There were not too many surprises overall in terms of seed line upsets, but nonetheless the tournament did start off with a bang thanks to a buzzer-beater by Loyola against Chicago in the afternoon set of games. The Ramblers will play a Tennessee team that had little difficulty in beating Wright State.
Gonzaga also had to sweat out a comeback bid by UNC-Greensboro and were actually down a bucket with a minute to play, but after a made bucket and a 3-point shot that put the Zags up for good, they were finally able to put the Spartans away with stifling defense in the final minute. Gonzaga will play Ohio State – the Buckeyes did withstand a great performance from SDSU’s Mike Daum.
Kansas took a while to warm up against Penn – they were actually down 21-11 midway through the first half against the Quakers before eventually going on a 17-point swing to take a 7-point lead at halftime and gradually put away Penn in the 2nd half. They will play Seton Hall – the Pirates led for virtually the entire game and won their first NCAA Tournament game in 14 years.
The games actually tipped off with a nice game between Oklahoma and Rhode Island – they ended up going to overtime before Rhody ultimately pulled away for an 83-78 victory. They will play a Duke team that had no difficulty beating Iona in their opener.
In the evening session, Kentucky failed to hit a 3-pointer for the entire game (for the first time since the late 1980s), but nonetheless held off Davidson in a game that was uncomfortably close for much of the 2nd half. They will play a Buffalo team that had a surprisingly easy blowout win in the nightcap against Arizona. That loss completely knocks the Pac-12 out of the NCAA Tournament picture this year.
Villanova demolished Radford in their opener in Pittsburgh and will play Alabama in Round 2. Collin Sexton had 21 of his 24 points in the 2nd half to lead the Crimson Tide over Virginia Tech despite trailing at halftime.
Houston looked like they might breeze past San Diego State in their opener, but the Aztecs hung around and were able to tie the game in the final minute. Unfortunately for SDSU, Rob Gray drove down the lane for a game-winning layup with a second to play to give Houston the lead for good. The Aztecs did actually get a decent look at a 3 on the ensuing inbound pass, but their shot went wide and Houston won their first NCAA Tournament game since 1984. They will play Michigan on Saturday – the Wolverines also beat Montana fairly comfortably.
SFA also looked like they might be a giant killer again after leading Texas Tech for a good portion of their game, but the Red Raiders clamped down defensively and won by a deceptive 70-60 score in their opener. Florida ended up pulling away from St. Bonaventure in the 2nd half and beat the Bonnies by 15 points in the nightcap.
(10) PROVIDENCE VS. (7) TEXAS A&M (12:15 PM, CBS) – The Friars come into this game hot off of a pair of overtime wins in the Big East Tournament, including a win over Xavier and an overtime loss to Providence in the Big East Championship. A&M was one and done after a buzzer-beater loss in their SEC Tournament opener against Alabama. Little fun fact – former President George H.W. Bush is going homer in his NCAA Tournament bracket and going with TAMU to win the whole thing.
(15) LIPSCOMB VS. (2) NORTH CAROLINA (approx. 2:45 PM, CBS) – The Bison are making their NCAA D-I Tournament debut after winning a thrilling Atlantic Sun championship game at Florida Gulf Coast. They nearly blew a 35-point lead in the process, but nonetheless find themselves in Charlotte today against a North Carolina team that is almost always a sure bet to win their first round tournament game. Carolina ultimately lost out on the #1 seed in the West region to Xavier, but the Tar Heels are favored by most brackets to actually win the West.
(9) KANSAS STATE VS. (8) CREIGHTON (6:50 PM, TNT) – One-time KSU player Marcus Foster will be one storyline to follow in tonight’s opener at Charlotte; both teams have quietly put together solid but not spectacular seasons in their respective conferences. The Bluejays are coming off consecutive losses to Marquette and an OT loss to Providence; but K-State did manage one win against TCU in the Big 12 Tournament before falling to Kansas in the semifinals.
(16) MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY VS. (1) VIRGNIA (approx. 9:20 PM, TNT) – UMBC hit a game-winning 3-pointer to end a 23-game losing streak against Vermont and win the America East title; even with Virginia down an injured player, they are fresh off a double in the ACC regular season/conference tournament and are still favorites in many eyes to win the NCAA Tournament this season.
(15) CAL STATE-FULLERTON VS. (2) PURDUE (12:40 PM, TruTV) – The Titans won the Big West title with wins over UC-Davis and UC-Irvine in the process. Purdue lost in the Big 10 title game to Michigan, but in a rare twist of fate have had more time to rest for the NCAAs than Fullerton due to the timing of both conference tournaments.
(10) BUTLER VS. (7) ARKANSAS (approx. 3:10 PM, TruTV) – Butler had a couple of keystone wins earlier in the season with a win at home against Villanova and a win against Ohio State in the PK80 Invitational back in November. Arkansas has more of a recency factor with a home win against Auburn and against Florida in the SEC Tournament (as well as a win against Tennessee back in January).
(14) BUCKNELL VS. (3) MICHIGAN STATE (7:10 PM, CBS) – Bucknell does have a history of pulling a couple of 1st-round NCAA Tournament upsets (ask Kansas and Memphis), but are going to be at a big homecourt disadvantage against Michigan State, however.
(11) SYRACUSE VS. (6) TCU (approx. 9:40 PM, CBS) – History is on Syracuse’s side in one respect – ever since the Field of 68 began in 2011, at least one First Four team has won in the Round of 64. With St. Bonaventure losing last night, it falls upon Syracuse to keep this streak intact. TCU will be making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 20 seasons – that team ultimately fell victim to a Valparaiso team that was the Cinderella of the Ball that year.
(13) MARSHALL VS. (4) WICHITA STATE (1:30 PM, TNT) – This game will be a battle of contrasting styles – Wichita has one of the nation’s best defensive teams, and Marshall is one of the more explosive teams in the country from an offensive standpoint. It may be a quiet crowd early on given the local 10:30 AM tip, but will warm up quickly the longer Marshall is competitive in this one.
(12) MURRAY STATE VS. (5) WEST VIRGINIA (approx. 4:00 PM, TNT) – West Virginia will be matched up for a potential upset special in Round 1 for the 2nd year in a row. On the other side, it seems like we haven’t mentioned Murray State for a while this time of year (at least since Steve Prohm was head coach for the Racers).
(13) CHARLESTON VS. (4) AUBURN (7:27 PM, TruTV) – Injuries have taken quite a bit of wind out of the sails of Auburn – while the Tigers did win a share of the SEC regular-season title, they have lost 4 out of their last 6 games. Charleston themselves has come in on a hot streak after winning the championship in the Colonial, but they had to come back against Northeastern after trailing for almost all of regulation before taking the lead for good in overtime of that game.
(12) NEW MEXICO STATE VS. (5) CLEMSON (approx. 9:57 PM, TruTV) – There is certainly a good chance we could see a 12 v. 13 matchup in Round 2 – NMSU is the more experienced of these two teams if you go by NCAA Tournament experience. Clemson themselves has also had to navigate injury issues for the second half of ACC play, but did they have a respectable showing in the ACC Tournament with a win against Boston College before losing to Virginia in the semifinal round.
(15) GEORGIA STATE VS. (2) CINCINNATI (2:00 PM, TBS) – While historical trends suggest this matchup has all the makings of an upset alert, there appears to be very little chance that Cincinnati and their stifling defense will be challenged today.
(10) TEXAS VS. (7) NEVADA (approx. 4:30 PM, TBS) – Nevada looked more dominant in Mountain West play from early January to mid-February, but still appear to be a team that can match up with the Havoc style of pressure that we’re accustomed to seeing from Shaka Smart’s teams at VCU and Texas.
(16) TEXAS SOUTHERN VS. (1) XAVIER (7:20 PM, TBS) – This is the first season Xavier has ever earned a #1 seed – this was mainly by virtue of winning the Big East regular-season title by a full game over Villanova. Texas Southern didn’t win a single non-conference game until their win over NC Central in the First Four, but they won very easily against the Eagles on Wednesday night. Still, the Tigers could make this interesting for a while.
(9) FLORIDA STATE VS. (8) MISSOURI (approx. 9:50 PM, TBS) – Even without Michael Porter for most of the season, Missouri was a pleasant surprise in the SEC this year after a disastrous run under Kim Anderson. They might have some matchup problems against one of the country’s tallest teams in Florida State, but this would appear to be another close 8/9 matchup.