In a first night of NCAA tournament basketball, we had one real clear upset, but quite a few games that went down to the wire that probably shouldn’t have, including Gonzaga being pushed by Southern and Marquette barely getting by Davidson, thanks to a last-second layup by Vander Blue. On the other side of the equation, teams like Louisville, Syracuse, Michigan, VCU and Arizona, big favorites to begin with, didn’t really have any trouble with their opponents.
We’ll begin with the highest ranked team, Louisville, who really didn’t put up much of a sweat against North Carolina A&T. The Cardinals, probably the favorites to win the tournament heading into the round of 64 thanks to a very strong finish in the Big East, won by 31 points, beating the Aggies 79-48. It’s their second largest win in a Men’s Basketball Championship game in school history. The largest was a 39-point win over Arizona in 2009. Led by Russ Smith with 23 points, they had a tournament record 20 steals in the game.
The other number one, Gonzaga, possibly proved a lot of people right by showing that they’re probably slightly overrated going into the tournament, needing some late game heroics from Kevin Pangos (finishing with 16 points and 5 assists), beating Southern 64-58. Kelly Olynyk provided the earlyier cushion with a big game of 21 points and 10 rebounds. It’s tied for the 6th-closest margin of victory in a 1 vs 16 game since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Syracuse got the biggest win of the night with an 81-34 humiliation of Montana using that defense that was so good all season long. The Grizzlies went 19-1 in the Big Sky, but made only 20.4% of their field goal attempts, turning the ball over 17 times. The 47-point win is the largest ever by a team not ranked number one or two before the tournament.
VCU missed that record by one point, as they decimated Akron 88-42. All the fears for Akron about not playing with their starting point guard came true, as they turned the ball over 22 times against the special Rams’ defense, which will now move on to play Michigan and a much more competent crew of guards.
Speaking of Michigan, they weren’t too troubled by South Dakota State, beating the Jackrabbits 71-56, despite an awful game from Trey Burke. The two guys who have been criticized for not stepping up enough to help him were there to make up for his 2-12 from the field; Tim Hardaway and Glenn Robinson both scored 21 points on a combined 16-22 from the field.
Arizona did well in a tricky game against Belmont, beating the Bruins 81-64 without too much trouble along the way. A great day from beyond the arc (9-17) was complemented by the kind of game they needed from Mark Lyons, as their star player scored 23 points while the Wildcats outrebounded Belmont 42-15, making 56.9% of their field goal attempts.
We finish with Marquette, always a very hard to predict team, but you don’t expect a #3 seed of this caliber to have such a hard time against a team like Davidson, who finished the season 26-8, with their Southern record not much of an indicator. They needed Vander Blue, with 16 points, but most importantly, the game winning layup on the last second to give his team the 59-58 win.