First off, I’d like to thank Michigan State for ruining my life and my bracket by getting upset by 15 seed Middle Tennessee State. The first two days of the tournament featured multiple upsets and every single bracket busted. The field was expected to be even, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this mad.
Seriously Michigan State
The Spartans were expected by many, if not all, to make at least the Elite Eight. The Spartans honestly should have been a one seed over Virginia, but instead they were a two, and ran into Middle Tennessee State. The Spartans never led in this game, and found themselves in a 15-2 hole in the first few minutes. A whopping 22.3% of brackets on ESPN had Sparty cutting down the nets, including 4/7 in our N2K bracket.
Number One Seeds Look Strong
For as weak as the field looked, the #1 seeds looked fantastic. Oregon, Virginia, North Carolina and Kansas all took care of business in convincing fashions. Kansas put up 105 on Austin Peay, led by Wayne Selden, Landen Lucas and usual suspect Perry Ellis, who all scored in double figures. North Carolina overcame a tough first half against Florida Gulf Coast to win by a comfortable 16 points. Five players for UNC scored in double figures, led by Brice Johnson’s 18. Johnson added seven rebounds and an eye-popping eight blocks.
Virginia and Oregon may have looked the most impressive, outscoring their opponents by a combined 75 points. Virginia used their usual stifling defense to limit Hampton to 45 points. The Cavaliers were led by their dominant trio of Anthony Gill, London Perrantes and ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.
The Ducks were matched up against a Holy Cross team that had no business being in the tournament at 15-19. Oregon pummeled the Crusaders to the tune of a 91-52 win. Nine players for Oregon scored, including four players in double figures, and two others scoring nine. Widely presumed as the weakest number one in the field, Oregon showed that they belong among the number ones with their dominating performance.
Double-Digit Seeds Are Playing the Part of Cinderella
In an even field, many upsets were predicted and expected, but nobody expected 10 double-digit seeds to advance to the round of 32. Not to mention, three out of the four nine seeds in this tournament knocked off eight seeds, with the one exception being Cincinnati, who lost after a dunk at he buzzer was ruled no good.
In this tournament, some double-digit seeds could make runs to the Elite Eight. Outside of previously mentioned Middle Tennessee State and Yale, #14 seed Stephen F. Austin took down West Virginia by beating them at their own game, which is lockdown defense and forcing turnovers.
The #13 seed Hawaii Rainbow Warriors took down the Tyrone Wallace-less Cal Golden Bears, being led by Roderick Bobbitt, who sat all of zero seconds of this game. He finished with 17 points, seven boards and four assists in the 77-66 win.
The #11 seed University of Northern Iowa pulled off the win over Texas on a half-court buzzer beater by Paul Jesperson to win 75-72. On the game, Jesperson had 14 points, but his final three were the most important.
#12 seed University of Arkansas at Little-Rock beat Purdue in two overtimes 85-83. The Trojans forced 18 Purdue turnovers and recorded 13 steals, showing off their vaunted defense.
Teams like #11 Wichita State, #10 VCU, #11 Gonzaga and #10 Syracuse seemed to be favorites, even though they were the lower seed. Each team has had recent success in March and are veteran groups that could knock off a top seed on any given day.
Never Root Against the Ivy
Rule #1 about March Madness, NEVER EVER PICK AGAINST THE IVY LEAGUE! I picked against them, and Yale taught me the hard way. Since 2010, Ivy League teams have now gone 4-3 in the first round following Yale’s win over Baylor. Harvard almost beat North Carolina last year, and Princeton almost knocked off the 2011 Kentucky team that went to the Final Four.
The Ivy League teams always play tough and smart, obviously, and nobody ever wants to play against them. Even though I’m salty because I had Baylor going to the Elite Eight, like an idiot, congrats to them on winning their first tournament game since 1962.
Seniors Continue to Reign Supreme
One of the main story’s in college basketball this season was the play of seniors across the country. In a game where freshman have the spotlight from day one, seniors like Buddy Hield, Denzel Valentine and Perry Ellis played their best ball in their final seasons. This senior group has been the best one in a while, and continued their stellar play in the round of 64.
Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige played big parts in UNC’s first round win. Yogi Ferrell of Indiana had 20 points and 10 assists in his clubs win over Chattanooga, and might be the best point guard in the nation. James Farr, Jalen Reynolds and Remy Abell were instrumental in Xavier’s win against Weber State. Farr, who has been nothing more than a good bench players for the Musketeers exploded for 18 points and 15 rebounds in just 28 minutes of action.
For Iowa State, Mr. Do-It-All Georges Niang had 28 in a win over Iona. Niang will go down as one of the greatest Cyclones ever, and is looking to finally get to the Final Four in his last go-round.
Maryland’s Jake Layman has never been a go-to scorer for the Terps in his four years on campus, but exploded for 27 on just 11 shots and going 5/8 from deep, as his efforts helped Maryland avoid a colossal upset against #12 seed South Dakota State. Same goes for Marshall Plumlee, who is going into the Army following this season. Plumlee is the last in a trio of brothers at Duke and had been nothing more than a high energy big man. But Plumlee his 9/10 shots for 23 points as Duke avoided an upset to UNC Wilmington.
Perry Ellis only played 25 minutes in Kansas’ blowout win over Austin Peay, but he still scored 21 points on an efficient 8/12 shooting. And, of course, Buddy Hield got his points, as he scored 27 against Cal State Bakersfield in an 82-68 win for the Sooners.
Even in losses, seniors AJ English and Denzel Valentine still put up solid numbers. Valentine may have taken 13 shots to get 13 points, but was spreading the wealth and finished with 12 assists. Valentine also pulled in six rebounds, but it was six turnovers that really stick out on such a smart basketball player.
AJ English was one of the toughest covers in the NCAA this season, and he, like Valetine can do it all. English finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Iona’s loss to Iowa State. But, once again, like Valentine, turnovers killed him, as he committed seven of them.
There are seriously too many seniors to go around, and unfortunately I couldn’t name all of the deserving candidates. But most of the key to-be graduates will be moving on to play in the round of 32 over the weekend, and they’ll have plenty of opportunities to make headlines.
The round of 32 has some extremely intriguing match ups from top to bottom, region to region. Number one seeds should be on alert, as all of them could stumble over the weekend. Kansas plays UConn, who always seems to go deep in March, regardless of seed. UNC draws Providence, who has a dynamic duo of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, and when they’re clicking, they’re unstoppable. Virginia is matched up against a veteran Butler squad, which is another school that always seems to have success in March. Finally, Oregon plays Saint Joseph’s, and they, like Providence, have a dynamic duo of their own in Isaiah Miles and DeAndre Bembry.
One of the best games of the entire tournament could happen today, as #4 Kentucky and #5 Indiana will face off in what should be a high scoring game. The backcourt of Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray will go against senior Yogi Ferrell, Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant. Kentucky and Indiana both started rolling in February after underperforming for much of the season. Jamal Murray has been one of the best players in the country for about a month, and with Indiana not exactly great on the defensive end, he could be in store for another big game.
Utah and Gonzaga is a #3 vs #11 matchup that features three stellar big men in Jakob Poeltl of Utah, and Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis of Gonzaga. The Zags embarrassed the red hot Seton Hall Pirates on St. Patty’s Day, and will look to continue rolling through the Utes.
#14 Stephen F. Austin and #6 Notre Dame will feature a highly efficient defense in SFA and a highly efficient offense in Notre Dame. Notre Dame has a great point guard/center combo in Demetrious Jackson and Zach Auguste, and they’ll look to shutdown Thomas Walkup, who dominated West Virginia to the tune of 33 points, nine rebounds, four assists and four steals.
#2 Villanova vs. #7 Iowa and #2 Xavier vs. #7 Wisconsin will feature two BIG EAST vs. Big Ten match ups. Nova and Iowa both like to shoot the three, with snipers like Jared Uthoff for Iowa and Kris Jenkins for Nova. Xavier and Wisconsin is a matchup that seems to favor Xavier, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Wisconsin this year, it’s that they’re never out of any matchup and can heat up in a hurry, just ask Pittsburgh.
Finally, Duke and Yale will fight it out in what should be a great game on and off the court. Both are great schools academically, and nobody is going to feel sorry for the loser. Just about everybody hates Duke, and just about everybody hates rich kids who rub it in other people’s faces, so this is a game people will love to hate. I’m sure the loser of this game will be perfectly content going back to their snobby prep school. Oh well, I guess I’m just salty.
But seriously, Duke shouldn’t be a four seed and a lot of people picked UNC Wilmington over Coach K and the Blue Devils in the round of 64. Yale is coming off an upset over Baylor, and should be jacked up at the opportunity to play in the Sweet Sixteen.
Cover Photo via USAToday