INDIANAPOLIS – There are many things that we know to be true at this time of year. On Friday, we confirmed with certainty that it is no longer February and it is not yet April, and dramatically.
The first game of the men’s first round, between Florida and Virginia Tech, began at the venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse, a pleasure for this first-time visitor and a venue more than worth the honor. Of course, the crowds were sparse and masked, the main reminder of last year’s trials and our ongoing strange circumstances. Many fans here are neutral, only some of whom are visibly taking sides. The concession options are limited, although there is still beer and thankfully there are no lines for the restrooms. There are smaller touches, like prerecorded school dance teams that perform on the arena markers, rather than in the center of the court. (Author’s Note: Does Red Panda have Zoom?)
That game ended frantically in overtime, with a series of small plays and big errors on both sides: missed free throws, unforced turnovers, a rare five-second inning violation by the Gators, a 3-pointer that tied the game. game by Nahiem Alleyne of the Hokies. building to a triple surgical of Tre Mann of Florida. And naturally, that set up a showdown not with No. 2 seed Ohio State, but with No. 15 seed Oral Roberts, who would defeat the Buckeyes shortly after behind the formidable duo of Max Abmas and Kevin Obanor. Some supports broke within a few hours. And the comforting thing that resonated across all six venues on Friday was the wonderful, familiar chaos.
There were upsets and almost. The only Indiana team in the Indiana tournament, naturally, is already out. Purdue was outdone by North Texas in front of an overwhelmingly friendly crowd, sending a large contingent of fans back into the arms of what one can only hope to be socially estranged downtown bars. Earlier in the day, there were maybe 10 minutes where it felt like Colgate could beat Arkansas. No. 10 seed Rutgers won his first tournament game since 1983. Not to be outdone, No. 12 seed Oregon State snapped a streak dating back to ’82, dismembering Tennessee. There have already been four games in overtime, if you include Thursday’s First Four.
Still dancing: Jim and Buddy Boeheim. Missing, for the first time in the first round: Roy Williams.
We probably shouldn’t bet more against Jay Wright either: Villanova, who was considered an early departure by experts, handled Winthrop deftly. The public was saved from Cade Cunningham and Oklahoma State, who sailed through a bad night and drifted away from the pesky Liberty late. We also got Sister Jean some screen time setting up a tasty second-round match between Loyola Chicago and Illinois. Somewhere along the way, Wisconsin even found its mojo. Well maybe.
The night concluded at 12:40 am ET at Lucas Oil Stadium, technically Saturday, where the No. 14 seed Morehead State ran West Virginia for most of the 30 minutes. The Eagles were then deftly defeated by Miles McBride, who may have had the best individual performance of the day with 30 points, six rebounds and six assists.
A byproduct of the times: The venue setup at this year’s tournament, with single-game sessions only and additional cleaning required, has produced wildly late peak times in the final television window each night thus far. Generally speaking, proclaiming that you will never want a day to end becomes much easier when one is not sitting in an empty arena after hours. Still, the whole basketball thing has started to feel somewhat normal. A lot of changes can happen in two years, but the best part of Day 1 is that we can wake up and do it all over again. Fortunately, this year is Saturday. –Jeremy woo
Four players, four opponents, four friends, are displaying a rare combination of fire and skill that cannot be ignored that could signal the beginning of a great boom in women’s basketball. (By Robert O’Connell)
Did you miss anything on day 1 of the men’s tournament? We have you covered.
No. 15 seed Oral Roberts’ shocking victory over Ohio State was a moment only March Madness could provide. (By Kevin Sweeney)
In a women’s tournament so rich in talent and history, it’s a shame the NCAA’s failures had to take center stage. (By Emma Baccellieri)
The NCAA Women’s Athletics Committee has asked the league to investigate uneven training accommodations at the women’s tournament, and Dawn Staley also spoke out.
SI Gambling has identified two teams on sick alert Saturday as the first round of the NCAA men’s tournament continues. (By Frankie Taddeo)
The best we saw
Javion Hamlet’s father watched his son make history in North Texas on Friday night, leading Mean Green to his first NCAA men’s tournament win in show history. He also wore a ridiculously impressive sweater honoring the achievements of son, the team’s star leading point guard, which has “Javion, the Final Act” on the back.
And when the surprise of No. 4 seed Purdue was secured, he even pulled out an iPad and hit full power from dad.
SI’s Kevin Sweeney makes his picks for eight of Saturday’s first-round men’s games:
No. 12 Georgetown over No. 5 Colorado: As their bargain-stealing colleague Oregon State did on Friday, the Hoyas will continue the momentum of their conference tournament.
No. 3 Kansas over No. 14 Eastern Washington: If there is another surprising surprise today, it will be in this game. But the Jayhawks will do enough to defeat EWU and their high-scoring offense.
No. 9 San Buenaventura over No. 8 LSU: The Bonnies may not be that deep or athletic, but they are battle tested. SBU keeps score low and advances.
No. 5 Creighton over No. 12 UC Santa Barbara: This will be a battle, but Marcus Zegarowski and the Bluejays find a late way against a talented Gaucho roster.
No. 6 USC over No. 11 Drake: It’s still unclear how the Bulldogs found a way to beat Wichita State, but their dream season is coming to an end against Evan Mobley’s Trojans.
No. 7 UConn over No. 10 Maryland: The Huskies are 11-3 this year with James Bouknight, and will take their dynamic wingers scorer into the second round.
No. 13 Ohio over No. 4 Virginia: This would be a tough matchup for Virginia, even if she didn’t come out of the COVID-19 hiatus. Jason Preston will be the best player on the court.
No. 6 BYU over No. 11 UCLA: The Bruins will make it interesting if Johnny Juzang can play, but the leading cougars find a way. They have lost to a team not named Gonzaga since early December for a reason.
Grant McCasland’s name will be one of the hottest in coach buzz this year and beyond. He’s an accomplished program builder who just led North Texas to its first victory in an NCAA men’s tournament, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have spent time with Scott Drew at Baylor. McCasland’s teams are elite on defense, adopting a “no means” system similar to the one Chris Beard has implemented with great success at Texas Tech. The victory over Purdue was the icing on the cake for an already impressive resume. –Kevin Sweeney
On the buzzer
This video of Oregon’s Sedona Prince illuminating the disparities in the men’s and women’s weight room at NCAA tournaments, which has gone viral with over 500,000 favorites and 161,000 retweets and counting on Twitter, is from the Thursday night, but worth repeating for anyone. you missed it. Congratulations to the players for talking about this. –Molly geary
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.