ST. LOUIS -- The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament continued Friday with the first batch of games in St. Louis, Missouri. While it definitely wasn't the most exciting pod of games, the Gateway to the West hosted some decent action and set things up for two fairly intriguing Sunday matchups.
(10) STANFORD 58, (7) NEW MEXICO 53
Stanford got off to a quick start in this one, jumping out of the gates with a 20-4 lead. In large part, this run to start the game enabled them to pull out the win over the better team despite Dwight Powell scoring just 3 points on 0-8 shooting. Chasson Randle was key for the Cardinal, scoring 23 points and playing all 40 minutes.
Lobos forward Cameron Bairstow was excellent in the final game of his collegiate career, scoring 28 points and grabbing 8 rebounds, however he had just 1 field goal the last 12 minutes of the game, enabling Stanford to pull away. Alex Kirk, who really had come on strong late in the season as an emerging force down low for the Lobos, was a complete non-factor. Kirk had just 3 points on 0-3 shooting, 6 rebounds, and 0 blocks. Kendall Williams struggled as well, finishing with 3 points on just 1-9 shooting.
Stanford advanced to take on the winner of ...
(2) KANSAS 80, (15) EASTERN KENTUCKY 69
The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky gave Kansas fans quite a scare in this one. Eastern Kentucky led for a significant portion of the game until Kansas retook the lead for good with just about 9 minutes to play. Glenn Cosey was on fire for EKU in the first half, torching KU's lackluster perimeter defense for 14 early points. Turnover problems prevented KU from pulling away until the final 2 minutes, which they did thanks to fun dunks by Jamari Traylor and Andrew Wiggins (more on the fun dunks later).
Traylor, who usually is KU's garbage man and energy guy off the bench, was arguably the player of the game for the Jayhawks, scoring 17 points and grabbing 14 boards in just 22 minutes. Wiggins was somehow able to score 19 points despite EKU denying him the ball fairly well for most of the game. With his performance tonight, Wiggins broke the record for most points scored in a freshman season at Kansas. KU will play Stanford at 12:15 PM ET on CBS for a chance to go to the Sweet Sixteen. Also, this happened in the game.
He's pretty fun.
(1) WICHITA STATE 64, (16) CAL POLY 37
Not much to see here. The Shockers of Wichita State are really, really good, and Cal Poly is not. Wichita State scored 1.07 points per possession while holding the Mustangs to just 0.62 points per possession. Cleanthony Early led the Shockers with 23 points and 8 rebounds. This one put most of the arena to sleep, but there were high hopes for ...
(8) KENTUCKY 56, (9) KANSAS STATE 49
This battle of Wildcats was a pretty ugly game. Interestingly, there was a technical on K-State before the game even started. Apparently there is an NCAA rule that you cannot dunk in warmups when there is less than 20:00 on the clock. KSU walk-on Brian Rohleder dunked with 19:58 on the clock. Yes, they really enforced it. Some were impressed with Kentucky in this contest, I thought it was about what was to be expected. Kentucky's not great, but they're better than Kansas State. K-State is a pretty damn good defensive team, but they just can't score. It was pretty brutal watching them clang shot after shot off the back of the rim. I think Bruce Weber is a pretty competent coach, but they need to get some scorers to Manhattan as soon as possible.
For Kentucky, Julius Randle dominated. As we've seen so many times this season, Randle just looked like a man playing against boys. He finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, but why on earth did he shoot two early threes? He had been 3 of 14 on the season before that, and you guessed it, he is now 3 of 16. Unfortunately, no one really played well for K-State. Wesley Iwundu was okay, I guess.
(2) KANSAS vs. (10) STANFORD
TIP INFORMATION: 12:15 PM ET, CBS.
Jim Nantz and Greg Anthony will again be on the call for the Sunday games in St. Louis, and there are a couple potentially good games here. Most people expected Kansas to be playing New Mexico this weekend for a chance to go to the Sweet Sixteen, but the fighting creepy trees will gladly take up the challenge. In this one I would look to see if Stanford can get Dwight Powell going again. They still seem committed to using him as a quasi-stretch four, but that's tough to do when you only shoot 27.8% on threes and 36.8% on long twos.
I'll also be interested to see how the Stanford backcourt fairs against Andrew Wiggins, as well as if the struggles of KU point guard Naadir Tharpe continue. If they do, look to see even more Conner Frankamp in this game, who seems to be gaining the confidence of Bill Self.
PREDICTION: KU 77, STAN 68
I think KU caught a pretty huge break in this one. New Mexico's improved front line would have been quite a challenge to face again without star center Joel Embiid. It's unlikely that Stanford will get off to a 20-4 hot streak to start the game again, and I don't think they quite have the firepower to beat Kansas unless Randle and Powell go crazy. But, if KU has another bad game from its backcourt, they could go down on Sunday.
(1) WICHITA STATE vs. (8) KENTUCKY
TIP INFORMATION: Estimated 2:45 PM ET (30 min. after KU/STAN concludes), CBS.
This is a game that a lot of people have been circling since the brackets came out. One team had perhaps the most hyped recruiting class of all time and has fallen way short of expectations, but looking for a chance to win when it counts. The other is an undefeated mid-major coming off of a Final Four appearance, which, in case you forgot, damn near beat eventual champions Louisville.
Has Kentucky figured it out well enough to take down the Shockers? Doubtful, but they have a chance for a lot of redemption on Sunday. The Harrison twins might need to play their best collective game of the season to keep up with the Wichita State backcourt, and Julius Randle will need to have another monster game inside.
PREDICTION: WSU 72, UK 64
I would be pretty surprised if Kentucky pulls off this upset. They have the talent, but it hasn't worked all year in a way that would make you believe this squad can make a deep run. Wichita State just seems too good, too balanced, too deadly. However, it's been since the non-conference season that the Shockers played anyone as good as Kentucky, and they haven't played anyone as talented.