ATB: Big Dance Day One Roundup — Two Upsets, Top Four Seeds Roll, Defending Champs Are Gone…Posted by EJacoby on March 16th, 2012
Tonight’s Lede – It’s madness, baby!!! The real start of the NCAA Tournament arrived on Thursday afternoon, as did the collective drop of productivity from employees across the country. March Madness brings the best sick days, mobile apps, and computer split screens out of us, in the pursuit of tracking our brackets and following our favorite teams throughout the day. This Thursday is always special; the mark of the most exciting postseason in sports, and this year was no different. Despite the lack of buzzer-beaters and major upsets, day one was still a fantastic day of college basketball with plenty of key storylines. More fascinating finishes and thrilling games are surely on the way, but let’s take a look at all the action from the first half of the round of 64…
Your Watercooler Moment. #12 VCU Pulls Another Shaka.
It was just last year when Shaka Smart’s VCU Rams pulled off one of the all-time great Cinderella runs in NCAA Tournament history, winning five games as a #11 seed to go from the First Four to the Final Four in the 2011 Big Dance. In 2012, things were expected to be different — VCU is no longer a sleeper, the Rams were stuck with an even worse seed, and they had to take on a fellow strong mid-major team with Sweet Sixteen aspirations of their own. But the VCU boys did it again, or at least completed stage one of another improbable run. The #12 seed Rams defeated #5 Wichita State in a thrilling game, 62-59, for the biggest upset of day one. VCU jumped to a quick advantage and led by nine at halftime, but a late run by the Shockers gave WSU the lead with about two minutes to play. Bradford Burgess, the lone returning starter from last year’s Final Four team, answered with the biggest shot of the night — a three from the corner that would give VCU a lead that it did not relinquish. Joe Ragland and Toure’ Murry did their best to keep Wichita State’s dreams alive, but VCU was not to be denied on this day. Burgess finished with 16 points, five boards, four assists, and two steals in the win, which sends VCU to a date with #4 Indiana on Saturday.
Also Worth Chatting About. #16 UNC Asheville Nearly Makes History. #16 seeds were 0-108 all-time in the NCAA Tournament coming into Thursday, but nobody told the Bulldogs, a senior-laden team that was fired up to take on a reeling Orange team after word that their center Fab Melo would be ineligible for the Tournament. Without Melo, Syracuse was completely out of sorts, though the player’s absence was no excuse for the rest of the team to play so poorly on both ends. ‘Cuse survived and will move on to Saturday while putting this game behind them, but the story was UNC Asheville’s incredible effort to nearly win this game. The Bulldogs led by four points at halftime and hung tough for the entire 40 minutes despite leading scorer Matt Dickey only shooting 1-13 with five points! Asheville got 18 points from J.P. Primm and all of the team box score statistics were very similar in this game, but Syracuse’s late-game execution proved to be too much. Plenty of fans and media members will say that poor officiating was a large factor in the outcome, as UNCA may have gotten jobbed on several calls in the final four minutes. There was one undoubtedly awful call against Asheville that should have resulted in a Syracuse turnover, but blaming the loss on the referees is not something coach Eddie Biedenbach would do. It was a valiant effort by the Bulldogs that just came short, ending in a seven point win for Cuse. The Orange survive to play #8 Kansas State in the next round on Saturday.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- #11 Colorado Upsets UNLV Despite Rebels’ Rally. Colorado was downright awful in the final 15 minutes of this opening round game against #6 UNLV, but it didn’t matter because the Buffaloes had played so fantastic for the opening 25. The Buffs built a 49-29 lead on the favored Runnin’ Rebels, outhustling, coaching, shooting, and executing UNLV in what looked to become a blowout victory. The Runnin’ Rebs countered with a furious rally that showed how the team is so explosive and was thought capable of a deep run in this Tournament, cutting the lead to two with 4:20 to play. But they quickly fell back into the undisciplined, quick-trigger Rebels that instead proved why this team dropped to a #6 seed and was so ripe for an upset. Missing their next seven shots, the Rebels blew their chance of a comeback and handed the game to Colorado, the better team for the majority of the contest. Give Tad Boyle and his kids tremendous credit for pulling off this upset despite 23 turnovers and a horrific second half performance, a testament to the opening game plan that exploited UNLV for an insurmountable lead. The Buffs draw #3 Baylor on Saturday.
- #5 New Mexico Fights Off Feisty #12 Long Beach State. The Lobos were the Mountain West regular season and tournament champions, proving to be an extremely tough out thanks to their efficiency on both ends of the floor. Thursday proved that fact once again, as New Mexico faced a tough challenge in the upset-minded #12 Long Beach State 49ers, a very talented squad that had things clicking for them in this game. Larry Anderson returned from injury, several role players stepped up with big games, and LBSU led with under six minutes to play. But star guard Casper Ware was 5-19 from the field and struggled down the stretch, resulting in the 49ers coming up just short. New Mexico was too tough to fall victim of the upset, hitting 50% from the field and getting a big game from Drew Gordon (18 points, 13 rebounds). UNM can play much better and will certainly have to against #4 Louisville on Saturday.
- #7 Gonzaga Romps WVU in ‘Road’ Game. The ‘Zags did not get treated like the higher seed by the NCAA Tournament committee in this matchup, having to travel across the country to Pittsburgh for what was essentially a home game for #10 West Virginia. A pro-Mountaineer crowd, though, did nothing to help the sluggish WVU offense that has been putrid for the better part of two months now. Gonzaga won this one going away, 77-54, in an impressive display of depth and execution. Nine players got at least 13 minutes for the Bulldogs, who shot 56% from the field and 9-17 from three. This team clicked on both ends of the floor and will be a tough out for #2 Ohio State on Saturday.
… and Misses
- Defending Champions #9 Connecticut Complete Nasty Downfall. This game could have easily been placed in the ‘hits’ section for how well #8 Iowa State played, but the bigger story is the collapse of UConn, going from darling National Champions last season to massive underachievers this year. A couple of second half charges displaying great potential brought Connecticut back within striking distance, as has been the case for much of this season, but the Huskies wound up losing by 13 points to the better team. Jim Calhoun’s team finished this season at 20-14 and 8-10 in the Big East despite a roster of more individual talent than last season. Kemba Walker was a truly irreplaceable player and brought everything together last year for the Huskies; nobody filled that role this season. Royce White was phenomenal for Iowa State, who advances to play the #1 overall seed Kentucky on Saturday with a difficult offense to match up against.
- Lower Seeds Can’t Finish. Thursday had the potential for some big upsets, and many people around the country certainly had chosen a number to take place. Teams like #13 Davidson, #13 Montana, #12 Harvard, and #13 New Mexico State all had golden opportunities to make a name for their programs, but these teams were outplayed by better opponents. That’s what’s supposed to happen and usually does happen in this Tournament, but we still can be critical of the few lower seeds that had upsets in their hands and squandered the opportunity. #12 Long Beach State, #14 South Dakota State, and #16 UNC Asheville all were within two possessions or less with under five minutes to play in their respective games, but we never got to see anything crazy happen in the end. The stronger teams prevailed, which makes for better basketball in the matchups later on, but it’s always the most thrilling when an unexpected Cinderella story emerges on day one that keeps fans on their toes heading into the weekend. VCU and Colorado were the only lower seeds to win, which both count as significant underdogs but didn’t feel like true upsets because of the nature of the matchups. South Dakota State over Baylor? That would have been truly something.
- Overall Officiating. There’s nothing I despise more than making the referees the storyline in a day meant for an awesome sports showcase. And I don’t think there was anything egregious, personally, in Thursday’s set of games that is worth complaining about. But the flack that officials from certain games are getting must be mentioned as an important storyline from the day. The late-game whistles during the Syracuse-UNCA game were especially questionable, featuring an out-of-bounds call that went Cuse’s way despite the ball clearly deflecting off of an Orange player’s hands, something everyone at home or in the stadium could easily see.
Survive and Advance – The round of 64 has so many games that it’s impossible to mention all of them in the top storylines. But we have the complete rundown of all 16 games in action here, with quick summaries of each region’s games:
- SOUTH – The #1 seed (Kentucky), #3 seed (Baylor), and #4 seed (Indiana) all advanced, with the #2 seed (Duke) in action on Friday. Indiana defeated #13 New Mexico State, a game we had not discussed above. But this region also included the two upsets of the day, as #6 UNLV fell to #11 Colorado and #5 Wichita State dropped to #12 VCU, as described before. The #8-#9 game in this region was the aforementioned Iowa State victory over Connecticut. The South had the most storylines from Thursday.
- WEST – Chalk rolled in this region as the #3 (Marquette), #4 (Louisville), #5 (New Mexico), and #6 (Murray State) were victorious. Marquette defeated #14 BYU in a blowout while Louisville survived a late rally from #13 Davidson and Murray State dominated the second half against #11 Colorado State for wins. Four games are taking place in this region on Friday, including the top two seeds and two other intriguing matchups.
- EAST – The #1 seed (Syracuse) hung on while the #2 (Ohio State) and #4 (Wisconsin) were fairly dominant in victories. #5 Vanderbilt withstood a late rally from #12 Harvard and #8 Kansas State out-toughed #9 Southern Miss. Two games take place on Friday.
- MIDWEST – There was no action in the Midwest Region on Thursday, as all eight games are scattered throughout Friday’s slate.
- Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (NPOY) - It came in the #2-#15 matchup, but Thomas’ career night had to be the best of the day for its sheer dominance. The forward had 31 points and 12 rebounds against Loyola (MD) with two blocks on 13-22 shooting from the floor, a promising development for OSU going forward.
- Rodney McGruder, Kansas State - The only other 30-point scorer on the day, McGruder was massive for #8 Kansas State in its victory over #9 Southern Mississippi. The guard finished with 30 points, four rebounds, and four steals on a tremendous 11-16 night from the field.
- Jae Crowder, Marquette – The versatile big man put his full skills on display for #3 Marquette’s blowout of #14 BYU. The Big East Player of the Year had a double-double at halftime and finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, and four steals in a dominant performance for the Golden Eagles.
- Royce White, Iowa State - The Cyclones had a balanced attack in their victory but White was the best player on the floor, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds for #8 Iowa State while playing point-forward and shooting 6-9 from the field to get his teammates involved as well.
- John Jenkins, Vanderbilt - Jenkins’ 27 points came on just 12 shot attempts. #5 Vanderbilt cruised to an early advantage over Harvard and won the game thanks in large part to Jenkins’ output that included six rebounds, and three assists that included three three-pointers and 10 free throws.