The talk after Selection Sunday centered on the selection committee favoring the Big Ten Conference, particularly near the bubble line, sending nine teams to the NCAA Tournament.
So far, the Big Ten has delivered and put forth a strong showing in March Madness, with all five teams pulling out wins in Friday’s first-round action. Purdue (hammered Yale) and Ohio State (routed Loyola-Chicago) won in convincing fashion, while Illinois (edged Chattanooga), Michigan State (clipped Davidson) and Wisconsin (pulled away from Colgate) barely evaded upsets to get by to the second round.
Combine that with Thursday’s results and the First Four, and the Big Ten is 8-3 in these NCAAs. No. 11 seed Michigan upset Colorado State to advance Thursday, while Iowa (upset by Richmond), Indiana (lost to Saint Mary’s) and Rutgers (lost in play-in to Notre Dame) weren’t so fortunate.
In the first wave of games Friday, ex-bubble team Notre Dame carried over its momentum from that thrilling overtime play-in game win over Rutgers to upset No. 6 seed Alabama. The No. 11-seeded Irish made it 10 of the last 11 years now that a “First Four” team has advanced to the round of 32. It’s been a decent NCAA Tournament for the ACC’s five teams, with Duke (hammered Cal State Fullerton) and Miami (clipped USC) both advancing Friday while Virginia Tech bowed out in a loss to Texas.
With Notre Dame, Iowa State and Michigan all advancing, three No. 11 seeds are alive in the second round this year.
Following a scintillating first day Thursday – that saw three overtime games and four double-digit seeds pulling off upsets – here’s a look at the winners and losers from Friday’s first-round action.
The Blue Devils (29-6) avoided a big upset by crushing No. 15 seeded Cal State Fullerton 78-61 in the first round matchup on coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final tournament. Duke seemed to rekindle its identity, which seemed to have disappeared in the ACC tournament and Coach K’s final home game vs. North Carolina. The Blue Devils looked much more locked in on defense and the move to start Jeremy Roach (12 points, five assists) at the point proved to be a difference-maker. Paolo Banchero (17 points, 10 rebounds) plays better when the team doesn’t depend on him too heavily, so it was a nice break from that pattern Friday.
The No. 11-seeded Fighting Irish (24-10) looked like the favorite in their first-round clash with Alabama. Guard Cormac Ryan went off from beyond the arc, drilling seven three-pointers on the way to a 29-point performance. Notre Dame shot 63% from three as a team and completely outplayed the Crimson Tide to advance to the second round of the West Region.
The Horned Frogs (21-12) bulldozed past Seton Hall for a 69-42 win behind Mike Miles’ 21 points. It was an emphatic statement victory for No. 9 seed TCU, which played its way off the bubble and is another program that’s underrated because of the strength of the Big 12. Coach Jamie Dixon has a group that does a lot of the little things well and is one of the best rebounding teams in the whole tournament.
The No. 7-seeded Spartans (23-12) pulled out what felt like an upset in a 74-73 win edging out No. 10 Davidson. Veteran big man Joey Hauser propelled Michigan State offensively with 27 points and eight rebounds, while this Tom Izzo-coached defense was smothering in the final minutes of the game to help MSU seal the victory. The Spartans now draw Duke in the second round in the West Region.
The No. 3-seeded Boilermakers (28-7) put Yale away early and didn’t look back for a 78-56 win in which All-American Jaden Ivey scored 22 points. Coach Matt Painter has been on the wrong side of a bracket-buster, with Purdue getting upset by North Texas as a No. 4 seed last year. This team wasn’t having any Cinderella stories and looked like a team with Final Four potential, advancing to the second round in the East Region.
The No. 3-seeded Red Raiders (26-9) hammered Montana State 97-62 to advance to the second round in the West Region. This TTU squad looks poised to go on a deep run, sporting six players in double-figures for this easy victory that saw the Red Raiders shoot 12-for-20 (60%) from beyond the arc.
The No. 2-seeded Tigers (28-5) watched their SEC counterpart Kentucky lose to a No. 15 seed Thursday, but made sure to pull away from Jacksonville State late in the first half. Jabari Smith’s 20 points and 14 rebounds (including this tenacious dunk) helped lift the Tigers to an 80-61 victory and a spot in the second round of the Midwest Region.
The Wildcats cruised past Wright State 87-70, looking the part of a Final Four contender against its inferior opponent. All-American Bennedict Mathurin paced five players in double figures with 18 points, as Arizona shot 11-for-20 (55%) from beyond the arc. Coach Tommy Lloyd’s team will need to clean up its fundamentals before the second round, though, turning the ball over 19 times in this one.
The No. 13-seeded Mocs (27-8) were ready to become the first Cinderella of Friday’s action but crumbled down the stretch and couldn’t pull out an upset over Illinois in a 54-53 loss. Chattanooga did a decent job at limiting All-American big man Kofi Cockburn, but the big man’s basket with 47 seconds left gave the Illini their first lead of the game before pulling it out in the game’s final minute. Chattanooga leading scorer Malachi Smith had two chances to score the game-winning basket but was blocked and then missed the potential game-winner as the buzzer sounded.
The No. 14 seeded Raiders (23-11) came super close to staging an upset but it wasn’t enough as Wisconsin pulled away late for a 67-60 win behind All-American Johnny Davis’ 25 points. Nelly Cummings spearheaded the near-bracket buster with 20 points and six assists, while marksman Tucker Richardson’s five three-pointers made it a close game early on. While it was neck and neck throughout most of the game, Davis exuded his takeover ability to show the difference between a Big Ten regular season champion and the Patriot League champ.
The Blazers entered Friday’s first-round clash with Houston as a potential giant killer because of its dynamic offense that averages over 80 points a game. It ran into the brick wall that was the Cougars’ defense, however, to bow out of the NCAAs 82-68. Jordan “Jelly” Walker, UAB’s main catalyst, couldn’t get going and finished just 1-for-10 from three-point range.
The Hokies (23-12) are another classic example of a team that enters the NCAA Tournament hot – having just won the ACC tournament by putting together four consecutive victories including a romp over Duke in the title game – and not being able to use that momentum. Texas outplayed Virginia Tech pretty much all game in an 81-73 loss that ends its season. The Hokies were hitting their stride but a defensive-oriented Longhorns squad was a tough matchup for this team and it showed big-time.
The No. 6-seeded Tigers played uninspired before a late rally at the end in a 59-54 loss to Iowa State in the first-round of the Midwest Region. The outcome’s understandable considering coach Will Wide was fired shortly before the NCAA Tournament. This game felt like the Cyclones were the favored team throughout the night, with LSU shooting 21% from three-point land and committing 19 turnovers with interim head coach Kevin Nickelberry trying to get this group to reestablish its identity without Wade.
The Ramblers (25-8) were absolutely dreadful offensively in a 54-41 loss to an Ohio State team that finally got healthy. Credit that to the Buckeyes’ defense or perhaps a 1-for-10 shooting line from Loyola star Lucas Williamson, an original member from the Ramblers’ memorable Final Four team in 2018. He also managed just 1-for-6 from the free-throw line and OSU forced Loyola into 14 turnovers. Not an impressive debut for first-year coach Drew Valentine in the post-Porter Moser era.
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The No. 7-seeded Trojans (24-10) fought back from a 31-20 halftime deficit to make it a seesaw battle throughout the second half before falling 68-66 to No. 10 seed Miami (Fla.), bowing out in the Midwest Region. The culprit in this game for coach Andy Enfield’s group was turnovers, with USC giving the ball away 18 times as compared to just three turnovers for the Hurricanes.
The No. 15-seeded Blue Hens (22-13) were no match for a seasoned Villanova team that hit another gear in the second half. Delaware would’ve had a shot at competing or staging an upset if it shot the ball well. Instead the Hens managed 3-for-20 from three-point range (15%). Defensively, coach Martin Ingelsby’s group couldn’t stay in front of ‘Nova’s guards, especially Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore, in the 80-60 loss.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.