The first weekend of this year’s NCAA Tournament may go down as one of the most extraordinary ever witnessed and Saturday’s high points were absolute passion plays.
Some of it, as always, was pedestrian: Marquette beat Vermont 78-61, Gonzaga swatted Grand Canyon away 82-70, UConn pulled away from Iona in the second half 87-63. Baylor beat UCSB 74-56, K-State got past Montana State 77-65, Saint Mary’s knocked out VCU 63-51, Indiana toyed with Kent State, winning 71-60, Michigan State eliminated Southern Cal 72-62 and Kentucky took care of Providence 61-53.
In ACC Action, Creighton sent the Wolfpack back to Raleigh 72-63, Pitt survived an Ugly Bowl with Iowa State, 59-41 while Miami rallied late to end Drake’s season.
But the day hit beautiful heights in the best games: Kennesaw State was up 13 on Xavier with 9:56 left before the Musketeers rallied and narrowly won late, 72-67. Arizona State and TCU had a real back-and-forth battle before TCU won 72-70. Memphis pretty much fell apart down the stretch against Florida Atlantic, in a game that got very strange at the end. And most impressively, after saying he thought his team could beat Purdue, Tobin Anderson led his team to a shocking upset of #1 seed Purdue, 63-58. And that game is going to be talked about for years.
As it should be.
Because Purdue had everything going for it. How could FDU, where the starters average 6-3, defend mighty Purdue with 7-4 All-American Zach Edey?
Well, defend him they did.
The little Knights made the vastly bigger Boilermakers looks slow and sluggish. For some reason, Matt Painter kept using Edey to screen away from the basket, and when he was near the basket, Purdue didn’t get him the ball, which was too bad because no one cold have stopped him.
As the game drew near its end, Purdue looked tentative and uncertain - Steve Lappas explained “they’re scared to shoot! Nobody wants to shoot!” And he was right.
Fairleigh Dickinson ran circles around Purdue. If Edey brought the ball down, they stripped him. They got to loose balls faster. They just have vastly more heart than did Purdue.
As for the Memphis-FAU game....wow. FAU just kept coming and Memphis had a slow-motion collapse. Davis went down with an ankle injury and hopped off the court, seemingly enraged. When his teammates came to the huddle for a timeout, Davis shoved a teammate and turned his back - and the teammate shoved him in the back. Staff had to intervene.
Memphis took a lead with :34 left on a tip-in and then Davis made a turnover with :05 left that one of the broadcast crew compared to Kihei Clark’s disastrous turnover against Furman.
Then FAU turned the ball over on a drive and a scramble for the ball ended up with the ref calling for a jump ball. FAU got it, called a timeout and then got the ball to Nicholas Boyd in the corner and Elijah McFadden overcommitted. Boyd blew by him and took it in for the winning basket.
As the game ended, Hardaway threw his water bottle in disgust. All in all, it was a spectacular meltdown, an apt summation of Hardaway’s sometimes bizarre program.
Memphis fans are upset that a timeout wasn’t recognized, but in fairness, it was probably kind of hard to see. Still, if anyone can, Duke fans can empathize with getting screwed on a last-second play.
In the ACC side of things, NC State had to battle altitude in Denver and while Terquavion Smith played at a pretty high level, no one else was really on his level. We didn’t think much about DJ Burns specifically but it must have been really difficult for him at his weight.
Just as it began to look like Drake was going to get Miami, the ‘Canes ripped off a 16-1 run late to snatch victory away. Nijel Pack and Wooga Poplar had 21 and 15 respectively.
Good news: Norchad Omier is back and had 12 points and 14 boards in 36 minutes.
Bad news: Isaiah Wong shot just 1-10.
But that wasn’t the Bad News Bears news of the day. No, that would be the Pitt-Iowa State fiasco where #11 Pitt took out #6 Iowa State 59-41.
With 4:47 left, Iowa State had just 30 points, which is kind of - well, no kind of about it - is pathetic.
The Cyclones hit just 23.3 percent and shot just 2-21 from behind the line. They couldn’t even hit from the line, managing just 11-19.
- Not that Pitt was much better.
- The Panthers shot just 34.1 percent overall, 31.6 from deep - but did hit 25-29 from the free throw line.
And Federiko Federiko also played, if only 11 minutes.
Pitt ripped off a 22-2 lead and against a team that simply can’t shoot, that was probably enough. It was ugly, but the Panthers live to play another day, and that’s the general idea.
Pitt will get Xavier on Sunday and Xavier is good but vulnerable. Miami will play Indiana.
Here’s a look at Sunday’s action and if you can figure this field out, good for you, because no one else has come close:
#13 Furman vs. #5 San Diego State - Could Furman be a Cinderella? Well, Charleston nearly popped the Aztecs. Why not Furman? They were hugely impressive against Virginia.
#8 Arkansas vs. #1 Kansas - We’ll go with KU although Arkansas is dangerous.
#15 Princeton vs. #7 Missouri - We’ll take the Tigers here. Kidding! The Missouri Tigers, that is.
#9 Auburn vs. #1 Houston - In this feline fight, we’ll go with Houston even though it’s essentially a home game for Auburn (in Birmingham) and Marcus Sasser is questionable. Houston is potentially a great team and we expect they’ll prevail, but Sasser’s status could really hurt them.
#10 Penn State vs. #2 Texas - Penn State just humiliated Texas A&M but the other Lone Star teams, Texas and Houston, are much tougher. It won’t be easy for the Nittany Lions. We’ll take the Longhorns here.
#7 Northwestern vs. #2 UCLA - If Chris Collins & co. played a team more prone to nonsense than UCLA, we’d take them. But UCLA is about no-nonsense as anyone in the field. Northwestern is certainly capable but they’ll have to play a nearly perfect game.
#8 Maryland vs. #1 Alabama - The Terps may have caught a break with Brandon Miller suffering a groin injury, but he says he’s playing and Alabama is better with or even without him. So take the Tide and keep Jamea Harris and most of all her son Kaine, who is just five and will not remember much about his late mother, in your thoughts and prayers. Presumably after Miller declares for the NBA Draft, the Harris family will file a massive civil suit. Winning that, given that she would probably still be alive if he hadn’t driven the gun to his teammate and the alleged gunman, wouldn’t be much of a stretch.