The NCAA Tournament opened last night with its First Four games. For entertainment value, the night could not have gone much better.
The opening game of the tournament saw quite a surprise, as Hampton defeated Manhattan 74-64. Already that was a solid start, but it was just a warm-up for the second game, where Mississippi rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to defeat BYU 94-90 in a wild and fun contest all the way. As far as first nights go, this one was an enjoyable one.
The first game sure looked like a case of one team wanting it more than the other. The Pirates looked kind of like a football team that runs the option and misdirection plays, as Manhattan was constantly off balance and a step behind defensively. Hampton thoroughly deserved the win, outplaying the Jaspers and looking like the team that was one of the favorites in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference before the season. The Pirates and their 17-17 record move on to face undefeated Kentucky.
The second game saw wild swings of momentum and plenty of offense, with BYU scoring 49 points in the first half and the Rebels putting up a big 62 in the second half. Ole Miss continued to scrap and never gave up and showed why it was good enough to beat teams like Oregon and Cincinnati and very nearly defeated Kentucky. The Cougars showed why they were a tantalizing at-large candidate with their scoring prowess, but just as they often did this year, they came up just short against a tourney-level team.
It should be noted as well that Ole Miss and BYU both outscored all 18 teams that played in the NIT on Tuesday. The NIT tipped off last night as well, a development this is not insignificant as that tournament (as well as the CollegeInsider.com Tournament) is using experimental rules with a 30-second shot clock.
The results of that are going to be interesting to follow. According to ESPN statistics last night, five of the seven games saw no change (or even a slight decrease) in number of possessions based on the averages of the two teams’ playing.
Watching some of these first NIT games, it’s possible the shorter clock may have sped some teams up a tad, though it’s hard to tell as many of those that played Tuesday are already good offensive teams and/or their pace may have sped up their opponents as well. Eleven of the 18 teams playing scored at least 70 points, though the 30-second clock didn’t keep George Washington and Pittsburgh from a rather ugly 60-54 contest.
At the same time, whether because of shot clock or just the similarity in teams’ styles, there was a noticeable sameness to many of the NIT games. Even being good offensive teams, there were still some ugly stretches and scoring droughts, because they happen to pretty much every team. They just might’ve happened in some cases with slightly more frequency. Not sure how that’s an improvement on what we already have, but we’ll continue to track the results in this postseason.
- The NIT tipped off with nine games. Eight of the nine host schools won, with George Washington the lone road winner in a 60-54 victory at Pittsburgh. Well done by Louisiana Tech fans, as nearly 7,000 came out-the sixth-largest crowd in school history-for the Bulldogs’ 89-79 win over Central Michigan. Also, North Carolina Central gave a good account in a 75-71 loss to Miami (Fla.).
- One game was played in the CBI, where Loyola (Ill.) rallied to defeat Rider 62-59. Milton Doyle scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half.
- Five games were played in the CIT. South Carolina Upstate edged James Madison 73-72 in an excellent matchup, while three road teams won. Most notably, Eastern Illinois outran Oakland 97-91, while Louisiana-Lafayette won at Incarnate Word 83-68.
- Colorado begins its play in the CBI tonight but will do so without two of its players. It was alerady known that sophomore guard Dustin Thomas was transferring, but senior leading scorer Askia Booker also has decided not to play in the tournament. Reasons are unclear, but needless to say it’s curious why a player would not choose to continue with his teammates for at least one final game.
- The second set of the NCAA tourney’s First Four takes place, with North Florida against Robert Morris in a 16/16 game and Boise State on the road at Dayton for a pairing of 11 seeds. UNF against RMU is a pretty nice matchup, but we’ll go with the Ospreys on the strength of their eight-game winning streak and on having three players who have knocked down at least 60 three-pointers this year, giving them multiple scoring weapons from outside.
The second game could be called the Shaft Bowl, with a Dayton team that is way underseeded going against a conference champion that for its title was rewarded with a true road game in its NCAA Tournament opener. This one should feature a ton of three-pointers. Boise State has more size inside, but the Flyers are at home, play bigger than their size and also have postseason experience. Pick: Dayton.
- The remaining seven first round games will be played tonight in the NIT. Good matchups include St. Mary’s hosting a Vanderbilt team that was underappreciated this year, as well as Illinois State hosting Wisconsin-Green Bay. Colorado State shouldn’t even be in the NIT, and its reward for being there is a pairing with a good South Dakota State team. St. Francis (N.Y.) also makes its first postseason appearance since the 1963 NIT when it faces Richmond in a first round game.
- The remaining seven first round games in the CBI are on tap. Interesting matchups include Gardner-Webb-a team that beat Purdue and Clemson-at Colorado and Eastern Michigan against Louisiana-Monroe in a pairing of two very long teams defensively.
- Nine more games in the CIT. The best matchups include UNC-Wilmington at Sam Houston State, Kent State at Middle Tennessee State and Sacramento State on the road at Portland in the Hornets’ first-ever Division I postseason tournament appearance. Maryland-Eastern Shore also gets to cap a very surprisingly successful season with a first round game at High Point.
Enjoy your Wednesday.