The first true day of March Madness has returned after a two-year hiatus, and the men’s NCAA Tournament first round is undoubtedly delivering the excitement tied to its moniker.
Whether it’s an overtime thriller with Florida outlasting Virginia Tech in the first game of the day or No. 15 seed Oral Roberts stunning No. 2 Ohio State in OT, the madness is back in full swing as we await more bracket-busting.
No. 1 seeds Illinois and Baylor looked like national title contenders against inferior opponents, while Texas Tech looked like a Final Four dark-horse and No. 12 seed Oregon State continued its winning momentum in an upset over No. 5 Tennessee. Here’s a look at some key takeaways from the first leg of games Friday:
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Loyola-Chicago. The No. 8-seeded Ramblers (25-4) took advantage of No. 9 Georgia Tech’s best player, Moses Wright, being out due to COVID-19. Loyola-Chicago used a balanced effort, paced by Lucas Williamson’s 21 points, to dispatch the Yellow Jackets. Loyola is no longer considered a Cinderella given what coach Porter Moser did in getting this program to the Final Four in 2018. Plus, the Ramblers lead the nation in defense this season.
Baylor. The Bears (23-2) bulldozed past Hartford 79-55 for the first-round win one would expect given Baylor’s hard-earned No. 1 seed this year as the second-best team in the tourney behind Gonzaga. MaCio Teague paved the way in this one with 22 points, and coach Scott Drew has three of the best guards in the entire tournament in Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and Teague.
Illinois. The No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, Illinois played its best brand of basketball in handily dispatching Drexel 78-49. Ayo Dosunmu, USA TODAY Sports’ national player of the year, paced the Fighting Illini (24-6) with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Coach Brad Underwood has this team peaking at just the right time, as Illinois has now won 15 of 16.
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Florida. The No. 7-seeded Gators trailed by six at halftime and then failed to put the game away as No. 10-seeded Virginia Tech forced overtime. But coach Mike White’s team kept its composure to win 75-70 in overtime and advance to the second round. Tre Mann’s 3-pointer with 25 seconds left sealed the win, while big man Colin Castleton’s 19 points fueled UF in the victory.
The entire First Four on Thursday. While Drake’s 53-52 win over Wichita State and UCLA’s 86-80 victory over Michigan State delivered early excitement between two No. 11 seeds in play-in games, even the matchups between No. 16 seeds were enthralling, with Texas Southern beating Mount St. Mary’s 60-52 and Appalachian State edging Norfolk State 54-53. That accumulated to a tie for the closest margin of points– 16 points – in the First Four.
Ohio State. The Buckeyes (21-10) were once in consideration for a No. 1 seed in bracketology, and oh how they would’ve preferred a No. 16 seed on Friday when they became the best seed to fall as Oral Roberts staged a Cinderella run against them. E.J. Liddell played his heart out, finishing with 23 points and 13 rebounds, but this game was destined to go the Golden Eagles’ way. OSU was a national title contender and a No. 2-seeded, national title-capable team hasn’t lost like this since Michigan State in 2016 when Middle Tennessee State played spoiler.
Tennessee. The Volunteers (18-9) fell victim to a red-hot Oregon State team that hardly looked the part of a No. 12 seed after surprisingly winning the Pac-12 Tournament for the league’s auto bid. As much as this outcome was about the Beavers thriving, it was also about Tennessee going completely cold, the Volunteers only scoring 56 points and shooting 19% from 3-point range.
The NCAA. On Monday, six officials were sent home because they left the hotel grounds to get dinner, a clearly outlined no-no under the pandemic restrictions set by the NCAA. On Thursday, photos surfaced of the discrepancy between men’s and women’s weight-room facilities and swag bags. Following significant backlash, the NCAA released a statement acknowledging the differences in amenities in Indianapolis, where the men’s tournament is, and San Antonio, where the women’s tournament is.
On Friday, it got worse. UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma told reporters that his team gets a different style COVID-19 test compared to the men’s team. NCAA president Mark Emmert confirmed the men’s teams get daily PCR tests, while the women’s teams get antigen tests. Emmert told USA TODAY Sports, The Athletic and The New York Times there are no different risks from either test, even though antigen tests are described by the FDA as having a quick turnaround time for results but “higher chance of missing an active infection.”
Colgate. The No. 14-seeded Raiders (14-2) were outmatched by No. 3 Arkansas, failing to pull off a major upset and give the NCAA Tournament its first true Cinderella in two years. But the 85-68 score doesn’t indicate how close Colgate was to doing so, leading by 14 points in the first half when leading scorer Jordan Burns (13 second-half points) was scoreless. Arkansas coach Eric Musselman smartly kept his more athletic team in pressuring mode to switch the tempo any time hot-shooting Colgate would start to pull away. Justin Smith’s 29 points and 13 rebounds didn’t hurt the Razorbacks’ cause, either.
Utah State. The No. 11-seeded Aggies (20-8), who barely squeezed into the field of 68 as a bubble at-large bid from the Mountain West, gave Texas Tech all it could handle early on but ultimately couldn’t pull off the upset as coach Chris Beard has too disciplined of a defensive team. USU fell 65-53, largely as a result of 17% (4-for-19) shooting from three-point range and 22 turnovers.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.