It was quite a day in the NCAA Tournament, and it was just Day One.
We saw the expected - Alabama took down 16 Texas A&M-CC by 21, Kansas popped Kenny Blakeney’s Howard 96-68, Texas beat Colgate 81-61, UCLA breezed by UNC Asheville 86-53, San Diego State knocked off Charleston 63-57...and that’s sort of Tier 1.
In Tier Two, Houston had a much closer game than we thought they would with Northern Kentucky 63-52, Tennessee barely survived Louisiana 58-55, Missouri got Utah State 76-65, Maryland nipped West Virginia 67-65, Arkansas beat Illinois 73-63, Auburn became the latest team to send Fran McCaffery home early and Northwestern prevailed over Boise State 75-67.
In Tier Three, there was carnage: Penn State utterly destroyed Texas A&M 76-59, Princeton stunned Arizona 59-55 and Furman won at the buzzer over Virginia, 68-67.
Those are the games we’ll mostly focus on.
We were really shocked by the Penn State-A&M score. That game seemed like a toss up - you could make an argument either way - but we didn’t expect a blowout.
Well, Penn State absolutely punked the Aggies. Former Blue Devil Henry Coleman was held to two points although he did get seven rebounds. Texas A&M was a controversial seed because Buzz Williams always has a terribly soft non-conference schedule. The camera focused on him at the end of that game and we’ve never seen him make that sort of face. It’s hard to even describe, but call it a combination of shock and disgust.
What really impressed us in the Arizona-Princeton game was how rock-solid Princeton’s defense was. The Tigers just kept stopping Arizona, and Arizona is a very, very good team. Amazing, really.
Furman’s miraculous win over Virginia, courtesy of a mental error that’s likely to haunt Kihei Clark for years, came when the senior guard tried to get out of a trap by throwing the ball downcourt.
Furman got it and then hit a three to drive a stake in Virginia’s season and Clark’s career. Normally, Clark and Virginia are rock-solid in that sort of situation.
After the shot, Kadin Shedrick put his hands on his head and moaned “we had a timeout! We had a timeout!”
It was a mental error on par with Fred Brown’s tossing the ball to James Worthy by mistake in 1982.
Like Brown, Clark has been great for his school and we hope people focus on that rather than his last mistake.
Some notes on the other contests...
Worth noting in the Alabama game: star forward Brandon Miller was shut out and only played 19 minutes.
In Houston’s win, star guard Marcus Sasser played after suffering a groin injury last week and sadly re-aggravated it and sat out the second half.
That’s likely devastating for Houston in this tournament. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll be 100 percent any time soon.
Kansas played without Bill Self, still day-to-day after his heart procedure. Didn't matter. They toyed with Kenny Blakeney’s Howard team.
Still, he got them there and is building a strong program. They’ll be back.
Northwestern got a tough game from Boise State, before Chris Collins’ team won. It’s only the second NCAA appearance - and win - for the Wildcats, both under Collins. A few more of those and they might rename the building after him.
So far, K’s former players are 4-1 with Collins, Bobby Hurley, Jon Scheyer and Jeff Capel winning while Blakeney lost.
On Friday, another slate of intriguing games. Here are some quick thoughts on those:
- #10 USC vs. #7 Michigan State - In March, Tom Izzo is a god. That means to beat his team you’d have to be at your best. We’re not saying USC can’t. But it’s smart to bet on Izzo.
- #14 Kennesaw State vs. #3 Xavier - Xavier hasn’t been all that great late in the season and for some reason, based on nothing, we think the Owls might pull off the upset. Well it’s based on the notion that their coach, Amir Abdur-Rahim, seems very talented and has done a superb job.
- #14 UC Santa Barbara vs. #3 Baylor - We don’t know enough about UC Santa Barbara, but the game is in Denver which means thin air could have an effect. We’ll stick with Scott Drew, who has certainly become a top tier coach.
- #12 VCU vs. #5 St. Mary’s - VCU has been playing awfully well but Gaels guard Aidan Mahaney has dazzled at times and has the potential to emerge as a major star. We really hope they win because we want to see more of him.
- #2 Marquette vs. #15 Vermont - Marquette is playing too well to lose to Vermont. The only way Vermont wins is if Marquette is just...off.
- #6 Iowa State vs. #11 Pitt - Iowa State has been a little erratic. We like Pitt here and more so if Federiko Federiko is able to play. We almost forgot that Blake Hinson will be playing his old team. That has happened a couple of times already we think and will happen again in the Kentucky-Providence game as well.
- #6 Creighton vs. #11 NC State - The Pack is rested and ready to show the world just how good it can be. We think they can take it to Creighton and win. Not to knock Creighton, they’re always tough. But this State team has some heart.
- #4 UConn vs. #13 Iona - You always know what you get in a Rick Pitino team and it usually works. They’re going to get after you. Can you imagine him sitting on Jim Boeheim’s bench and thinking “I’m never going to use this defense.” Danny Hurley has UConn in a great situation though. After a bit of a swoon, UConn is one again a huge problem for anyone.
- #1 Purdue vs. # 16 Fairleigh Dickinson - How much do you love Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson saying, quite clearly, that he thinks the Knights can take #1 Purdue. We’re not at all sure that’s going to happen but we will mention this: the Boilermakers have been shakier late in the season and they start freshmen guards. If Fairleigh Dickinson can move fast enough they can largely negate the massive Zach Edey. Easier said than done though. And by the way, Purdue is not amused by Anderson’s cockiness.
- #6 Kentucky vs. #11 Providence - Tough call. Kentucky is kind of healthy, more so than it has been in a while but one great subtext to this game is that Bryce Hopkins left UK for PC and is doing very well. Revenge game? Plus the Wildcats have really had a rocky season and, well, a rocky couple of years when you get down to that.
- #5 Miami vs. #12 Drake - We’d absolutely take Miami if Norchad Omier were playing but that’s still iffy. But we’ll stick with the ‘Canes because Jim Larranaga is a masterful coach.
- #3 Gonzaga vs. #14 Grand Canyon - Grand Canyon is an unbelievably ambitious program and they’re becoming a force. But Gonzaga knows the lay of the land better and they’re peaking.
- #8 Memphis vs. #9 Florida Atlantic - Memphis, always erratic and unpredictable under Penny Hardaway, was tremendous in the AAC tournament against Houston. But we’d discount that a bit since Sasser is so critical. We’ll go for the upset here, largely because Dusty May has done a brilliant job with FAU.
- #3 Kansas State vs. #14 Montana State - it’s hard to find an argument for Montana State (we’ve heard that before). Still, K-State will win.
- #4 Indiana vs. #13 Kent State - We love the MAC and IU is without Xavier Johnson. So we’ll roll the dice on an upset here.
- #6 TCU vs. #11 Arizona State - What you saw from Bobby Hurley’s ASU team Wednesday was amazing, real, and pretty rare. As we’ve said before, you don’t hit your peak performance two games in a row - that’s why it’s a peak. But we like ASU here because we think Hurley is probably a better coach than Jamie Dixon and he can draw on two bags of tricks, one from his legendary dad, who was the GOAT of high school coaches and one from his legendary Duke coach, Coach K, who was the GOAT of college coaches. Dixon has gotten to the Elite Eight once and to the Sweet Sixteen two other times. He’s better than Iowa’s McCaffrey, but he’s not a top-level tournament coach. As a general thing, we’ll always put faith in a Coach Hurley.
- As a minor but amusing thought, not many of you will understand how thoroughly shocking and dismaying it is in Tucson for Arizona State to have stayed in longer than the Wildcats, but we can promise you, this is not going to go over well. Not at all.