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The first day of the NCAA Tournament can be overwhelming. Toggling between multiple games, obsessively checking and re-checking your bracket, all whilst making sure your boss cant see the four incognito tabs that are streaming every single March Madness game behind the dummy spreadsheet you have open. Its a lot to manage. We understand.
In between all that chaos, its easy to miss things in real-time on the most jam-packed day of the sports calendar. Not to fear, though, because we have processed it all and are ready to deliver you an all-encompassing recap from Thursday.
The Madness is here as NCAA Tournament gets rolling: Upsets, injuries and fun!
From Kentucky and Gonzaga dominating to Ja Morants show-stealing performance, you can check it all out with our winners and losers below. Be sure to check out our live coverage of the first round action Friday as well.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino downplayed the significance of playing Louisville, his fathers ex-employer, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But lets be real: It was one of the most juicy matchups of the first day. Louisville fired the elder Pitino amid a pay-for-play scandal, and the Hall of Famer subsequently filed a suit against the university for breach of contract; the split was far from amicable.
The younger Pitino evened the score Thursday. Minnesota defeated the Cardinals 86-76, getting even with the school that fired his father. Richard played it straight after the game, downplaying the revenge storyline. But somewhere, in a plush apartment in Greece, his father is probably wearing a sly grin in what went down in the first round.
A telegraphed end-of-game play — after wasting a lot of clock — cost trendy Belmont a chance at upsetting No. 6 Maryland in their 79-77 loss to the Terrapins. After receiving a lot of momentum from pundits and fans, Belmont was rightfully selected as an at-large team. Beating Temple on Tuesday in the First Four was notable, but a win over a power-conference team would have unquestionably raised this teams profile all the more. Rick Byrds among the most respected coaches in the game. His team played well. Hes now 1-8 all time in the tournament.
Dylan Windler, who is likely to be drafted, finished his college career with whats probably going to be the second-best individual performance of the day to Jay Morant. Windler had 35 points and 11 rebounds. He shot 7 for 14 from 3-point range. Hes one of the best players in program history.
The sixth-seeded Terrapins move on to face LSU on Saturday in whats sure to be a physical affair. Both teams have a lot of frontcourt size, athleticism and talent. It might wind up being one of the two or three best games of the second round.
Say what? A team loses and is still a winner? Yes. No. 13 Vermont showed itself well against a much, much bigger FSU team — and in fact went 16 of 32 from 3-point range in a loss. Hard to do. Ultimately, FSU wore Vermont down, in the Seminoles 76-69. But Vermonts a winner because most of the team — including someone who will be one of the 100 best players in college hoops next season, Anthony Lamb — will be back for 2019-20. Chances are healthy that Vermont is back in the NCAA Tournament a year from, perhaps all the more seasoned and well-built to get at least a win.
Vermonts also a winner given how well the fan base traveled down from the Green Mountain State. At least half the XL Center was filled by UVM fans. The last time so many Vermonters hit up Hartford, Phish was breaking out a three-hour show with an epic Tweezer reprise.
This time of year, we are reminded that college-aged athletes trying to close games under immense pressure can make for a maddening viewing experience. Take Auburns 78-77 victory vs. New Mexico State, for example, a microcosm of what really bad execution in crunch time looks like. Between the two teams there were 26 turnovers — including four combined in the final 65 seconds — along with bizarre timing on fouls, downright bad fouls, and mayhem.
Said Bruce Pearl after the win, a survival after a near collapse: “They call it March Madness for a reason. Sometimes its better to be lucky than good.”
Auburn fouled on a 3-point attempt from NMSU up two with just over one second left. After NMSUs Terrell Brown missed two of the three, the Aggies regained control, had a shot to win it at the buzzer, but narrowly missed.
The most highly anticipated first round game on Thursday was Marquette-Murray State — a battle between Golden Eagles sharpshooter Markus Howard and Racers star Ja Morant. Advantage: Morant.
The sophomore point guard scored 17 points i the racers 83-64 victory and dished out 16 of the teams total 23 assists, dunking and dishing his Racers to the second round. Morant is a projected top-3 pick who has dominated the OVC, but some have questioned how his dominance will translate to the next level. Your answer, in a video clip:
Morant finished with a triple-double, just the ninth in NCAA Tournament history and the first since Draymond Green in 2012.
No. 2 seed Kentucky was up double digits over No. 15 seed Abilene Christian before John Calipari had a chance to settle in. Six minutes into the game, the Wildcats were up 10, and by half, it was 39-13. Ill spare you the details and get right to it: It was ugly. 79-44 ugly.
So Kentucky, a loser? On the whole, absolutely. News dropped Thursday morning that PJ Washington, UKs best player and its leading rebounder and scorer, was ruled out for the game Kentucky had no problem winning. But his long-term prognosis is murky, which leads one to question Kentuckys championship viability. He was in a walking boot all week for precautionary reasons, but Thursday he was in a hard cast — and many believe hes going to be out the entire first weekend.
Michigan senior guard Charles Matthews has been a shell of himself over the past month in part because hes been dinged up. But if hes going to look as good as he did Thursday for the rest of the NCAAs — look out. Matthews scored 22 and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Wolverines 74–55 win over Montana, his best statistical output in both category since five weeks ago, and asserted himself as the No. 1 option. When hes playing like this … watch out for Michigan.
Michigan freshman Iggy Brazdeikis on how dangerous the Wolverines can be when Charles Matthews plays the way he did: we can win the whole damn thing.
The good news: No. 2 seed Michigan avoided potential catastrophe, overcoming a halftime deficit to defeat No. 15 seed Bradley 76-65. The bad: Tom Izzos image took a bit of a hit. Izzo during the game had to be restrained by his own players after going after true freshman Aaron Henry for not performing up to Izzos standards, first when he was coming off the court, and then again in the timeout huddle.
No one is questioning Izzos credentials, lets be clear — hes a Hall of Fame coach who knows how to win in March — but his approach in this instance to berate a player to the point of requiring physical constraints from people is embarrassing behavior.
Izzo defended his actions after the game and, instead of apologizing, cited his reasoning as a way of holding Henry accountable.
“Whats wrong with challenging a kid that makes some mistakes?” Izzo said via ESPN. “Aaron Henry — trust me — did some things that you cant do as a starter on a top-5 team at the end of your freshman year. They were effort-related.
“I did get after him. He did respond. He did make a couple of big buckets. He did make some big free throws but thats not good enough. Its one-and-done time. The my-bads are out the window.”
While other higher-seeded teams struggled to get out of the gate in the first round Thursday — Izzos Spartans included — Self and No. 4 seed Kansas put No. 13 seed Northeastern to bed before the sun went down. By halftime, it was 37-25. By the conclusion of the second half, it was 87-53, an old-fashioned butt-whooping.
Surprise, surprise here: Carsen Edwards led the way for yet another win for Purdue, this time a first round win over No. 14 seed Old Dominion. Edwards finished with 26 points and 7 boards, keeping the Boilermakers — who have won 15 of their last 18 — one of the hottest teams still in it to win it all.
I appreciate a good flop as much as the next fisherman, but Emmitt Williams, Ive seen better acting jobs than this one by the LSU freshman. At least avoid the drinks next time!
Two years ago, a little-known Yale star named Makai Mason dropped 31 points and ousted a higher-seeded Baylor team in the NCAA Tournament. Thursday night, Mason, now with Baylor, scored 22 points and led the Bears to a 78-69 win over No. 8 seed Syracuse. Hows that for wild?
“We played against him in the tournament once and it didnt work out well,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, “so Im sure glad we got him on our side.”
A team that was No. 7 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll, returned its top three scorers from last season, and boasted one of the most experienced rosters top to bottom in the entire country, is going home in the first round after losing to Florida 70-61. Nevada opened its season 24-1, but stumbled down the stretch, going 5-4 over its final nine, and ending an era led by Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins. Because of the Wolf Packs talent and experience, they were still a Final Four darkhorse despite recent struggles, so to exit stage left one game in is a huge disappointment.
Only days after falling to Saint Marys in the WCC Tournament, Gonzaga, which earned a No. 1 seed in the West Regional, took out all its frustration on poor No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson, defeating the Knights 87-49. The bar for the other No. 1 seeds to cruise in similar fashion on Friday has officially been set — good luck!
Check this stat: The reigning champs have now won 22 consecutive neutral-court games. How about that? No. 6 Villanova beat Saint Marys 61-57 in a close affair in Hartford. The late tip from Murray State-Marquette led to a squeeze, as the XL Center had to be emptied and then re-opened for the night session. That led to a near-empty arena at tip.
That quiet start might have been a factor in the game staying within speaking distance the whole 40 minutes. Nova coach Jay Wright even made note of the weird environs in the postgame presser. But Nova moves on after a good push. Thats big for the Big East: Villanova and Seton Hall are the only teams left from the conference in the NCAAs.
In the locker room afterward, Nova senior Eric Paschall told Matt Norlander that the team didnt feel slighted by the 6 seed. No matter the number, Villanova just takes it and goes. Whats for certain: Nova Nation is going to pack the XL Center on Saturday. The question becomes: Will Villanova only play a six-man rotation again? Thats all it did against Saint Marys, though it did get balance. Senior Phil Booth led the Wildcats with 20 points.
My my my, Wofford star Fletcher Magee was red-hot on Thursday. His Terriers clinched an advancing 84-68 win over No. 10 Seton Hall, and largely in part because he was in an absolute zone. He scored 24 points, made 7 of 12 from 3, and in the process, broke the all-time Division I record for 3s made. With the way Wofford enters the second round — having scored 17 of the games final 19 points — shorthanded Kentucky might be in for a dog fight on Saturday.