The first two full days of the 2016 NCAA Tournament weren’t like last year, when you couldn’t possibly have two more contrasting days in terms of results. But they did have a clear pattern develop, especially on Friday: for the most part, seeding doesn’t mean so much this year. The day also ended in dramatic fashion.
And with the way the regular season went, this shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s been that kind of year.
No, this wasn’t the year a No. 16 beat a No. 1; that will be a special case for the simple fact that sometimes, the No. 16 seeds include teams with losing records, as opposed to No. 15 seeds, who are almost always conference champions who had good records. But we have seen two No. 10 seeds win, along with two No. 11 seeds, two No. 12 seeds, and on Friday, one each of a No. 13, No. 14 and No. 15 all won a game for the first time in NCAA Tournament history. In fact, a team with each seed 10 through 15 won a game on Friday, and this year’s tournament has the most wins by double-digit seeds with ten. We are guaranteed to have a double-digit seed in the Sweet 16 since one second round matchup is between two such teams.
What also stands out is that in all but one case, the winning team was simply the better team. And in the one case that stands out, the winning team still deserves a lot of credit.
A No. 15 beating a No. 2 isn’t much of a shocker anymore, because it has happened with increasing frequency. This time around, Middle Tennessee beat Michigan State 90-81, never trailing in the game. The Spartans threatened in the second half, but could never get over the hump. It was a shocker from the standpoint that many before the season had the Spartans pegged as a national title contender and still felt they could make a run entering the tournament. In light of that, plus his great success in March over the years, give Tom Izzo a good pat on the back for being so engaging in a post-game interview. It’s one more example of why college basketball is so lucky he didn’t leap to the NBA long ago.
A little later, another such result nearly occurred as Cal State Bakersfield gave Oklahoma all they could handle and more. They were within four points before the Sooners got two big three-pointers from Woodward and Buddy Hield for some breathing room, and Oklahoma pulled away for an 82-68 win.
Later in the day, Thomas Walkup’s masterful 33-point night was a big part of Stephen F. Austin being the clearly better team in their 70-56 win over West Virginia. The Lumberjacks shot under 31 percent from the field and were out-rebounded 48-33, but had 16 steals and turned the ball over just seven times. Walkup added nine rebounds, four assists and four of those steals, and he was 19-20 from the foul line.
Earlier in the day came the one game where the winning team benefited a bit from the other team. Hawaii, a No. 13, took on California, a team that, simply put, had a rough week. They fired assistant coach Yann Hufnagel on Monday, lost Tyrone Wallace to injury on Wednesday, then Jabari Bird had back spasms and couldn’t go. Then the Golden Bears played from behind all game against the Rainbow Warriors, and just a couple of months after the NCAA sanctioned them for NCAA violations, including a postseason ban next year, Hawaii got their first NCAA Tournament win by a 77-66 margin. While Cal wasn’t whole by a long shot, give Hawaii credit because they played better.
One close call that didn’t turn into an upset was Maryland holding off South Dakota State 79-74 behind 27 points from Jake Layman. Down three, South Dakota turned the ball over and Maryland got a basket to seal a game where they led by as many as 18 points.
VCU, a No. 10 seed, played a great game with Oregon State that saw the Beavers rally to tie it in the second half. It was the Rams who made all the big plays late, though, as they would take home a 75-67 win, the first NCAA Tournament win for head coach Will Wade.
We had a dramatic finish in a game the double-digit seed did not win. Temple and Iowa went to overtime in Brooklyn after Quenton DeCosey hit three free throws with the Owls down by three late in regulation. With the game tied, Iowa’s got up a tough baseline jumper that airballed, but was right there to tip it in before the buzzer to give the Hawkeyes a 72-70 overtime win. Ray Floriani has more on this one.
The day ended with plenty of drama. First, No. 11 Northern Iowa did it again, getting a buzzer-beating bank shot from halfcourt by Paul Jesperson to beat Texas 75-72. Minutes later, Cincinnati and Saint Joseph’s were locked in a classic 8-9 game that might have been the best of the 16 on the day. Down one in the final minute, Cincinnati blocked a three-pointer and got a fast break dunk to take the lead. Isaiah Miles then hit a three-pointer from the left wing to put the Hawks back up by two, 78-76, and Cincinnati got up the court quickly. Troy Caupain ably found after meeting a bunch of Hawk defenders, and he dunked home what appeared to be the basket that would give us overtime. No one would have complained. But replays showed the ball wasn’t quite out of his hand as the light came on, and the shot was waived off. Saint Joseph’s won their first NCAA Tournament game since the magical run of 2004, and the TV showed the agony of defeat by giving us the image of how difficult this was for Cincinnati’s Octavius Ellis, who overcame a great deal of adversity to have a big senior year for the Bearcats.
We can only hope the rest of the tournament is as compelling as this one has been thus far, as Ted Sarandis and I talked about late Friday night.
A number of other games were relatively ho-hum from the score or how the game played out in comparison. Villanova handled UNC Asheville 86-56 (Ray Floriani has more on this one), Syracuse dumped Dayton 70-51 in a surprise that was never really close in the second half, Texas A&M blew out Green Bay 92-65, Oregon blew out Holy Cross 91-52, and Xavier handled Weber State 71-53. In a close one that went to the higher seed, Wisconsin held off Pittsburgh 47-43. And one of the last games of the day was a tale of two halves, where Notre Dame didn’t take care of the ball in the first half, before they took over in the second half en route to a 70-63 win over Michigan.
In NIT action, Brigham Young 12 of Chase Fischer’s 24 points in the final six minutes and knocked off Virginia Tech 80-77 in Provo.
The third coaching change in the CAA came out Friday morning, as Delaware parted ways with Monte Ross. Ross was 132-184 over ten seasons, but the program surged starting in 2011-12, culminating in their CAA championship in 2014. He signed a three-year contract after his prior contract expired last season.
Later in the day, Oklahoma State made official what had been previously reported as likely to happen, which is letting Travis Ford go. This doesn’t come cheap, as Ford had three years and $7.2 million in guaranteed money remaining on his contract. In eight seasons, the Cowboys went 155-111, but were 55-65 in Big 12 play, and they won just one NCAA Tournament game in five appearances. The bottom fell out this season, when injuries depleted an already thin roster en route to the fourth 20-loss season in school history and the first since 1986-87. You can follow our compilation of coaching changes right here.
On the other hand, Josh Pastner will remain as head coach at Memphis, for now at least. The school issued a statement saying it “will make the necessary investments and changes” while keeping Pastner as the head coach.
A troubling pattern continues at Illinois, where Kendrick Nunn is the latest player to have a brush with the law. The junior guard, who was the second-leading scorer on the team this season, pleaded not guilty to two counts of domestic battery on Friday after being arrested the day before. Police allege that he struck a woman he was with at an apartment not far from the campus, and that it may have been a dispute about money. He is the fourth Illinois player arrested in August, but more to the point, the second in less than a week and third in about a month.
Second round action is on tap today, with the first eight teams set to advance to the Sweet 16.
- In Providence, Wichita State takes on Miami in the South Region (12:10 p.m.), followed by Yake taking on Duke in the West Region.
- In Des Moines, arch rivals meet as Indiana takes on Kentucky in the East Region (5:10 p.m.), followed by UConn taking on Kansas in the South Region.
- In Denver, Arkansas-Little Rock takes on Iowa State in the Midwest Region (6:10 p.m.), followed by Gonzaga taking on Utah in the Midwest Region.
- In Raleigh, Butler takes on Virginia in the Midwest Region (7:10 p.m.) followed by Providence taking on North Carolina in the East Region.
- One NIT game is on tap as Wagner travels to Creighton (noon).
- Two CIT games are on the schedule, both at 2 p.m. Eastern: Louisiana-Lafayette at Furman and New Hampshire at Coastal Carolina.