Day two was much less painful for me than day one of this year’s March Madness. I didn’t experience any devastating losses. Sure, I had some of the teams that lost going to the Sweet Sixteen, but it could have been a lot worse. In my opinion, day two wasn’t quite as enjoyable as day one but that does not mean it was not a very entertaining day. The 16 games from Friday certainly give us a lot to talk about, so that is what I will do.
My first thought comes from the first game of the day. The day started out with Ohio State beating Loyola Chicago, which is partly an upset despite the Buckeyes being the higher seed. Everybody loves the Ramblers and Sister Jean so it definitely sucked to see them bow out so early (not to mention I had them winning this game and the next one), but they earned the loss on their own. The most important thing to do in basketball is put the ball through the hoop. Loyola did not do that on Friday. The Ramblers shot 26.8 percent from the field, which is absolutely awful, and star player Lucas Williamson went 1-10 and scored four points. They played good defense at the other end but it wasn’t enough to make up for the lackluster scoring output. Loyola’s offensive failures shouldn’t take away from Ohio State’s admirable performance. EJ Liddell, who was one of the best players in a very good Big Ten this year, played really well. He scored 16 points while facing very tough defense all game. Ohio State wasn’t as fun of a pick as Loyola Chicago going forward in the bracket but they will be the ones that advance and hope to pull off another surprise.
To me, the game of the day was Davidson versus Michigan State. The Spartans emerged 74-73 in a very tightly contested game for all 40 minutes. I predicted Davidson to win this game so I was a little disappointed but not because of the action on the court. Davidson shot 40 percent from three-point range with six players hitting at least one shot from deep but it wasn’t enough to pull off the minor upset over Michigan State. Joey Hauser stepped up and carried the Spartans with 27 points on very effective shooting (75 percent from the field). What ended up deciding this game was the poise in clutch moments. Michigan State, coached by the legendary Tom Izzo, played really well down the stretch. They killed time on offense very efficiently, milking the clock while still getting a quality shot off. They also hit enough free throws down the stretch to emerge victorious despite some crazy three-pointer baskets from Davidson in the last minute.
The performance of the night certainly goes to Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan. The junior who averaged 8.6 points this season exploded for a career-high 29 points with seven made three-pointers. He sparked the Fighting Irish to pull off the upset over Alabama less than 48 hours after a crazy double-overtime game in the First Four. The Crimson Tide kept it close for a while but Notre Dame’s offense was just too much for them to handle. They ended up scoring 78 points on 53.7 percent shooting from the field and 62.5 percent shooting from behind the arc. It seems like every year one of the teams from the First Four makes a surprising run. Obviously, last year’s UCLA team is the standard-bearer for that kind of run. I’m not sure about Notre Dame as a Final Four team but if they keep shooting like this they will be very dangerous going forward.
The other big upset of the day came from Iowa State. They beat LSU in a game that I predicted correctly (along with the Notre Dame win). I don’t know how more people saw this coming considering LSU fired their head coach last weekend. The Tigers overcame that obstacle much better than I expected and were able to keep it close. Both teams took a while to get into gear and it showed at halftime when the score was just 24-19 in favor of the Cyclones. The scoring was easier to come by in the second half and the final score ended up being 59-54 in favor of Iowa State. This was a contest that was up for grabs in the final minutes and wasn’t fully put out of grasp until Tyrese Hunter hit a deep three to essentially ice the game. Iowa State doesn’t strike me as the most dangerous team going forward but they proved they can play feisty and scrape out a win.
Another huge storyline to emerge from this day was the upset that didn’t happen. Illinois should be very grateful that they are moving on to Sunday because this was nearly a huge upset for Chattanooga. It took Illinois 39 minutes and 14 seconds to grab a lead in this game and luckily for them it was enough to escape. This was a defensive battle (or offensive rock fight depending on how you want to look at it) that didn’t feature any players scoring more than 17 points. Illinois All-American center Kofi Cockburn was the player with 17 points, winning the battle underneath against former Kansas big man Silvio de Sousa. Illinois is going to have to play much better if they want to get to the Sweet 16, something they failed to do last year despite being a one seed. But for now, the Fighting Illini did just enough to eke out a win and move on to the next round.
Another upset we almost got to see was Colgate over Wisconsin. The Raiders from Colgate stayed close to Wisconsin all game but in the end, Johnny Davis and the Badgers were too much to handle. Davis ended with a game-high 25 points and Tyler Wahl added another 15. Colgate was living and dying by the three-pointer, which is a very high-risk, high-reward style. The Raiders scored half of their points from behind the line, making 10 of 22 attempts for a 45.5 shooting percentage. The high reward came at the start of the second half when they made six of their seven first shots, all threes, as they ran out to a bit of a lead. The high risk came down the stretch when Colgate wasn’t able to make a three and ended up losing 67-60. Wisconsin was a sneaky pick to make a run in the tournament and if they are able to close games out late like this then they will pose a threat.
Most of the other games from the day were blowouts. Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Villanova, Purdue, Texas Tech, Houston, and TCU all did what they were supposed to do (and what Kentucky couldn’t do on Thursday) and took care of business with commanding wins. The only other games that were somewhat close were Miami’s 68-66 win over USC which shouldn’t have been as close as it eventually was. The Hurricanes let the Trojans knock down some late three-pointers to close the gap. Texas also stopped Virginia Tech’s hot streak with an 81-73 win that ended the ACC Tournament Champion’s hopeful Cinderella run. Texas was one of the most inconsistent teams in the entire field but when they are on they can score with anyone. If they can keep this up they can be pretty dangerous as a six seed but the odds of that happening are slim.
Overall, the second day of March Madness didn’t provide us with the crazy moments that the first day did but I can’t say I wasn’t entertained. Now it is time to move on to the second round with Sweet 16 berths on the line. I am looking forward to some more fun basketball games and hopefully some more broken brackets.