Photo Credit: 12up
March Madness is here. The first round brought us some upsets, many near-misses, and some spectacular performances. Here are a few things that stood out.
Arguably, the performance of the first round goes to Ja Morant. Murray State won convincingly over Marquette on Thursday but Morant stole the show, recording just the 8th triple-double in NCAA tournament history over the past 35 years. I personally am a fan that is intrigued by close games and drama over individual performance but watching Morant was special. Some comparisons I saw were to that of LeBron and Kobe. Morant is both a scorer and a creator and will be a great storyline as long as Murray State remains in the tournament.
New Mexico State
New Mexico State lost in probably the most agonizing way we will see in the tournament. To cut to the chase, the Aggies had trailed Auburn for most of the game but staged a furious final-minute comeback behind a strong performance from three. They got the benefit of Sam Doughty splitting a pair of free throws for Auburn. On the final possession, my question is why AJ Harris would kick the ball out instead of going for the open layup. I and probably everyone else watching saw the tying layup with nothing to stop him. Then the free throws happened. Missing two of three has to haunt Terrell Brown, and we can do nothing but feel bad for the kid. Finally, Trevelin Queen’s buzzer-beating attempt was a great look but an airball. This was definitely the craziest finish of the first round and possibly the craziest finish of the NCAA tournament. For New Mexico State, this is probably the most agonizing defeat for a team in the NCAA tournament since Northern Iowa lost a 12-point lead in the final 35 seconds in 2016.
Big Ten Success
The Big Ten went 7-1 in the first round, including Minnesota’s convincing defeat of Louisville and Iowa’s impressive comeback win against Cincinnati. In a year where we focused on teams such as Duke, North Carolina, and Gonzaga and players such as Zion, RJ Barrett, and Ja Morant, the Big Ten quietly put together a solid lineup of eight teams, more than any other conference. I think Michigan State, Michigan, and Purdue all have a reasonable chance at the Final Four (even with Michigan State struggling against Bradley). Minnesota was my sleeper pick with their late-season success (see Redshirt Review staff picks). Look to see several Big Ten teams playing next week.
This was not a great first round for mid-major teams. Teams like Utah State, Saint Mary’s, Belmont and Nevada were unable to advance past the first round. That said, the mid-majors that did advance did so in an exciting and convincing fashion. Gonzaga was in form against Fairleigh Dickinson. Buffalo took a double-digit lead into halftime and never looked back, continuing their blistering scoring pace in the process. Wofford fought all night with Seton Hall, but pulled away to take the victory, and Fletcher McGee is now the NCAA career three-point record holder. Murray State looks like a team that can go deep into March. Overall, there was not a staggering number of mid-major victories, especially from seeds 13 and below (1-15). However, the mid-majors that remain look exciting to watch, and we should especially look forward to Buffalo vs Texas Tech and Wofford vs Kentucky next round.
No Major Upsets
In this year’s first round, there was no UMBC, no Middle Tennessee, no Mercer (this is literally true). We did not get the 16 beating a 1 or 15 beating a 2, though Gardner Webb gave Virginia a scare, and Iona led North Carolina at halftime. The lowest seed to win was 13-seed UC Irvine. We had three 12/5 upsets but many fans and commentators had Marquette, Wisconsin, and Mississippi State on upset alert. There were also some near-misses such as Vermont, Colgate, and Bradley. Upset-wise, this year was similar to 2017, but 2017 had many upsets during the second round.
One thing is for sure, all of your brackets are busted.