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The opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament continues to give us the moments we come to expect, the blowouts, the close calls and of course, the upsets. All reasons why the Big Dance is so beloved. Here’s a recap of each region.
The best first-round game was between the Maryland Terripans and the Belmont Bruins. The Bruins set out to prove they belonged and didn’t disappoint but the Terripans didn’t want to be a footnote as an upset victim. Maryland made the stops down the stretch to move on in a two-point victory.
The upset of the weekend went to the Liberty Flames over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. With under seven minutes and down ten, the Flames made all the key plays to get the win. Guard Caleb Homesley was scorching hot (22 second half points) in the second half to lead the charge.
The biggest near miss came when the Duke Blue Devils pulled an Houdini against the UCF Knights. This would have sent shockwaves throughout the brackets had Duke lost. Forward Zion Williamson kept the Blue Devils in the game and guard R.J. Barrett won it on a missed free throw putback. With time running out, the Knights had a chance to win but guard Aubrey Dawkins missed a spectacular tip in attempt.
The best game of the first round was between the Vermont Catamounts and the Florida State Seminoles. Vermont gave the Seminoles all they could handle. Despite a decided height and athletic disadvantage, Florida State couldn’t shake Vermont. The Catamounts went small and shot the lights out from three-point range (16-32) to stay in it but Seminoles forward Mfiondu Kabengele and guard Terance Mann were too much for the Catamounts.
The upset of the weekend went to the Murray State Racers against the Marquette Golden Eagles. Not only did the Racers win, they dominated the Golden Eagles. Murray State guard Ja Morant put on a show with an electrifying triple-double. Three other Racers scored in double-figures, making it nearly impossible for Marquette to keep up.
The most unusual result of the weekend was the Florida Gators holding the Nevada Wolfpack to just 61 points. Florida’s defense chomped down on the Wolfpack’s high scoring offense. The Gators put on a defensive clinic by holding Nevada under 35% shooting and 20% from three-point range.
The best game in the first round was between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Cincinnati Bearcats. It was a grind out win for Iowa. The Hawkeyes stayed within reach by matching the Bearcats intensity. All of a sudden, Iowa started knocking down it’s three-pointers to take the lead. Cincinnati couldn’t overcome a nine-point deficit with just over a minute to play.
The upset of the weekend belonged to the UC Irvine Anteaters over the Kansas State Wildcats. The Anteaters stifling defense controlled an undermanned Wildcat team playing without versatile forward Dean Wade. UC Irvine spreaded the wealth on offense with four players scoring in double figures.
The biggest near miss of the weekend was the Tennessee Volunteers fending off the Colgate Raiders. This was a closer than expected game, Tennessee eked out a seven-point victory. It looked as though the Volunteers would run away in the first half but Colgate asserted themselves in the second half to get back in it. Tennessee was up three with less than a minute to go when forward Admiral Schofield hit consecutive three-pointers to save them from an upset.
The best game of the first round was between the New Mexico State Aggies and the Auburn Tigers. Auburn simply escaped because of New Mexico State’s inability to finish the game. With seconds left and down by two, Aggie guard Terrell Brown missed a three-point attempt but was fouled. One second left and a chance to win, Brown missed two of the three free throws, falling short.
The upset of the weekend came when the Ohio State Buckeyes defeated the Iowa State Cyclones. When you consider the Buckeyes backed into the “Big Dance” and the Cyclones coming off winning the Big 12 tournament, it makes the result even more puzzling. Ohio State played steady with the lead for almost all the second half. Iowa State had a chance to send the game into overtime but missed an open three-point attempt.
The biggest near miss of the weekend belong to the Kentucky Wildcats against the Wofford Terriers. The Wildcats get the win despite playing without star forward P.J. Washington. The Terriers kept it close throughout with scrappy defense and timely baskets. Kentucky got contributions from several players and used a balanced attack to get the close victory. It didn’t help Wofford that the NCAA all-time leader in three point makes, guard Fletcher Magee, went 0-12 from long distance.