Day One of March Madness began with three morning games, beginning around 11:30am CT. (7) Oklahoma State met (10) Kent State, (12) Missouri took on (5) Miami, and (4) Kentucky battled (13) Valpo to began the 2002 Tournament. In my bracket, I picked all three underdogs to advance, so I was basically hoping for two out of three. Kent State jumped out early on OSU, but the Cowboys battled back from a double-digit deficit to make it a good game. Meanwhile, Missouri had also jumped out quickly on Miami and seemed to be holding on to their 8-10 point lead. Valpo, trying to pull another miracle against SEC competition, hung with UK for about the first ten minutes, but the ‘Cats had begun to pull away by halftime. After Kent State knocked off Indiana in last year’s tournament, it was obvious they would be able to make a run at Oklahoma State in ‘02. At the same time however, the Cowboys were down just 4 points with only a couple minutes to go. Kent State was able to hang on and capture the first victory of the Tournament thanks to good defense. A few minutes later, Kentucky finished off a Valpo team they once led by around 20 points but that had battled back to within 10 with only two minutes remaining. Led by Keith Bogans’ outside shooting, Kentucky advanced to the second round of the Tournament and will take on the winner of the next-to-come Tulsa vs Marquette game. The second round of games for Day One was about set to begin as the Missouri Tigers were finishing off Miami. The ‘Canes were not able to make a big run at Mizzou late in the game, and with the first three games, we had seen two upsets.
Part two of day one had four matchups: (2) Alabama vs (15) Florida Atlantic, (4) Ohio State vs (13) Davidson, (5) Marquette vs (12) Tulsa, and (7) Wake Forest vs (10) Pepperdine. In these games, I had picked only one upset, Pepperdine over Wake Forest. Alabama and Florida Atlantic was probably the highlight of this round of games. The Owls from Boca Raton, FL hung with Bama the entire first half and actually led at halftime. They were hitting good shots while at the same time not letting the Tide have wide-open looks. Tulsa and Marquette were back-and-forth a lot of the first half, but it seemed as if Tulsa was in control. Wake Forest jumped out early on Pepperdine, but the Waves battled back. Ohio State was also beginning their game with Davidson and was having a tough time with the team from North Carolina. As the UA/FAU game moved into the second half, I expected the Crimson Tide to take control and cruise to a nice win. However, with the underdog-favoring home crowd behind them, the Owls of Florida Atlantic hung on and actually led a good portion of the second half. Meanwhile, Marquette was battling back from a double-digit deficit, while Pepperdine and Wake Forest battled back-and-forth. The Buckeyes held a slight advantage over Davidson at the half. By the time the game was 35 minutes old, Alabama was finally pulling away from FAU and went on to win the game. However, you must give credit to FAU, because they dominated the game for about 30-35 minutes. Wake Forest finally finished off Pepperdine, a team that hung close but was never able to catch up to the Deacons, who advanced to take on the winner of the Oregon/Montana game. Marquette had battled back to tie the game with Tulsa, but the Golden Hurricane was able to score with about 12 seconds left on the clock and take the lead. Marquette was unable to get a good shot off, Tulsa advanced to face Kentucky in round two. At the same time, Ohio State was still fighting a fierce battle with Davidson, and it appeared that the Buckeyes had lost any momentum they had. After a missed lay-up by Davidson, Ohio State hit their free-throws and hung on for a slim and tiring victory over Davidson and will face Missouri in the second round. That capped the first half of Day One’s games, with my record at a so-so 4-3.
The evening round of Day One was beginning about the time Oregon was finishing off Montana. The Ducks struggled early but controlled the game for the final 20+ minutes. The four games of the early evening session were Notre Dame vs Charlotte, UNC-Wilmington vs Southern Cal, Wyoming vs Gonzaga, and Kansas vs Holy Cross. Kansas and Holy Cross was a fabulous game despite the fact that a number one seed has never been beaten by a number sixteen. The Crusaders played excellent the first half and led by 2 points at the half. Meanwhile, Southern Cal was getting manhandled by the Seahawks of Wilmington. UNC-W. led at the half and was in command for the most part. Wyoming and Gonzaga, thought by most to have gotten a bad seed, were going back-and-forth the whole way. Eventually, I thought, the 'Zags would pull away, but they were never able to do so in the first half. Notre Dame and Charlotte were also going back-and-forth for the entire first half. Meanwhile, in the second half of the KU/HC game, the Crusaders were still hanging in there, thanks to the injury of Kansas G Kirk Hinrich just a few seconds before halftime. The Jayhawks, thanks to a few lucky calls and the wearing down of Holy Cross, was able to avoid the first-ever 1 vs 16 upset. That game finished just in time to see Gonzaga miss a long three-point attempt and fall to Wyoming. This game was just as it had been the entire first half, back-and-forth to the very end. At the same time, Notre Dame basically destroyed Charlotte in the second half and cruised to a fairly easy win. As those games went into the books, UNC-Wilmington and Southern Cal were fighting out a wild battle. Down by four points with about a minute to go, USC was able to come back and hit a three-pointer with 10 seconds to go to send the game into overtime. However, Wilmington was able to rebound from that setback and win the overtime period and the game, advancing to face the winner of the Utah/Indiana winner to come.
The late-evening session brought us four games: Duke vs Winthrop, Indiana vs Utah, Arizona vs UC-Santa Barbara, and Stanford vs Western Kentucky. We'll start with Duke vs Winthrop because this one was over before it got started. The score was 52-15 at halftime and Duke easily captured the W. Arizona found themselves in a tough battle with UCSB. The 'Cats had trouble hitting shots and were down three at the break. Stanford was able to capitalize on the absence of WKY's big man thanks to foul trouble and controlled the first half of their game. Indiana and Utah was the final game to start of the evening, and it was a game Indiana controlled from the beginning. They were up by 10 or more most of the half. As the second half began, Arizona was hitting more shots, but a fierece battle was being fought by UCSB. The lead was stretched to more than 10 until the Gauchos got it to four with just about one minute to go. However, Arizona made a few free throws down the stretch, and thanks to the outstanding play of the PG Gardner, were able to win the game. Stanford continued to control the game with WKY, and the Hilltoppers never could get a lot of momentum going. Stanford advanced and will face the Kansas Jayhawks in round two. Indiana never let up against Utah and cruised to a first round win and a second round game with UNC-Wilmington.
A few observations from Day One:
One difference between the highly-ranked teams and the lower seeds seems to be rebounding. Teams like Holy Cross, UCSB, and Valparaiso were unable to claim victories in close games against the likes of Kansas, Arizona, and Kentucky because they could not come up with key offensive rebounds.
The lower-seeded teams' shooters also seemed to be less confident. Whereas guys like Gardner (AZ) and Boschee (KU) would fire with the slightest opening (and score a lot of the time), the smaller-name teams seemed more tentative to let a shot go.
Now I'm seeing how this pod thing works. They sent Missouri, Ohio State, Miami, and Davidson to Albuquerque, NM. The closet to New Mexico is Missouri, and that doesn't deserve to be called close.
Alabama, Ohio State, and Kansas better do some work before Saturday.
Congrats to UNC-Wilmington, Kent State, Wyoming, Missouri, and Tulsa. You're right on track.
A couple second round matchups to look forward to: Kent State vs Alabama, Mizzou vs Ohio State, Tulsa vs Kentucky.
Hope you enjoyed Thursday's Tourney as much as I did. Have a great day tomorrow!