2, expecting to find Kentucky the next game, but getting Saint Peter’s instead. Either way, it’ a great opportunity. “I say it all the time, nobody in America has won more games than Murray State, everybody in America has lost more games than Murray State,” coach Matt McMahon said.
Last year’s tournament had five overtime games. So did 2019. There were four in the first 20 games this year.
Tennessee had 33 field goals against Longwood — and 29 assists.
USC had 18 turnovers. Miami had three. That’s a big reason the Hurricanes are going on, a team that went 10-17 last season.
Texas Tech shot 66.7 percent and had six players in double figures against Montana State, whose coach said that should be a warning to the rest of the field. “It felt like they were guarding me. I couldn’t even see my play card,” Danny Sprinkle said. “I don’t know if there’s anybody in the tournament that’s going to beat them if they shoot the ball that well. Because defensively they don’t have any weaknesses.”
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Providence did what no one has been able to do, shut down South Dakota State’s offense and end their 21-game winning streak, holding the Jackrabbits 30 points under their average. That spoiled the upset picks so many had made, figuring a team with this many close wins would run out of luck sooner or later. Nobody left in this field may feel more disrespected than the Friars, and that can be a weapon in March. “We knew when we were coming in, we were going to have an edge, fire and chip on our shoulder,” Al Durham said. “And we came out and played our game and we just proved the whole world wrong about what they were saying.”
Yale was flattened by Purdue but it was special that the Bulldogs were even on the floor. Between the 2020 NCAA pandemic washout and the conference pulling the plug on last season, Yale was the first Ivy League team to play in an NCAA tournament game in nearly 1,100 days.
Not everything was pretty. Ohio State missed 14 of 15 3-pointers, had only one fewer turnover than field goals, and still beat Loyola Chicago by 13 points. Coach Chris Holtmann called the 54-41 game a “rock fight.” Nobody begged to differ.
Matt Painter felt a lot better after Purdue’s first round win over Yale than they did last year, when the Boilermakers went down in overtime to North Texas. “We used it, we talked about it,” Matt Painter said of making that memory a point of incentive for the Boilermakers. “But when we played North Texas, we talked about getting beat by Arkansas Little Rock six years before and that didn’t help.”
By the way, the Little Rock coach who beat Painter in the first round in 2016 was Chris Beard. Now Beard is at Texas, Purdue’s next opponent.
Virginia Tech might have been done in the moment Texas’ Marcus Carr banked in a shot at the halftime buzzer that he took a few steps beyond the arc. The arc at the other end of the court, that is. It gave the Longhorns the lead and they took the momentum to an eight-point win. “That’s a shot, I’m not going to lie, I do practice a lot,” he said. “Most days I don’t leave the gym until I hit a half-court shot. Sometimes it takes one rep, sometimes it takes me 11.”
Creighton trailed for 39 minutes and 41 seconds and was outscored 30-1 in bench points but found a way to get past San Diego State in overtime. But fate seems against the Bluejays, who had already lost point guard Ryan Nembhard to injury and in this game lost 7-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner as well.
TCU earned its first NCAA tournament win in 35 years, blasting Seton Hall.
All pretty good for a first round. And look what’s coming. Among other things, Mike Krzyzewski against Tom Izzo Sunday. They have met 15 times. Izzo has lost 12.
“I’m looking forward to it in a lot of ways,” Izzo said. “Not when I look at the record but when I look at the coach, the team and the position we’re in. It should be a great day for college basketball.”
The past few haven’t been too bad, either.