March Madness Opening Day Reactions (Daily Sports Thought 3/17)

Well, folks, it’s all over. It took less than 10 hours for my bracket to be completely busted. Iowa’s loss was tough because I had them in the Final Four, but I could rebound from that. But the Kentucky loss absolutely did me in. Not only did I pick them to win the entire tournament but I wrote over 1500 words about why I thought they would. Can we just forget that happened, please?

But looking on the bright side, it could be a blessing in disguise that my bracket is shot. Now I get to do what I love the most in March: root for chaos. I no longer have any reason to root for the higher seeds in the field to escape upsets no matter how far I have them going in my bracket. I want everyone else’s bracket to look like mine soon. I want absolute chaos. And this tournament is shaping up to be a very chaotic group of games.

We have to start with the most chaotic of all the games and the one that caused me the most pain. Saint Peter’s beating Kentucky in overtime was absolutely insane. Kentucky was the fourth-most popular pick to win it all this year with 6.9 percent of brackets having the Wildcats prevailing, according to ESPN’s Tournament Challenge. Instead, they were taken down by the Peacocks of Saint Peter’s. This was the tenth time that a two seed lost to a 15 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament (side note: I have picked three of those teams to win the championship). This game has set the tone for the rest of the tournament. If Kentucky can lose to Saint Peter’s, then anyone is vulnerable.

That was also demonstrated in the game between Gonzaga and Georgia State. Despite the lopsided final score, Georgia State actually gave Gonzaga a run for their money for about 25 minutes. That game was much closer than it had any right to be; the score was 35-33 for Gonzaga at the half. The Bulldogs did end up running away with the game but it had to have put a little scare into them for at least a half. Kansas, Baylor, Tennessee, Saint Mary’s, and, surprisingly, North Carolina also won in eventual blowouts.

Now back to the upsets that actually happened. Two 12 seeds took down five seeds on Thursday, and of course, I predicted none of them. The first one was Richmond toppling Iowa in a game that shouldn’t have been as close as it was. The Hawkeyes played one of their worst games of the entire season, so that is just terrible timing. They shot 36.4 percent from the field and an abysmal 20.7 percent on threes. Those numbers were 10 and 16 percentage points below their season averages, respectively. This game will likely be marred by the missed foul on an Iowa three-pointer when they were down by three but it shouldn’t distract from giving Richmond its credit. They played like the better team, which is why they won. They shot better, they defended better, they passed better. Twice, the Spiders got a very easy layup off a backdoor pass on a baseline inbound. They looked like a really good team that has the potential to cause some damage in March, Other teams beware of the Spiders.

The other big upset that occurred was 12 seed New Mexico State beating five seed UConn. Surprisingly, I predicted that UConn would win this game because that was just my luck. This game started out slow with neither team wanting to make a basket but eventually, they found their groove and played a very competitive game. New Mexico State led for a lot of this game and ended up eking out the win. The brightest star from this game, and possibly from the entire day, was New Mexico State guard Teddy Allen. He dropped 37 points on the Huskies and scored the final 15 (!) points for the Aggies. That is the type of performance that elevates these mid-major teams to pull off the upsets. Allen has a chance to become a star in this tournament if he keeps this up.

Now technically, Michigan beating Colorado State was an upset because the Wolverines were the higher-seeded team, but it doesn’t really have the same feel. I actually picked this game correctly and got off to a good start with my bracket before everything fell apart. For a decent part of the game, Colorado State was actually winning and leading by a comfortable margin. But Michigan was able to storm back thanks in large part to freshman guard Frankie Collins stepping up big time. He filled in for DeVante’ Jones who had to miss the game due to injury. Having guys on the bench that can come through in important moments is something that can swing games such as these ones. Michigan doesn’t seem like they are poised to cause a ton of damage in the rest of the tournament but as we have already seen, anything can happen.

We also got some very entertaining games that went down to the wire. The matchups between Creighton and San Diego State and Murray State and San Francisco both went to overtime. Both games had very exciting moments down the stretch and gave us the type of games that we expect to see from March. These were games that had the crowds buzzing with electricity and holding their breath every time the ball flew through the air toward the hoop. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any buzzer beaters (which is always the best part of March Madness) but we did get an incredibly clutch shot from San Francisco’s Jamaree Bouyea. Creighton and Murray State emerged victoriously from their games, respectively, and will get a chance to pull off a big upset over one seeds on Saturday.

Speaking of upsets, it’s time to acknowledge the upsets that almost happened but didn’t. South Dakota State had a chance to beat Providence (which I had happening in my bracket) but ultimately did not. They kept it close with some big shots late but were not able to overcome the very strong Friars. Akron also nearly pulled off an upset over UCLA. They were in a different position than South Dakota State because they were actually the team that was in control for most of the game. Akron had the lead until very late in the game when they allowed UCLA to go on a run of unanswered points that ended up being enough to win. Both of those teams get to move on, which is always the goal in this tournament but will need to play a bit better if they want to keep their postseason alive.