The beauty of the NCAA Tournament is not just the upsets, the near-upsets and the close games.
Of course, they certainly are a big part of it, and we saw at least two of those categories tapped in games Thursday such as those between Yale and Baylor, Arkansas-Little Rock and Purdue and Duke and UNC Wilmington. What also makes the tourney annually such a wonderful event, though-and college basketball as a whole-is that there are so many different ways to compete and win, something that once again was on display in each of the above mentioned games as the first round of the 2016 tourney kicked into gear.
No. 12 seed Yale brought us our first upset of the tourney, holding off fifth-seeded Baylor 79-75, and one never had to look far for differences between the two teams. One is a burgeoning athletics power in Texas; the other an Ivy League school. Baylor has a power forward (Rico Gathers) who will soon be preparing for an NFL career; Yale is led by a baby-faced sophomore guard (Makai Mason) and a senior forward (Brandon Sherrod) who returned to the team this year after a year off for performing with a campus a cappella singing group (the wonderfully named Whiffenpoofs).
On the court, the Bears had a distinct physical advantage in this one and came in well-regarded for their rebounding prowess, but the Bulldogs were actually more like Baylor than most knew. It was Yale that came into this game ranked second in the nation in rebound margin, and sure enough, the Ivy Leaguers outrebounded the Bears 35-30. With Mason scoring 31 points, Yale won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in school history in its first appearance since 1962.
Arkansas-Little Rock’s matchup with Purdue looked to be a bad one on paper-the towering Boilermakers against the undersized Trojans. What looked like a negative for 12 seed Little Rock, though, was actually a positive for a team that has played a pack-it-in defense all season.
Indeed, the Trojans made this like a trip to the dentist for Purdue, even triple-teaming the tall trees in the post. Still, the No. 5 seed Boilermakers had this one in control through 35 minutes until the Trojans turned up the pressure late, sped the game up and got a three-pointer from Josh Hagins in the final seconds of regulation to send this to overtime. Finally after two overtimes, UALR pulled out an 85-83 win for its first NCAA Tournament victory since shocking Notre Dame in 1986 as a 14 seed.
UNC Wilmington wasn’t able to add to the list of double-digit seeds winning, falling to defending champion and fourth-seeded Duke 93-85. Still, the 13th-seeded Seahawks were another example of how a team can find different ways to play against the very best.
UNCW pressured all over the court, as it always does, and led the Blue Devils at halftime, before the Dukies came out strong in the second half and the Seahawks ran into big foul trouble. It wasn’t a winning effort, but it was a wildly entertaining and resourceful one that once again reminded us that you don’t need a stash of McDonald’s All-Americans to play against a team that does.
- In all on Thursday, two 12 seeds, two 11 seeds and three 9 seeds won. Wichita State and Gonzaga were both very impressive from the 11 line, with the Shockers drilling Arizona 65-55 in a game not as close as the final score and the Zags handling Seton Hall 68-52. Ninth-seeded teams winning were Connecticut, Butler and Providence, with the Friars providing us our most dramatic ending with a 70-69 win over USC on Rodney Bullock’s layup with 1.5 seconds left off of a baseline out-of-bounds play.
- No team was hotter on the first full day than Indiana. The Hoosiers seemingly could not miss, shooting 64.9% to pull away and win going away, 99-74 over a Tennessee-Chattanooga team that didn’t play that badly. IU will be a national title frontrunner if it continues to play like that, though it will face considerable resistance in the second round when it faces Kentucky, which blew out Stony Brook 85-57.
- Utah moves on to face Gonzaga in the second round after an 80-69 win over Fresno State in a strange game that saw the Utes lead by 15 late in the first half, watch the Bulldogs come all the way back to take the lead midway through the second half, and then regroup for the win. Utah also outrebounded Fresno by a whopping 35-14 margin. Jakob Poeltl out-boarded the Bulldogs himself with 18 rebounds as well as 14 points.
- Miami (Fla.) got a stiff challenge from West Region 14 seed Buffalo, as expected, but the third-seeded Hurricanes stayed a step ahead the whole second half in a 79-72 win. Miami next will face Wichita State, the latest team to receive the tough assignment of playing the experienced Shockers.
- Given the chance to host an ACC school for the first time ever, Valparaiso handled Florida State 81-69 in the NIT second round to move within one game of a trip to New York. The Crusaders moved to 2-0 all-time against the Seminoles in the second round of postseason tournaments, as Valpo also defeated FSU in the 1998 NCAA second round.
One CIT second round game: Grand Canyon topped Jackson State 64-54, sending the Antelopes to the quarterfinals. Hoping they can avoid matching GCU and UC Irvine as long as possible, because they may well be the two best teams in the event.
- What appeared to be a bitter situation at Wisconsin-Milwaukee came to a seemingly inevitable end Thursday when Rob Jeter was let go as the Panthers’ coach. UWM finished 20-13 this year but did not participate in a postseason tournament due to the decision of athletic director Amanda Braun, who was very pointed in comments stating she didn’t feel the team deserved to be in the postseason. Jeter had a 185-170 record in 11 seasons at the school and led teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2006 and 2014 and ran a solid program despite working for six athletic directors in his tenure.
- Another coach out on Thursday is Ray Harper at Western Kentucky. His resignation comes after the suspension of three Hilltopper players after a university disciplinary meeting, according to the Bowling Green Daily News.
- More from Hoopville yesterday: Phil Kasiecki on the case of the disappearing college senior, plus Phil and Ted Sarandis with another Hoopville Talking Hoops podcast.
- The NCAA Tournament continues with the remaining 16 first round games. South 4 seed California against 13th-seeded Hawaii is a prime upset opportunity, especially since Cal announced on Thursday that Tyrone Wallace broke a bone in his right hand and is out 3-5 weeks, or likely the rest of the Golden Bears’ season.
- Other excellent games include Northern Iowa against Texas, Oregon State vs. VCU, Syracuse meeting Dayton, a highly anticipated Notre Dame/Michigan matchup, and watch out for Wisconsin-Green Bay against Texas A&M, as the Phoenix and their up-tempo style very well could give the Aggies fits.
- The NIT second round continues with one game as BYU hosts Virginia Tech. The winner gets to host a quarterfinal, as quadrant top seed St. Bonaventure is already out.
Enjoy a terrific Friday.