The NCAA Tournament’s First Four started the tourney Tuesday with a whimper, and it ended the night with a whimper as well.
In nearly 30 years of following this event, it’s hard to remember many first games of the NCAA tourney that have been as one-sided as this year’s. In a battle of 16 seeds, Florida Gulf Coast jumped on Fairleigh Dickinson from the start and hammered the young Knights 96-65, seeming to pick up on the vibes from its last NCAAs appearance in 2013 when it advanced to the Sweet 16 as a 15 seed.
The Eagles dominated in about every way imaginable, but especially inside. FGCU shot 59.6%, scored 44 points in the paint and outrebounded senior-less FDU 52-33. It was a clinical domination by a team that is playing its best right now and will have the size and athleticism to at least make North Carolina sweat a little in its next game if the Tar Heels aren’t on their game.
The night’s second game was close (if not particularly well-played) for about 32 minutes before Wichita State turned a tight game into a rout by the end. The Shockers finished the game on a 20-2 run to drill Vanderbilt 70-50, winning an NCAA tourney game for the fourth straight year and moving on to a tantalizing, Sweet 16-level first-round matchup against No. 6 seed Arizona.
As expected, Wichita State was the tougher team and showed it in the final minutes. The Shockers got three-pointers from Connor Frankamp (two) and Markis McDuffie to take control, part of another stellar bench effort by one of the best reserve groups in the country. Frankamp, McDuffie, Anton Grady, Rauno Nurger and Rashard Kelly combined for half of the team’s points, with all playing pivotal roles.
For Vanderbilt, it was a disappointing finish to a disappointing season. Clearly the “eye test” and “advanced metrics” that loved the Commodores so much this year were wrong. The latter is ok-all rating formulas have outliers. The former is not. Vandy played exactly as it did all season against NCAA at-large-caliber teams. Its final result-another loss in one of those games-should’ve been a surprise to no one.
- The NIT got underway in earnest with nine games. Easily the most entertaining of them was Washington finally toppling Long Beach State 107-102. Dejounte Murray, Marquese Chriss and Andrew Andrews combined for 82 points, while the 49ers gave a good account as a somewhat surprising entrant that was rewarded for the very tough schedule it (again) played.
- The CBI tipped off, and there will be no second title in that event for Siena. The Saints surprisingly lost at home to Morehead State 84-80, as the rugged Eagles did their thing on the glass (35-26 advantage) and continued the OVC’s strong performances in March the past few years.
- Three games in the CIT, and all were good ones. Ball State edged Tennessee State 78-73 in double overtime; Furman rallied late to tip Louisiana-Monroe 58-57 and Coastal Carolina beat Mercer 65-57.
- The third and fourth games of the NCAA Tournament First Four are played with Holy Cross against Southern and Michigan taking on Tulsa.
- The first round of the NIT continues with seven more games, including a number of very nice matchups. In particular, UAB at BYU is an NCAA Tournament-quality matchup, while Houston/Georgia Tech, Hofstra/George Washington, Princeton/Virginia Tech and Belmont/Georgia are also good ones.
- The final seven CBI first-round games are held. Among the games: Albany at Ohio is a good one, plus there’s a matchup of former Big Sky rivals with Montana at Nevada.
- The remaining seven CIT first-round games are held, including Texas-Arlington at Savannah State, New Hampshire at Fairfield and UC Irvine on the road at North Dakota.
Enjoy your Wednesday.