Calm in the face of daunting situations. Both Robert Morris and Dayton had it Wednesday night, and as a result, both are moving on in the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Boise State was unable to come up with another spirited road win. One more gutsy road win than the Broncos ever should’ve had to earn.
Much like Hampton and Mississippi on the first day of the NCAA Tournament, the two teams advancing from Wednesday night’s First Four games did not panic in tough spots. Both Robert Morris and Dayton rallied from deficits late, with the Colonials getting by North Florida 81-77 and the Flyers nipping Boise State 56-55.
Dayton trailed 50-41 with 6 1/2 minutes left before drawing on its tourney experience from last year’s Elite 8 run, a crystal clear home court advantage, and badly uneven officiating that decided to swallow whistles down the stretch. The Flyers’ Jordan Sibert, who was a victim of some inconsistent calls that kept him in foul trouble much of the night, hit a three-pointer with 38 seconds left, and the Broncos missed two chances to take the lead back.
Don’t be fooled by the final score; this was a terrific game throughout. Despite foul trouble and cold shooting early, Dayton was gritty as usual, something we should be used to by now. The Flyers shot 72.2% in the second half, are going to be a very tough out in the tourney once again, and are a lot of fun to watch. Boise State played outstanding for 39 minutes, looking every bit as tough as the team that earned one of the best road wins of this season when it won at San Diego State, snapping the Aztecs’ 29-game home win streak. The Broncos did not execute in the final minute, though, going stagnant and getting poor shot attempts, including the final shot when Derrick Marks in desperation tried to draw contact on a three-point shot, an attempt that was correctly not rewarded. The result is we already have a team going home that never should’ve been playing in a First Four game.
Boise State had plenty of opportunities to win this game, and the Broncos were more than gracious in defeat, but it doesn’t mask the fact that both of these teams were underseeded, and that it was a travesty that the Broncos had to play a pure road game just to play into the main bracket. Not since 1987 has a team played an NCAA Tournament game on its true home court, but it happened Wednesday night. It’s yet another small-but-significant step backwards for a tournament that almost 30 years ago outgrew having to play on home courts.
In the first game, Robert Morris was the tougher team. The Colonials kind of snuck this one out, as it felt like North Florida had it in control in the second half even when RMU would close in. In fact, the Ospreys had just gone ahead by eight midway through the second half, but the Colonials outscored them 22-7 over the next eight minutes to take control.
What stood out clearly from this one was the calm by Robert Morris coach Andrew Toole, who time and again trusted his players to work their way out of tough spots. Toole refused to call timeouts during runs by the Ospreys, and also continued to stick with guard Kavon Stewart even after the sophomore missed four of his first seven free throws and was struggling at the line down the stretch. Stewart rewarded his coach by stepping up and nailing two big ones with 10 seconds left, after North Florida had closed within two points. The message was clear: RMU players were going to have to figure this out for themselves, and it was an example of exactly what college sports should be about, with players learning and growing from sticky situations.
In the end, North Florida was done in by turnovers. The Ospreys committed 18 of them to just five for the Colonials. Fortunately for UNF, nearly its entire team should return next year, it should be a heavy favorite in the Atlantic Sun and a team to watch nationally.
- The NIT had seven more games to close out its first round. Top seeds Temple, Old Dominion and Richmond all won, while Colorado State is this year’s example of the disinterested team going home early. Ripped off by an NCAA selection committee that instead rewarded teams like UCLA and Texas for barely better than mediocre seasons, the Rams did not respond well in their NIT opener, and South Dakota State picked up a very nice 86-76 win in Fort Collins. This game also should be an A-1 example of why not to read too much one way or the other into the results from the NIT’s rule change experiments. Larry Eustachy’s teams are some of the stickiest defensively anywhere (63.5 points per game allowed in the regular season), but in this game the Rams were barely engaged. Not a good reaction to their undeniable snub, but also not surprising.
- Also in the NIT, Arizona State and Vanderbilt also pulled off mild surprises on the road, while Illinois State also eliminated Wisconsin-Green Bay 69-56.
- The CBI closed out its first round and is now down to eight teams. A good one was played in Tulsa, where Oral Roberts edged UC Santa Barbara 91-87. Other results included Vermont over Hofstra 85-81, Mercer edging Stony Brook 72-70, Louisiana-Monroe over Eastern Michigan 71-67 and Colorado moving on with an 87-78 win over Gardner-Webb. Seattle University also picked up its first NCAA Division I postseason tournament win in 57 years, since defeating Kansas State 73-51 in the 1958 NCAA Tournament national semifinals.
- The CIT continued as well on Tuesday with nine games. Among the winners were a pair of Southland Conference teams, as Sam Houston State handled UNC-Wilmington 87-71 and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi ended Florida Gulf Coast’s season 75-69.
- Fordham and Arkansas-Little Rock are the latest schools to make coaching changes. Tom Pecora was “relieved of his duties” at Fordham, as it worded by a school press release. Interestingly, the release cited not just Pecora’s record, which was 44-106 over his five years, but also his “student athlete retention rate over the past four years, which was 50 percent.” At UALR, Shields will not return for the final year of his contract. In 12 years in Little Rock, he was 192-178 with an NCAA Tournament berth in 2011. The Trojans finished 13-18 this year.
- Syracuse will have a coaching change, too-in three years. Athletic director Daryl Gross is on the way out, and coach Jim Boeheim is planning to retire in three years, according to a letter by Syracuse chancellor Kent Syverud. We’ll see… three years is a long time, and given the thunderstorm over the school right now, any plans for the future for any person could change in one direction or another.
- Holy Cross is expected to hire Bill Carmody as its head coach tomorrow. Carmody is the former coach at Princeton, where he had considerable success, and Northwestern, where he had a fair amount of success by that school’s standards. If this is the hire, it will be intriguing to see what Carmody can do there. It’s a school with high expectations and a tradition of success, and the Patriot League will be similar to his former situation at Princeton.
- Marquette junior Steve Taylor Jr. is going to transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility, according to a school release. Taylor averaged 5.9 points and 5.0 rebounds as a junior.
Today’s Menu: The main draw of the NCAA Tournament begins with 16 first round games
- In the East region, top seed Villanova gets Lafayette, while the 8/9 game between North Carolina State and LSU is one of the better ones on paper. Very curious to see which versions of these two teams show up for March.
- The South is loaded with upset possibilities. No. 14 seed UAB doesn’t initially figure to be a big threat to defeat No. 3 Iowa State, but the Blazers come from a tough conference and the Cyclones’ propensity for deficits could certainly come back to bite them in the NCAAs. No. 4 Georgetown goes against 13 seed Eastern Washington in a game that is played just outside the Eagles’ home state. With the Hoyas’ recent history of early exits, it’s very easy to pick them to lose, but EWU is truly no slouch. The Eagles have a lot of firepower and shoot the three really well, ranking fourth nationally in total triples made this season. A 5/12 game has Utah against Stephen F. Austin, another chic upset pick. Having seen them several times, the Lumberjacks are really good, but they did struggle early this season against size. Utah’s lack of tourney experience is a plus for SFA, but the Utes’ size inside is a considerable minus for the Jacks. Also, 6 seed SMU takes on UCLA, in a game that could go either way. The initial gut reaction is to trust Larry Brown as an advantage here, but the Mustangs are prone to occasional offensive struggles and are definitely no cinch to move on, even against a Bruins team that is extremely fortunate to be in the NCAAs.
- In the Midwest, the day starts with 3 seed Notre Dame against Northeastern in a game that could be far more interesting than many think. The Huskies are a veteran team that has played and beaten big name opponents the last couple years, while the Irish have not won in the NCAAs since 2011. No. 6 Butler takes on 11th-seeded Texas, and while the Longhorns are everyone’s favorite eye test team, from this view the Bulldogs are simply the better team. Let’s see if they play like it. In the evening, undefeated Kentucky takes on Hampton, while Cincinnati goes against Purdue. The Bearcats will have to make this one ugly, while the Boilermakers will try to take advantage of their considerable size inside.
- The West is the busiest regional, with six of the eight first round games taking place. No. 2 Arizona does not have an easy 15 seed in Texas Southern. The Wildcats should be fine, though this one could be close longer than expected. Three seed Baylor should handle No. 14 Georgia State, especially if Ryan Harrow can’t go for the Panthers. GSU is not a great outside shooting team and will have a mighty fight to try to keep up with the Bears on the glass. No. 4 North Carolina also should be a heavy favorite against Harvard, while the 5/12 game is Arkansas against Wofford. The Terriers are a quality team, but probably better suited for a slower pace. Xavier seems quite overseeded at the 6 spot, but the Musketeers get a chance to prove their worth when they take on pesky Mississippi. The Rebels’ situation this year looks a lot like Tennessee’s last year, where the Vols took advantage of an overseeded Massachusetts team and then Mercer’s upset of Duke to get to the Sweet 16. The 7/10 game has VCU against Ohio State, matching a team that has been in flux the last month (VCU) against a team that has looked the part and bullied bad teams but came up short usually when it played its best competition this year.
- The final game of the first round of the CIT has Tennessee-Martin against Northwestern State. The Skyhawks are another team that was a pleasant surprise in Heath Schroyer’s first season, while Northwestern State is always a threat to score 100.
Have a great Thursday, and enjoy the first full day of the NCAA tourney.