8 biggest takeaways from Day 1 of NCAA Tournament
As far as March Madness goes, Thursday may have seemed tame. There weren’t any successful buzzer-beaters, and the biggest upset was predicted before it even happened.
It can seem easy to sulk and wish for better, but the 16 games we witnessed across the nation were all interesting in their own way, and together were a tapestry of excitement and intrigue. Some storylines stood out as notable in the moment, while others foreshadowed what we could expect as we charge forward in this tournament.
More than 12 hours of basketball later, we can take a deep breath and look back on what truly mattered on Thursday.
1.) Notre Dame and Virginia survive
Both five seeds in their respective regions, the Irish and the Cavaliers faced up with very accomplished mid-majors in Princeton and UNC-Wilmington, and both survived to fight another day.
Princeton went undefeated in Ivy League play and looked to pull an upset, just like Yale did after winning the Ivy last season. The Tigers offense started painfully slow and never got hot enough to truly outdo the Irish. Still though, in the end, Princeton had a shot to win the game on its final possession.
Notre Dame moves on to face a much different foe — the non-stop pressure of West Virginia.
Meanwhile further up the bracket, Virginia looked to be in deep trouble, with a sputtering offense that slumped through the first part of the Wahoos’ game against UNC-Wilmington. In the end, senior point guard London Perrantes was able to push down on the gas pedal just enough to fuel a Virginia win. The Cavs’ offense will need to be sharp on Saturday against Florida.
2.) Northwestern benefits from Vanderbilt mistake
For the first time ever, the Northwestern Wildcats played an NCAA Tournament game. After decades of hearing about the craziness involved in March Madness, the Wildcats very first crack at the tourney did not disappoint.
Northwestern won by just two points, but based on the way the game ended, it may be more fitting to say Vanderbilt lost by two points.
With a one point lead and just under 20 seconds left to play, Vanderbilt guard Matthew Fisher-Davis made a confounding mistake. Fisher-Davis, having read or interpreted the scoreboard incorrectly, fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh, who calmly nailed two game winning free throws (video here).
It was quite possibly the biggest mental error in the Big Dance since Chris Webber called for a timeout he didn’t have. You can’t help but feel bad for Fisher-Davis, while Northwestern moves on to challenge top seeded Gonzaga.
3.) Middle Tennessee proves itself
Despite being seeded 12th, Middle Tennessee was favored by betting markets to beat 5th seeded Minnesota. The spread made sense, given that the Blue Raiders likely deserved an 11 or even 10 seed, and the Gophers were probably a line or two higher than they deserved. Still, this match-up pitted a team from Conference-USA against a Big Ten power.
It certainly didn’t look that way, with the Blue Raiders holding a double-digit lead for most of the second half.
Reggie Upshaw played excellent, scoring inside and out, leading Middle Tennessee to a decisive victory.
The Blue Raiders may not be done yet. Middle Tennessee has now played 4 games against tournament level teams, and won 3 of those contests. Butler is in for a fight on Saturday.
4.) One seeds take care of business
The quest for a 16 seed to finally pull off the greatest of upsets will have to wait at least one more day. Gonzaga and Villanova both dispatched their small school opponents, but in the early going things were tougher than the top seeds would have liked.
The Zags outside shooting was ice cold in the first half, leading to a small halftime lead. Once Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins settled in and began to dominate the paint, the Gonzaga guards began to sink jumpers and pull away from South Dakota State. Jackrabbit star Mike Daum managed 17 points and 7 rebounds, which was impressive but below his 25 point per game average and not nearly enough to tackle the Zags.
Villanova failed to score for the first five full minutes of gameplay against Mount St. Mary’s. After settling in, the Wildcats were able to find better shots and stifle the Mountaineers defensively.
For the members of Villanova who did not contribute in last year’s championship, Thursday’s cold start could serve as a nice acclimation period.