It was an eventful day 1 of the 2018 NCAA Tournament was highlighted by Loyola-Chicago upsetting Miami and Buffalo upsetting Arizona. Here are the rest of our takeaways.
The first day of the NCAA Tournament always seems to bring excitement and this year wasn’t any different. We saw two big upsets in the South region with (11) Loyola-Chicago taking out (6) Miami and (13) Buffalo dominating (4) Arizona.
After each day in the tournament, we are going to bring you our takeaways from the day’s action. While teams like Tennessee, Duke, and Villanova were able to cruise in their matchups against Wright State, Iona, and Radford respectively, some top seeds had a difficult time closing out their games but managed to survive and advance.
For example, the top seed in the Midwest, Kansas, led by only seven points against (16) Penn at the half. The Quakers held their own in the second half, but Devonte’ Graham’s 29 points were able to help Kansas pull away with a 76-60 win.
If you were in Boise, you saw a few games that were close to upsets, but most of the favorites ended up surviving. In the West region, (4) Gonzaga needed a three-pointer from Zach Norvell Jr. with 21 seconds left to break a tie with (13) UNC-Greensboro (68-64 win).
In the following game, the 12 seed, South Dakota State, rallied from a 13-point deficit in the second half to tie the game with 1:53 left against (5) Ohio State. But, Kam Williams would get a four-point play 17 seconds later. He scored seven of the Buckeyes’ final 11 points in Ohio State’s 81-73 victory.
The near upsets moved over to the night session as (5) Kentucky was able to hang on late for a 78-73 win over (12) Davidson in the South region. While Davidson didn’t get the win, it was the first time Kentucky didn’t make a three-pointer in a game since 1988. Kentucky will face the only upset of the day in Boise on Saturday when they take on the Bulls.
As for the other matchups, here were my takeaways from Thursday, starting with the surprising blowout in Boise:
Buffalo Runs Arizona Out Of Boise
A lot of people, including myself, had Arizona winning the National Championship. Well, those brackets are now busted after the MAC champion Buffalo Bulls not only upset Arizona but blew them out of the gym with an 89-68 win.
If you want to look at the major difference in this game, the Bulls were hitting everything from downtown as they made 15 of their 30 three-pointers. Meanwhile, Arizona’s starting trio of guards was 1-for-11 from beyond the arc.
Deandre Ayton did have 14 points and 13 rebounds in this game, but the potential top pick in June’s NBA Draft did not have enough help. But, give Buffalo’s defense credit for stifling Arizona’s guards and making them take tough shots.
Meanwhile, the Bulls got 19 or more points from three different players. Senior guard Wes Clark followed up his great performance in the MAC Championship (26 points) with a team-high 25 points. Plus, Jeremy Harris had 23 points and C.J Massenburg hit five trifectas.
For Nate Oaks’ club, it is a program-changing win. They will now get their chance to take on Kentucky on Saturday and they clearly showed they are not afraid to take on the best teams in the country. They did give Cincinnati and Syracuse all they could handle in the regular season.
As for Arizona, their future is uncertain. For one, the Pac-12 has to be embarrassed that they will not get a single win in the NCAA’s this year. The Wildcats now have to re-group, but with the FBI investigation looming over the program, you wonder how different Arizona might look next year. Will Sean Miller be back as coach? That remains to be seen.
Those topics can be touched on more at a different time, but the Bulls should be the main story tonight.
Loyola-Chicago Beats The Buzzer
When March Madness comes to mind, one of the first things people think about is those buzzer beaters. While it wasn’t technically a buzzer beater, the 11 seed in the South region, the Illinois-Chicago Ramblers, gave us our first Cinderella upset with a 64-62 upset over (6) Miami in Dallas.
The hero of the day was senior guard Donte Ingram. Ingram’s three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left ended up being the defining shot that gave the Missouri Valley champions their first NCAA Tournament win since 1985.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 15, 2018
For Miami, it was a couple of missed chances late that cost them the win. The Hurricanes led by one with 23 seconds left, but a Lonnie Walker IV turnover and missed free throw set up the Ramblers for the eventual game-winning shot.
Overall, this was a great game with no team having more than a seven-point lead at any given time. Both of these teams were able to get over 30 points in the paint and Miami shot over 50 percent in each half.
While the number of three-pointers was low on both sides, the Ramblers had just ten turnovers for the entire team. They had three players score in double figures with Clayton Custer leading the way with 14 points.
It will be a tall order for Loyola-Chicago to take down Tennessee, but their defense hasn’t allowed 70 points in seven straight games and they did beat an SEC team earlier in the year (Florida).
Oklahoma Completes End Of Season Collapse
It wasn’t that long ago where we were talking about the Oklahoma Sooners as a team that could make a deep run in March with one of the most exciting players in the country in freshman Trae Young. But, the Sooners ended the season losing nine of their final 11 games.
On Thursday, they took on (7) Rhode Island in one of the more anticipated first-round games of this tournament. Dan Hurley’s Rams were able to hang on and get an 83-78 win in overtime to set up a matchup with (2) Duke in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Young ended up having 28 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. However, he had six turnovers and made just one three-pointer in the second half and overtime. He did his part, but no one else had the Sooners had more than 14 points in the loss.
As for Rhode Island, they found their three-point shot in the second half. As a team, they were 7-for-13 on their trifectas in the second half. That includes this shot by Jared Terrell that ended up tying the game early on in the second half:
GO AHEAD AND HIT FROM THE LOGO JARED TERRELL pic.twitter.com/SNxoSUy9DL
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) March 15, 2018
Terrell and E.C. Matthews (team-high 16 points) are a formidable backcourt, but Rhode Island also got a major contribution from their bench. Their reserves outscored the Sooners bench, 33-14. This includes 15 points from freshman guard Fatts Russell. It was the most points Russell has scored in a game since the 20 he had against Providence on December 2.
If there is one problem Rhode Island will have against Duke, it might be on the boards. Oklahoma outrebounded the Rams 54-41 and it will only get tougher for Rhode Island going up against the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr.
Seton Hall Seniors Get Their Win
For Seton Hall, their group of seniors got the proverbial monkey off their back in Wichita Thursday with a 94-83 win over N.C. State in Wichita. It was the Pirates’ first NCAA Tournament win since 2004 and they’ve now earned a date with Kansas on Saturday.
While Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sonogo were not in the starting lineup, the two forwards made a major contribution off the bench as they combined for 30 points. Rodriguez provided a spark in the first half as he made six of his eight shots (14 points) to help the Pirates get a ten-point lead at the break.
One of the things that Kevin Willard’s club did well in this game was that they limited their turnovers. In total, they had just seven for the game. Khadeen Carrington had an excellent game at the point guard position as the senior had a team-high 26 points in the win.
In March, free throws are very important, especially in crunch time. During the regular season, the Pirates were the worst foul shooting team in the Big East (69.3 percent).
That trend reversed itself against the Wolfpack as Seton Hall was 31-for-39 from the line and 25-for-31 in the second half. That helped neutralize the 36 points that NC State got from Allerik Freeman.
Gray Carries Cougars Past Aztecs
March is the time of year where you see one player singlehandedly take a team on a magical journey. For Houston, that player is clearly senior guard Rob Gray. Gray, who averaged 18.5 points per game in the regular season, finished Thursday night’s game against San Diego State with 39 points and eight rebounds.
Out of those 39 points, 23 of them came in the second half. That is impressive when you consider the Cougars scored 28 points for the entire half. It was Gray’s layup with 1.1 seconds left that helped clinched a second-round bid for the sixth seed in the West region.
Rob Gray would not let Houston lose tonight. pic.twitter.com/2mfkipdmBK
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 16, 2018
Gray is on a scoring surge as of late as he has scored 30 or more points in three of his last five games. While he had four turnovers in the game, Houston as a team had only seven. Plus, the team only shot 37.5 percent from the floor despite Gray making 12 of his 25 shot attempts.
Houston will take on (3) Michigan in the second round on Saturday. It will be fun to watch if Gray can keep this run going, but for now, he definitely gave the Cougars fans a night to remember.