March Madness Weekend 1 Recap


It’s that time of year again: March. And with that comes the madness. This year was no exception as March Madness was in full swing and no seed was safe. Because so much happened, I’ll break it down by region and give my own thoughts on the first two rounds of play as well as things to look out for in the upcoming weekend where the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 will play out.


The South:

Strictly using the eye test, Kansas takes the cake as the best performance from the region, and continued their dominance while being the only team to score 100 points in a game so far this tournament as well knocking off Kevin Ollie, who was previously undefeated in the Big Dance, by a wide margin. By far the biggest upset of the entire South Region was the first round stunner, much to the delight of the junior class, of the Rainbow Warriors over the youthful and injured Cal Bears. Though Cal had the early lead, their youth and lack of depth caught up them just as Hawaii did, and they could never get over the hump and never even had the lead in the second half. The Rainbow Warriors met their match though, as Maryland and Melo Trimble, after escaping a tough test from South Dakota State, were too much for Hawaii. The seniors of Maryland finally stepped up their game and seemed to get back to their midseason form of being a formidable backcourt impossible to match up against. The only other “upset” from this region came from the Shockers, though they were actually favored by Vegas to win the game, as they trounced Arizona and locked down on the bigs of the Wildcats, Anderson and Tarczewski. Wichita had trouble stopping the guards of Miami in their next game though as Angel Rodriguez went off for 28 points. In a game where the Canes took a commanding 27-6 lead though, it was encouraging to see the veterans of Wichita, Baker and VanVleet, to show the resilience and even take a brief lead in the middle of the second half before Rodriguez put on a show to boost the Canes into the Sweet 16. The most exciting game of the South Region had to be Iowa and Temple though as at the end of overtime Adam Woodbury from the Hawkeyes tipped in a shot that sent the Owls packing. The struggling Hawkeyes were no match for the Wildcats next round though as Villanova trounced them in a game that was over mid way through the first half.

Looking forward in this region, Kansas plays Maryland in a game where Maryland will have to rely on their guards to again step up and take control of the game. The only way Maryland has a chance in this 1 v 5 matchup is to control the middle of the floor, limiting touches from Kansas forward Perry Ellis, force jump shots, yet still hope that Wayne Selden Jr. doesn’t get hot. If all that goes right and Melo Trimble feels like showing up to the game and becomes a dual threat to drive past and dish but also give the ball up to open three point shooters, the Terrapins stand a chance against the extremely hot Jayhawks. In the other Sweet 16 matchup of this region, 2 Villanova takes on 3 Miami FL in a battle of star guards. Villanova finally broke through their first weekend barrier and are ready to show the basketball world that they can actually compete in March, so Miami must lock down on the Wildcat shooters. The winner of this game will be the team who can score in transition and get easy buckets because it’s going to be a shootout. Taking care of the ball and making the extra pass to the corner shooter is going to be a key focus point to watch as these power houses square off.


The West:

It’s pretty remarkable that with all the excitement in the West Region, the top four seeds squeezed their way into the Sweet 16. Leading to some of that typical madness of March was the first round game of St. Joe’s against Cincinnati, which came right down to the wire and even a review as time expired. Unluckily for the Bearcats, their last second dunk that would’ve tied the game right after St. Joe’s Isaiah Miles hit a monster three was waved off as the ball was still in the fingertips of the Bearcat’s player. And St. Joe’s went on to put up a valiant fight against the top-seeded Ducks, but freshman Tyler Dorsey put Oregon on his back and lead them to the victory. The largest upset of the region had to be Yale taking down Baylor in the first round. This looked more to be the lack of quality play from the Bears though rather than the exceptional star talent from the Bulldogs, and this was evidenced by Yale falling to Duke in the next round. The game seemed completely out of hand by half, yet the Blue Devils concerningly allowed Yale to re-enter the game and get some hope, which they won’t be able to do against the much better Oregon team in the next round. And now we’re to Northern Iowa. The Panthers might have had the two most intriguing and nail-biting games played in the entire tournament so far, all of which started with the half court buzzer beater by Paul Jesperson as time expired vs Texas. After a long back and forth game, the Longhorns tied the game with two late free throws, only to have their hopes dashed by the 11th seeded Panthers. Northern Iowa moved on next round to play another Texas school, Texas A&M, where they found themselves leading by 12 with 38 seconds left, only having to stall out the clock and hit some free throws to close the deal. Yet they somehow found a way to give up a slew of turnovers and allow Texas A&M and Danuel House to miraculously tie the game right before the end of regulation. But that didn’t end the struggles of the Panthers, who survived another whole overtime period only to see their three best players foul out and end up losing in 2OT, marking one of the most improbable comebacks in tournament history. VCU and Oklahoma set up their second round matchup after not having too much of a struggle in their first games, and the Rams proved why they belonged in the field this year competing with the 2nd seeded Sooners. And even though the Rams did take the lead briefly in the second half of a very tightly contested game, Buddy Hield denied them access to another Sweet 16 run and took Oklahoma to a matchup vs the Aggies.

This region moving forward is extremely intriguing and very much up for grabs as the top four seeds all have a chance to claim a spot in the Final Four this weekend. The Ducks take on the Blue Devils in what is sure to be a high scoring affair, making defense and rebounding a very important focal point. Duke is meeting their first true good team of the tournament and they will need to react to Dillon Brooks and everything he does for Oregon. However, if their bigs can defend the post not allow Oregon grab offensive rebounds for easy second chance points, and if Grayson Allen takes over, the Blue Devils have a chance of stealing a win. This matchup is going to come down to which team’s studs can dominate the game and control the pace. In the other matchup, the Aggies are going to need to shut down Hield, who will most likely be the National Player of the Year. This game really hinges on the pace of play though. The Aggies will look to limit possessions and shorten the game, taking the ball out of the hands of Spangler and Hield, and making plays late in the shot clock. However, if Oklahoma can turn Texas A&M over and speed up the game to get some easy transition buckets, they will roll to a spot in the Elite 8.


The East:

As with Kansas, the top seeded Tar Heels rolled over this region and are clearly the team to beat. They wiped the floor with the Friars, who just two days before had hit a layup near the buzzer to take down 8th seeded USC. The back and forth game came down to the Trojans hitting clutch free throws, or in their case missing them, and then allowing Providence to have a chance late to take the game away. And that’s just what they did as they exploited USC’s lack of baseline out of bounds defense and easily hit a layup from right under the basket. Providence was then no match for the impressive North Carolina team. Two more blow out games were Kentucky and Indiana as they took care of Stony Brook and Chattanooga respectively in their tournament openers. They set up the highly anticipated rivalry matchup of two formidable programs that didn’t let the viewers down. The game was close the whole way, and even through multiple injuries, the Hoosiers were able to capture the victory behind the late scoring of freshman Thomas Bryant. The Wildcat’s lack of experience in the tournament seemed to catch up to them as they felt the pressure down the stretch and the Hoosiers took advantage and created some late big plays as well as hit late big shots to ice the game. Moving on to another Big Ten team, the Wolverines looked absolutely atrocious in their victory over Tulsa in the play in game but played much better against the Fighting Irish. Even with that however, they were no match for Pastoria and Beachem in the latter part of the second half as Notre Dame surged back to overcome their first half deficit. Notre Dame then took on the winner of 3 West Virginia and 14 S.F. Austin, which surprisingly ended up being a runaway game for the Lumberjacks. S.F. Austin found a way to triumph against an explosive Mountaineer team behind Thomas Walker, who ironically with his long red beard looks exactly like he belongs on the Lumberjacks. Walkup did his best to repeat that magic next game, and would’ve if it wasn’t for a tip in with a second left by Irish player Rex Pflueger. And with that Notre Dame dashed the cinderella hopes of S.F. Austin. Another game that was close until the end was Wisconsin, who took down Pittsburgh in an extremely defensive matchup in which only 90 points were scored combined. With the Badgers pulling off that victory behind the performance of Ethan Happ their leading scorer with just 15, they moved on to the much more offensive powerhouse of Xavier. The Badgers again found themselves down late in the game and needing some defensive stops that they always seem to be able to conjure up late in games. And this was no different as they furiously fought off the Musketeer attack and ended the game with two Bronson Koenig three-pointers, one of which swished in off a corner fade away three as time expired to clinch a berth in the Sweet 16 and stun the 2nd seed Xavier team.

North Carolina takes on Indiana next round which is sure to be a high scoring, run and gun game full of threes and stellar offense. The key in this game is Indiana’s ability to get some of their injured players from last game back as well as hit threes and stop the Tar Heels from getting easy transition buckets. If they can avoid giving up easy points, force North Carolina to play a lot of half court possessions, and Thomas Bryant can play low post defense, they will stand a chance against the red hot Tar Heel team that knows they can make a deep run in the tournament. Oppositely, North Carolina also needs to avoid allowing the Indiana team who loves to run to get up and down the floor easily and take the ball out of star point guard Yogi Ferrell hands. In the matchup of 6 Notre Dame and 7 Wisconsin, it’s all about pace of play. Wisconsin will look to play hard-nosed Big Ten basketball and slow it down while Notre Dame will try to get things moving and increase the number of possessions. The key against Wisconsin lately seems to be shutting them down early and not giving them hope late because with their star players they always find a way to pull out the win. So if Notre Dame can come out strong and get Wisconsin to have to speed up their offense and play from behind, they can come out with a spot in the Elite 8.


The Midwest:

The upset region. Only three of the top eight seeds moved on from their first games and only two of those moved into the Sweet 16 and will have to play each. So needless to say that this region is going to have double digit seed in the Elite 8 which makes sense looking at how messed up the whole region got with all the upsets. Butler took down Texas Tech after pulling away late but the Bulldogs were struck down by Virginia who after catching fire mid way through the second half pulled away and never relinquished the lead. So the Cavaliers, who didn’t look stunning in their performances, managed to survive but must regroup and pick up their level of play on the offensive end of the floor and not rely on their stellar defense as the did the first two games. What probably would’ve been the most improbable comeback if Texas A&M hadn’t found a way through that miracle game was Arkansas Little Rock storming back against Purdue. Although it wasn’t a double digit game under a minute, it was late enough in the game that a veteran team such as the Boilermakers should have been able to put away the Trojans with ease. Yet with some miscues and lack of concentration they allowed a 2OT game to occur and ended up being thwarted by Josh Hagins who had 31 points for the Trojans. Little Rock couldn’t quite pull off the same run against Iowa State next round though as they were defeated in lopsided battle where the Cyclone offense dominated from start to finish behind Georges Niang. Gonzaga showed themselves a tough opponent to to take down as they ran past Seton Hall and the Big East Tournament Champs to set up a dual with the Utes of Utah. But even Jakob Poeltl couldn’t do damage against Kyle Wiltjer and the Zags as they once again stormed past their opponent closing out their weekend with victories by large margins and playing extremely impressive basketball. Taking them on will be Syracuse who went through the Flyers of Dayton, who gave them a good game until halftime when they pulled away. They also took down Middle Tennessee in a battle that wasn’t even worth the airtime on TV. And that brings us to the game I really want to avoid talking about, so I will leave it at this: for the Spartans to play so unlike how they have down the latter stretch of the season is inexcusable and frankly upsetting to all the fans who knew they had a deep run into the tournament in them. Valentine, Forbes, and Costello have to deal with ending their careers on that atrocious game, and only for that do I feel bad for them. Other than that, it’s no ones fault but their own that they allowed the biggest upset in tournament history to happen to them.

Weirdly, the two matchups feature the favorites and the underdogs as 1 Virginia takes on 4 Iowa State and 11 Gonzaga takes on 10 Syracuse. In the case of the first game, the winner will undoubtedly be decided by the team who controls the pace of play yet again. Virginia needs to get Niang anxious and jumpy to shoot the ball while contested by slowing down the game and showing why they have one of the best half court defenses in the country. If they can do that and play a little offense by Marcus Brogdon, they can come away with a win. Iowa State needs to make this high scoring to win and find a way to get out in transition probably by speeding up Virgina ont the defensive end and turning them over to create transition hoops. The other matchup hinges on the typical Syracuse zone. Gonzaga did have a week to prepare for the most talked about zone in the nation so hopefully they have some plans to work inside out through Kyle Wiltjer and pick apart the zone while moving the ball quickly and making the Syracuse defenders chase the ball. If Gonzaga can figure out a way to spread out the zone and work inside out as well as keep the high-low game as a threat, they can win the game and get to the Elite 8. However, if the typical Syracuse high energy zone comes out hot and tipping passes, there might be some orange at the Sunday game in Chicago.

Wrapping up that first weekend of play, the one thing to still remember is that it is still March. So no team is safe and no Cinderella can be counted out. Happy watching!