March Madness: First Day Round-up

Steve O Speak

Wow if yesterday is any indication, this Tournament will live up to it’s nickname of “March Madness”. We saw seven upsets yesterday with lower seeds knocking off higher seeds including both a 4 and a 3 losing. We saw one of everyone’s favorite upset picks (UTEP), get killed by Butler. And perhaps the most exciting game was one of the first ones played, where 2 seed Villanova needed overtime to overcome 15 seed Robert Morris. Already we’ve seen a number of story lines forming and here are some of the first day impressions:

Bad Day For Big East Teams:  The Big East didn’t get off to a good start in this Tournament as three of their four teams playing yesterday were among those teams that got upset. What’s even worse is those were three of the four highest seeds to lose yesterday. Georgetown looked to be one of the strongest 3 seeds in this tournament. They were one basket away from winning the Big East Tournament, and had been ranked pretty much all year. They had big wins this year over some of the best teams in the country, including Pitt, Villanova, Syracuse and Duke. They looked like a balanced team with three top scorers, and a good inside-outside mixture. Well none of that mattered yesterday as 14 seed Ohio just dominated them. Ohio was in control for pretty much the majority of the game, and it was just a fantastic performance if you were rooting for an underdog. In addition to Georgetown losing, a pair of 6 seeds lost in the final seconds of the game as both Notre Dame and Marquette fell. Notre Dame lost to 11 seed Old Dominion in a close 51-50 battle. While the Irish kept the game close ODU really shut down Notre Dame’s offense particularly their three point shooting. Marquette on the other hand had little trouble shooting the 3, going 12-19 in the game. But it wasn’t enough to hold off 11 seed Washington. There were a number of times Marquette looked like they had the game in hand, only to see the Huskies battle back and win on a last second shot.

Villanova was the lone Big East team to win yesterday, and boy was it not pretty. Robert Morris led for a good portion of that game, and never showed any intimidation to their cross state foe. Even in overtime, their play was inspired, and they never gave up even when it looked as though the Wildcats were going to pull away. They kept it close and nearly sent the game into double overtime. For Villanova it was a pretty embarrassing game. This is a team that has Final Four or even Championship talent and pedigree but needed an extra 5 minutes to silence a 15 seed team. The Wildcats will need to figure out what went wrong and fast if they hope to get back on track this tournament.

High Seeds Struggle Early:  While both of yesterday’s 1 seeds cruised to victory, other top seeds did not. Villanova just squeaked by Robert Morris, and 3 seed New Mexico was taken down to the wire by Montana. Three seed Baylor didn’t pull away from Sam Houston State until about 2 minutes to play. Then of course we had the upsets. In addition to Georgetown losing big to Ohio, 4 seed Vanderbilt lost on a last second shot to 13 seed Murray State. Of the eight 1-4 seeds that played yesterday, two lost and three just barely advanced to the second round. This doesn’t bode too well if you believe that top seeds will dominate like they have the past few years.

Overtime and Last Second Shots Dominate Day One:  In all the games of last year’s tournament we saw a total of 15 overtime minutes, through the first 16 games of this year’s we saw 20. In addition to the overtime games we saw four games won by a shot in the final 5 seconds (including one of the overtime games). Another three games saw last second shots fall short that could have tied it and sent the game into overtime (2nd overtime for Robert Morris). One of the overtime teams that lost, Florida, had the final shot in both regulation and the first overtime, but couldn’t capitalize. All-in-all it was one of the most intense days in college basketball, with half the games going down to the wire.

Yesterday was proof for what this Tournament is all about. We saw some fantastic basketball being played, filled with great drama. This year’s tournament could ring with parity, as there didn’t seem to be much difference between a number of the seeds. Power conferences fell hard yesterday, showing why exactly we give automatic bids to the Mid-Majors and lower conferences. The best part about it all is the Madness has just begun, so sit back, relax and watch your brackets get destroyed.

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