UPDATE: The final four games of the evening are appended below.
Everything that Thursday was, Friday morning was not. The day’s first session of 8 games was straight chalk: not only did every team from a major conference win, but (almost) every Vegas favorite did as well. That boded poorly for the Midwest and East, which are as loaded of regions as you’ll find.
But then the night came...and chaos reigned.
No. 6 Creighton and No. 11 NC State actually played a very competitive game. The Wolfpack simplyp didn’t have shots fall, and the Blue Jays did. NCSU had minimized turnovers, won the rebound battle, moved the ball well...and couldn’t buy a bucket. It was the worst possible time for a drought. This one seemed a tossup to me beforehand, and who knows how it would have gone with a more competent State offense. It was one of the highlights of a strong day by the Big East.
No. 3 Baylor played an entire half of crappy defense against the No. 14 UCSB Gauchos, and even trailed at half. Then Baylor remembered that while Scott Drew is a notorious choker, they usually wait until the second round to implode. Baylor cranked the defense up to 11 and dominated the second-half to pull away. Can we also talk about the hilarious irony of anything from snooty, rich, pasty-white Santa Barbara being named after South American cowboys?
No. 2 Marquette didn’t draw much of a fight from No. 15 Vermont. It was a businesslike dismantling, keyed as always by Shaka’s defense. The Golden Eagles thrived inside, but the defense was a bit sus vs. Vermont’s backcourt. Five Vermont guards and small forwards had 9+ vs. the MU defense. You can bet Izzo is scheming up ways to bully the MU guards already.
No. 7 Michigan State outlasted the No. 10 USC Trojans. The Men of Troy were a step faster and more athletic all game, but when it came to body-on-body March ‘ball, Izzo’s crew looked vintage Sparty: they punished the Trojans with vintage B1G basketball. USC never adjusted to MSU’s dribble-penetration and pull-up intermediate jumpers. I don’t know how many great looks USC gave up on 12-15 footers. This team isn’t great, but they do look to match up well against Marquette.
No. 1 Purdue used their overwhelming size advantage against a very active No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson. The Knights were active too; that’s the best adjective. They fronted Edey, brought a lot of backside help, and tried to neutralize the big fellow. The nat’l player of the year played like a candy ass down the stretch, not taking a shot in the final 8 minutes, and getting outhustled by a hungrier FDU team. FDU is the guttiest, most blue collar team I’ve seen in the tournament so far. Nate Oats had to be rubbing one out watching that hustle.
In terms of size, it is the largest upset in NCAA Tournament history. I’d have to check the point spread logs, but it may be the greatest one on the books ever too.
Purdue is ranked #1 in effective height on Kenpom. Fairleigh Dickinson is ranked #363 out of 363. Literal David v Goliath— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) March 17, 2023
(And FDU currently leads) pic.twitter.com/kR1niRBmKD
Not a fluke; just hustle trumping talent.
EDIT: Yup, it was the greatest upset in CBB Tournament history, FDU was a +23.5 point underdog (UMBC was +20, the only other 1-16 upset.)
And the Terriers were very happy to have a playmate.
us the past 5 years pic.twitter.com/XBGzO43pay— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 18, 2023
No. 6 Kentucky proved the adage that matchups make games. No. 11 Providence wanted to run, to play uptempo, to get the Wildcats out of their comfort zone. Cal was having none of it. He gooned it up, beat the hell out of the undersized but feisty Friars. It was vintage low-scoring CalBall...which is Grantsketball played with 5-star McDonald’s All-Americans. Not aesthetically pleasing, but it got UK into the second round after several years of underachieving: First time in the second round, since 2018-2019.
Wow, Kentucky's offensive sets are more predictable than the one-liners on CW sit-com.@UKCoachCalipari can recruit with anyone. His offense is Dean Smith-four corners dated.— jay greeson (@jgreesontfp) March 18, 2023
No. 5 St. Marys vs No. 12 VCU was billed as the day’s defensive battle...and it lived up to it. Most of the Gaels offense evaporated against the more physical Rams back court. But two things doomed VCU — 1. they had no answers when they had the ball. And 2. SMU’s interior game paid off, as the Gaels managed to a lot of damage in the post and at the line. Mitchell Sexen was unstoppable, but it worries you that Ducas was the only guard in double-digits. It was nip and tuck for 30 minutes, before the WCC runners-up pulled away.
No. 13 Iona was very well coached, played hard, and simply did not have the athleticism or talent to keep up with No. 4 UConn. The Huskies looked as dangerous as they have all year. Is this the last season in Ithaca for BDR, who’s favored to win the Georgetown job? There would be a certain pleasant symmetry about Pitino finishing his career the same place that it began: in the Big East.
No. 3 Gonzaga has had defensive issues all season, particularly against teams that can swing the ball around and make the extra pass. The No. 14 Grand Canyon Antelopes did not live up to their fleet name, rather took it to Gonzaga in the halfcourt with a lot of extra looks and intermediate jumpers. Great game plan, and a team with talent will actually be able to pull it off against this very mortal iteration of Gonzaga basketball. Their offense is a load, their defense is very suspect. The Zags were able to out-talent GCU down the stretch, but it was not the tuneup many expected.
This was a bit of an upset: No. 11 play-in Pitt came out and stomped an absolute mudhole in No. 6 Iowa State’s ass. They were fast, physical, aggressive on both ends, and came out swinging. Hard. It was 19-2 Panthers before you had time to freshen up your drink. The ‘Clones defense eventually showed up, but the offense did not. I don’t recall the last time I saw a Big 12 team score 41 points. The Panthers didn’t win a weakened ACC, but most think it’s probably the most complete team — or at least were, before Duke’s resurgence.
His tweet got more bookmarks than Iowa State scored points today. pic.twitter.com/S5IBidEnL3— SB Nation (@SBNation) March 17, 2023
No. 3 Xavier did that Big East thing where they played like crap against a team they should have blown out. The Muskies were singularly unimpressive in almost every respect. Only a last second-mistake by the No. 13 Kennessaw State Owls stepping out of bound prevented a chance by KSU to win the game at the buzzer. I don’t see how they survive the Pitt team that I saw today. Big East teams man, blech.
No. 5 Miami was one of the teams thought to be able to make some noise in the Midwest. But No. 12 Drake had other ideas. The Bulldogs slowed the game down, played outstanding half-court defense, and never really let the ‘Canes get comfortable. UM resorted to driving the lane, pressed the deliberate Bulldogs, and dared Drake to matchup with it. The Canes were miserable from the floor, but got to the stripe a lot and hit several clutch threes on a night little else was dropping. Speaking of ice cold, Drake’s Tucker DeVries was cheeks. 1 for 10 at one point, and three airballs from long range. Speaking of feeble, Miami’s defense was lame AF too...five dudes standing around. That is until the final three minutes, when they forced three TOs in four possessions, en route to a game-deciding 13-1 run. Raw talent won this game, especially the late press, but the Hurricanes just did not look good.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As of this writing, the final four games were beginning or in progress. I’ll add them below later tonight when they conclude. For now, dig in. There’s a lot to chat about.
LATE NIGHT GAMES
The MAC Champ, veteran-laden No. 13 Kent State Golden Flashes was a very trendy pick to upend the No. 4 Indiana Hoosiers. And it took a long time for either team to find a rhythm. KSU’s offense had the yips for 25-28 minutes, and by the time they found it, the Flash were in a hole facing a talent deficit. IU’s Race Thompson especially was a hoss. The shooting may have been spotty early, but overall both teams played a crisp, clean game with a lot of solid rebounding and ball security. IU just had too many shooters and were able to get on track the earliest and stay there most consistently. Workmanlike effort by the far better team. It ended at 11 points, but IU was worlds better all game.
A whole lot of people had looked No. 8 Memphis as a team that could unseat Purdue, but first they had to get beyond the run n’ gun of the No. 9 FAU Owls. The C-USA champs jumped out to an early 10-point lead, jacking up every perimeter shot in sight, and making the Tigers play a bit out of their comfort zone. It was a weird game too, TBH — with no one able to get any sort of daylight. With just 5:00 left, UM star G Kendric Davis went down with a bad ankle injury. That changed the entire tenor of the game. The Tigers started fighting with one another, the Owls outhustled UM on every loose ball, FAU went on a 9-2 run, and FAU was back up by 1 with 90 seconds left. And even Davis checking back in didn’t save the Tigers.
If FDU only anecdotally showed that hustle trumps talent, then this one was enough to drive home that lesson. FAU got nine points in the final two minutes off of offensive rebounds, hustling, and heads-up play. Meanwhile, Memphis got outworked, lost discipline, and all of those 5-star headcases are going back to the 901 after another early exit.
No. 3 Kansas State and No. 14 Montana was always going to be a sluggish game, but I don’t think anyone expected the boring, glacial turdburger we got. Even the free throw shooting sucked. It was a remarkably sloppy game too. After 29 minutes, we had 28 total turnovers. And it didn’t get better from there. On a day of unwatchable filth, this may have been the worst one. MSU’s Raequan Davis was the lone offensive bright spot of an otherwise nondescript fug-fest. Don’t let the final score fool you either; for 30 minutes, it was as boring as postseason hoops gets.
No. 6 TCU was expected to make short work of No. 11 Play-in Arizona State. But the Sun Devils weren’t going to roll over and die before the alleged superiority of the Big 12. ASU’s hot shooting carried over from their play-in game, and they were at 60% from the floor at half. But, ‘twas a game of runs. TCU jumped out to a big early lead, trailed by 11 at half, and then had stormed back to make it a one-basket game with 5 minutes left.
But overall, the Frogs simply played too dumb for stretches. Too many bad fouls, too many defensive breakdowns, settling for too many long jumpers off the back of the irons. TCU had the talent advantage, and it rarely showed. Mike Miles was the best player on the floor but it seemed like he was doing it alone for the Horned Frogs. Ball security, better rebounding, more aggressive post presence, and Miles are the reasons TCU is advancing. JaKobe hit the game winning floater, but this was Miles’s show. Good game and it should not have been.
What was the biggest upset in NCAA history to you?
No. 15 St. Peters over No. 2 Kentucky (2022)
No. 16 UMBC over No. 1 Virginia (2018)
No. 15 Coppin State over Sakerlina (1997)
No. 16 Fair. Dick. over No. 1 Purdue
No. 15 Norfolk State over No. 2 Mizzou (2012)