clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Best and Worst from Day 1 of March Madness

Peacocks! Spiders! Zips! And more!

St Peters v Kentucky Photo by Jamie Sabau/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Three overtime games, four double-digit seeds advancing, one historic upset, a number of thrilling finishes; It may not have been the best opening Thursday in NCAA tournament history, but it was still spectacular.

Let’s get to all the best and all the worst from the first “true” day of March Madness.

The 3 best March Madness games of Day 1

1. (7) Murray State 92, (10) San Francisco 87 (OT) (East)

With all due respect to the highly competitive, major upsets that will complete this section, Murray State-San Francisco was Thursday’s best game.

While it would have been cool to see these two fantastic mid-major squads get to take a swing at a power conference opponent instead of one another, the show they put on in the early moments of Friday morning (at least on the East Coast) almost made the inequitable nature of the draw worth it.

After Murray State’s Trae Hannibal missed a layup to start overtime, these two teams combined to make their next NINE field goal attempts.

That graphic only tells part of the story. The sequence featured some absolutely unbelievable shot-making on both ends of the floor. It was haymaker after haymaker after haymaker until finally, San Francisco was the side that blinked.

USF, playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1998, didn’t miss a field goal attempt in overtime until there were just 58 seconds to play. That was all Murray State needed. The Racers got back-to-back buckets from KJ Williams and Jordan Skipper-Brown, a pair of clutch free-throws from Skipper-Brown a possession later, and that was all she wrote.

All that and we didn’t even talk about the way regulation ended.

Just a phenomenal game between two phenomenal teams with two of the brightest young stars in the college hoops coaching world.

2. (15) Saint Peter’s 85, (2) Kentucky 79 (OT) (East)

Thursday night, for the 10th time in the history of the NCAA tournament, a 15-seed knocked off a 2. You don’t get to type out sentences like that all that often.

With all due respect to the games immediately above and below this one, the first Thursday of the 2022 NCAA tournament is always going to be most known as the day Saint Peter’s beat Kentucky.

After some tense moments in the game’s first 37 minutes, Kentucky led Saint Peter’s, 68-62, with just 2:58 to play. With UK’s superior size and the fact that the Peacocks (Peacocks!) are statistically the worst offensive team in the field of 68, that should have been all she wrote. Instead, the Wildcats got way too loose with the ball, they got beat on some backdoor cuts, and they failed to locate the one Peacock (Doug Edert) they couldn’t afford to lose.

This led us to an overtime where it still felt like, ultimately, order would be restored, and the biggest concern for Kentucky would be if they still had the confidence to be a true national title contender. Instead, the Wildcats spent the extra period looking like the team that wasn’t big enough for the moment. They missed free-throws, they missed layups, and they continued to get inexplicably lost on defense.

When the dust settled, Saint Peter’s had pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of March Madness, and Kentucky’s streak of 30 consecutive NCAA tournament wins over double-digit seeds had come to an unthinkable end.

3. (12) Richmond 67, (5) Iowa 63 (Midwest)

It’s strange to think of a 12/5 upset in terms of being this massive, bracket-busting stunner, but this one certainly fits that bill.

After rolling to the Big Ten tournament championship by impressively winning four games in four days last week, Iowa spent its time between Selection Sunday and Thursday afternoon as one of the trendiest Final Four picks in the field. The belief in Fran McCaffery’s club was so strong that 85.6 percent of people who filled out an ESPN bracket picked the Hawkeyes to beat Richmond, which is an absurdly high number for a 5/12 game.

There were two major problems with this:

1) McCaffery’s Iowa teams have been notoriously bad in March, so much so that he has never taken the Hawkeyes to the Sweet 16 in his 12 seasons on the job.

2) No team in college basketball is better as a double-digit seed in the Big Dance than the Richmond Spiders.

After a back-and-forth first 34 minutes where neither team was able to lead by more than five points, Richmond created some separation thanks to the strong play of 5’9 senior guard Jacob Gilyard. His three-pointer with just over six minutes to go put the Spiders in front, 54-46.

Iowa made things interesting in the game’s closing minutes — and could have made them even more interesting had a whistle been blown on an obvious foul on a Kris Murray three-point attempt ... but more on that later — but ultimately, Gilyard’s play and some clutch free-throws from Tyler Burton proved too much to overcome.

The win was especially sweet (and surprising) for Richmond when you consider that just a week ago, it seemed like there was a minimal chance of the Spiders even being in the field of 68, let alone winning a game. They needed to win four games in four days as the 6-seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament just to earn their spot in the Big Dance.

For Iowa, it was a poor time to give their worst shooting performance of the season. The Hawkeyes were a woeful 6-of-29 (20.7%) from three, and shot 36.4 percent from the field overall. First Team All-American Keegan Murray struggled for most of the afternoon, but still managed to finish with 21 points and nine rebounds in what was almost certainly his final collegiate game.

The 3 Teams That Won It The Best

1. North Carolina

No disrespect to Thursday’s double-digit seed winners, but No. 1 on this list is a no-brainer.

Firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble as recently as a couple of weeks ago, 8th-seeded North Carolina rolled into the second round by blasting Marquette, 95-63. The 32-point margin of victory was the largest in an 8/9 game in NCAA tournament history, and by a wide margin. The previous record was held by Purdue, which beat 8th-seeded LSU, 80-56, in 2003.

While the Tar Heels didn’t shoot it quite as well as you might have guessed based on the final score, they did knock down 13 three-pointers, matching a school record for most made triples in an NCAA tournament game. The more impressive stat? Twenty-eight assists on their first 31 made shots and 28 assists on 34 made shots for the game.

2. Saint Mary’s

Indiana taking out Saint Mary’s was a far trendier 12/5 upset pick than Richmond over Iowa, and yet it was the Gaels who on Thursday looked like they might have been seeded a line or two low.

The 82-53 beatdown that Saint Mary’s handed Indiana was the worst NCAA tournament loss in the history of Hoosier basketball. And quite frankly, it could have been worse.

Did Indiana’s grueling recent schedule — this was the Hoosiers’ fifth game in seven days and they had to go straight from Dayton after Tuesday night’s win all the way to Portland for Thursday night’s game — play some part in this lopsided affair? Almost certainly, but even IU’s best night likely wouldn’t have been enough to advance past Saint Mary’s on this evening. The Gaels shot 51.7 percent from the field to Indiana’s 34.0 percent, they forced 13 Hoosier turnovers and out-rebounded the No. 12 seed by 11.

Saint Mary’s now finds itself a win over UCLA away from its third trip to the Sweet 16 in program history, and its first since 2010.

3. Saint Peter’s

The big boys who took care of business in a major way on Thursday — looking at you, Baylor, Tennessee and Kansas — could all certainly argue they deserve the final spot on this list, but I think it’s important that we recognize just how truly remarkable Saint Peter’s performance against Kentucky was.

Going into Thursday night’s contest, Saint Peter’s offense was ranked:

—260th in adjusted offensive efficiency.

—273rd in free-throw percentage.

—317th in 2-point field goal percentage.

—317th in turnover rate.

Keep in mind that there are only 358 teams in Division-I, so these numbers are ... yeah ... very, very bad and they should have spelled trouble for the Peacocks against virtually every team the field, let alone the tournament’s top No. 2 seed.

That Saint Peter’s team, the same one with the offensive statistical profile outlined above, did the following:

—Hung 85 points on a Kentucky team that had not given up that many to anyone else this season.

—Shot 50.9 percent from the field.

—Shot 52.9 percent from three (9-of-17).

—Went 18-of-21 (85.7%) from the free-throw line.

—Turned the ball over just two more times than the Wildcats did.

—Pulled off the fourth-biggest point spread upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Saint Peter’s over Kentucky isn’t going to dethrone UMBC over Virginia for the title of biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, but when you take into account the numbers mentioned, as well as things like this ...

... there’s no question that it’s one of the more improbable results in the history of college basketball.

Peacocks.

The 3 Biggest Disappointments

1. Kentucky

There’s really no other choice here.

Thursday night represents the worst NCAA tournament loss in Kentucky basketball history (“worst,” not most painful — that’s likely reserved for 2015 against Wisconsin or 1975 against UCLA or some other game where the stage was larger), and perhaps the worst loss of John Calipari’s coaching career. Adding to the pain is the fact that this was supposed to be UK’s “revenge tour” after having one of the worse seasons in program history in 2020-21, one where they failed to reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1927.

As mentioned earlier, the Wildcats seemed to have things under control at the end of regulation, leading by six with less than three minutes to go. Then, Shaheen Holloway switched to zone, added some full-court pressure and designed some halfcourt sets to get the ball into the hands of his best shooter, Doug Edert. Kentucky responded to all of these adjustments by losing its collective mind.

The unraveling would have made more sense if this had been a Calipari team of years past, one loaded with youth and lacking a leader to seize control in a tense moment on the sport’s biggest stage. But this was one of the most veteran-led teams Cal has had since his arrival in Lexington 13 years ago. For most of the key moments on Thursday night, UK was playing three grad transfers, a junior and a sophomore.

The ten year anniversary of Calipari’s only national championship is just a few weeks away. Kentucky fans thought a second title (in a Final Four that, like in 2012, is going to be played in New Orleans) could be coming with it. Instead, it’ll now be more than a decade between titles, at least eight years between Final Four appearances, and at least four years between NCAA tournament wins for one of college basketball’s most storied programs.

2. Iowa

Let me say this right from the jump: This is more about us than it is about you. We knew your history, the blowout loss to Oregon from last year was still fresh in all of our minds, and we bought in anyway. We told ourselves before the Big Ten tournament that we wouldn’t do it no matter how damned impressive you looked, and by God we still did it.

You should be embarrassed by what happened on Thursday. All of us should be more embarrassed.

3. UConn

No one is happier about Thursday’s Kentucky and Iowa losses than Connecticut is. The Huskies weren’t as trendy a Final Four pick as the Wildcats or Hawkeyes were, which is probably why so few people are talking about the third top five seed to fall on the tournament’s opening day.

UConn’s offense was far from pristine, but the unforgivable part of the Huskies’ performance came on the other end of the floor. New Mexico State has one guy on its roster with the ability to beat you almost single-handedly, one guy that you absolutely cannot let get into a zone and drop a flurry of points on your head. UConn let that one guy (Teddy Allen) hang 37 on them.

That just can’t happen if you’re looking to avoid the 12/5 upset bug.

5 Day 1 Cheers

1. Teddy Allen

SPEAKING OF.

The New Mexico State star was absolutely lights out Thursday evening, playing with his typical toughness and flair, hitting big shots at the biggest moments, and ultimately scoring more points (37) on the tournament’s first day than any other player who took the court.

Now, we’re all privileged to receive at least one more helping of Tournament Teddy.

2. The late night close calls

Saint Peter’s, Richmond and New Mexico State are going to grab all the Friday morning headlines, and understandably so, all three of them got the job done and are marching on. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least acknowledge the pair of 13-seeds that almost got the job done.

In the late, late window — which was tremendous — both Akron and Vermont came oh-so-close to taking down UCLA and Arkansas, respectively. Both ended up losing by four.

Not every game featuring a teen seed can be a stunner, but it’s always better when the holding of serve by the single-digit seed comes down to the game’s final moments. Props to both the Zips and Catamounts for leaving us furiously scrambling to figure out which game to focus on.

3. Everything Saint Peter’s

Look, this isn’t overkill. When a 15-seed with a Peacock mascot advances in the NCAA tournament, you soak up every ounce you possibly can from it.

Shaheen Holloway’s postgame interview? Awesome.

Doug Edert’s pre-pubescent stache? Incredible.

The Peacock victory celebration back on campus? What March is all about.

This stat? Bonkers.

The “I don’t believe what I just saw” moment from the Peacock mascot? Jack Buck would be proud.

Fun fact: Saint Peter’s is the only college who plays any sport at the Division-I level whose mascot is a Peacock. For the Saint Peter’s women’s teams, the mascot used to be a Peahen, but now all teams play under the Peacock umbrella.

Feel free to use that at the bar this weekend. Guaranteed success.

4. Providence playing up its underdog status as a 4-seed

Providence and its fan base have seemingly been at war with everyone this season. They loathe Ken Pomeroy, they hate analytics, they can’t stand predictive metrics, and they wretch and the sound of anyone claiming that because the Friars won so many close games this season it might mean they’re not a legitimate threat to crash a Final Four or claim a national title.

For the last three days, they have really not liked the fact that South Dakota State over Providence seemed to be the trendiest upset pick in America, a title typically reserved for a 12/5 matchup.

To their credit, Providence took care of business on Thursday, limiting the nation’s second-highest scoring team to just 57 points, and forcing the nation’s best three-point shooting team into a 7-for-23 (30.4%) performance from beyond the arc.

“We proved the whole world wrong,” PC’s Al Durham said after the game. “I hope we continue to be lucky, and keep dancing.”

Seems a little strong for a 4/13 game where Providence was favored to win by 3 and won by 9, but this is clearly working for them, so I say keep it rolling. Richmond is up next, and even though the Spiders are a 12-seed that needed to win the A-10 tournament just to get into the Big Dance, let’s go ahead and say the whole world thinks you’re going to lose that one too.

You do what you’ve gotta do in order to survive and advance. That’s all that matters.

5. Hero Indiana cheerleader

The loudest cheers of the night from the Hoosier faithful came here.

Fantastic.

BONUS CHEER: Overtimes

There were no true buzzer-beaters on Thursday, but four double-digit seeds advancing and three games going to overtime more than made up for that absence. And if you want to toss in the two overtimes from the First Four game between Notre Dame and Rutgers that ended after midnight on the East Coast, then bam, five overtime day.

Not too shabby.

5 Day 1 Jeers

1. The Mountain West

We haven’t even hit the second day of the first round, and all four Mountain West teams have already been sent packing. Not only that, but all four teams failed to reach the 70-point mark, with Wyoming and Boise State both failing to get to 60.

Despite its status as a near perennial multi-bid league, the Mountain West is now just 3-15 in the NCAA tournament since 2015 and has sent just one team to the tournament’s second weekend over that same time span. Since 2016, the conference is 1-11 in first round games.

The most recent embarrassment made the Mountain West just the third conference in NCAA tournament history to finish 0-4 or worse in a single March Madness. The only other two times this has happened came from the SEC (0-5) in 1989 and the the Pac-10 (0-4) in 1985.

So, yeah, it had been a while.

2. The foul call at the end of Providence/South Dakota State

With less than a minute to go and Providence clinging to a 60-57 lead over surging South Dakota State, PC’s Jared Bynum clanked a deep three-pointer from the left wing. The miss seemed to give the Jackrabbits the ball with 29 seconds to go and a chance to tie the game or inch to within a point.

The problem? A foul was whistled on SDSU’s Douglas Wilson.

Was it the right call? You be the judge.

It certainly appears as though the only major contact here was initiated by Bynum contorting his body and kicking his leg out. Of course, that’s much easier to see on a slow-motion replay than it is in real time.

There’s no guarantee that South Dakota State wins or forces overtime if the whistle is swallowed here, but it certainly would have been nice to have at least seen a clean finish to the game.

3. The non-foul call at the end of Richmond-Iowa

Sometimes the opening days of March Madness will provide us with some bizarre symmetry. Usually it’s cooler than this.

In yet another game where the score was 60-57 with less than a minute to play, Iowa’s Kris Murray rose for a three-point attempt that he hoped would tie the game and keep alive the Hawkeyes’ hopes of escaping Richmond’s upset bid.

Murray appeared to be, very clearly, fouled on the arm by Richmond’s Matt Grace. Even though Murray’s shot was obviously not blocked, and even though it came up approximately 10 feet short of the rim, no whistle was blown.

Maybe this is just a situation where we needed a ref swap. Did the wrong guys work the wrong games? Was there a morning trade that occurred without anyone knowing about it? Was the no-call simply a misguided and confusing attempt to countervail the call from the first game? Who’s to say?

Perhaps we can mix and match these two crews before Saturday’s game to avoid a similar controversy in the second round. Just to be safe.

4. Boise State’s streak of tournament futility

Boise State was doubled up by Memphis (38-19) in the first half, and while the Broncos made things at least somewhat interesting after the break, it never felt like they were ever really threatening to come all the way back and earn a date with Gonzaga in the second round.

With Thursday’s 64-53 loss, Boise State is now 0-8 all-time in the NCAA tournament. That ties them with Eastern Kentucky for the unwanted title of most tournament appearances without a single victory.

5. Todd Golden’s youth

I don’t like that Todd Golden is a very successful Division-I head basketball coach who is a year younger than I am. I really don’t like that Todd Golden is a very successful Division-I head basketball coach who looks like he’s about 12 years younger than I am.

San Francisco v Murray State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Are we 100 percent certain that this guy isn’t actually 14 or 15? Could there be some sort of Little Big League situation at play that nobody outside the program knows about?

I’m just asking questions.

BONUS JEER: Kansas-Texas Southern being the last game on

This is a jeer for the sickos. Normal people would see Kansas blowing out Texas Southern as the final game standing and say, “thank goodness, at least I can go ahead and go to sleep.” We are not those people.

With the late session providing pure electricity from pretty start to finish, we needed our final image of the evening to be one that fully embodied the night. Not Kansas rolling to an effortless 27-point win over Johnny Jones’ Texas Southern squad.

Murray State-San Francisco going into overtime made this game’s solo air time far less than it would have been otherwise, but we shouldn’t let the schedule-makers off the hook here. You expect us to be able to sleep after Saint Peter’s-Kentucky, UCLA-Akron, Arkansas-Vermont, UConn-New Mexico State and Murray State-San Francisco? Not happening. We’re watching until the bitter end at that point, and there’s no reason for the end to be quite that bitter.

All Day-1 Team

Teddy Allen, New Mexico State

We already gave Teddy his flowers in the Cheers section, but he’s also the obvious choice to headline the All Day-1 team. The Aggie star hung 37 on UConn and is the biggest reason the Aggies are dancing into the weekend.

Brady Manek, North Carolina

The UNC sharpshooter buried 5-of-10 from three, made all five of his shots from inside the arc, and finished with a game-high 28 points to go along with 11 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.

Jamaree Bouyea, San Francisco

The senior guard was out of his mind at the end of regulation and in overtime, hitting big shot after big shot on his way to 36 points. Not a bad way for the longtime bucket-getter to wrap up his USF career.

Jacob Gilyard, Richmond

Not surprisingly, the engine that makes Richmond go was at or near the center of most of the positive things that happened in the Spiders’ upset of Iowa. Gilyard finished with a game-high 24 points as well as six assists and six rebounds.

Oscar Tshiebwe, Kentucky

In what might have been his final collegiate game, the potential National Player of the Year was his typical dominant self, scoring a game-high 30 points and grabbing a game-high 16 rebounds. The double-double was Tshiebwe’s 28th of the season (a Kentucky record) and his 16th straight. He’ll finish three shy of David Robinson’s NCAA-record 31.

5 Best Day 1 Dunks

Not the best day for dunks, but not every part of every fantastic March Madness opening Thursday is going to be perfect.

1. Drew Timme, Gonzaga

Timme hung 32 points on a Georgia State team that kept things interesting for far longer than most had expected, but his first two might have been the most impressive.

2. Jordan Fulkerson, Tennessee

Tall white guys dunking impressively, but also just slightly awkwardly is going to be a theme here.

3. Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

As we said before ...

4. Terrance Jones, Norfolk State

Baylor put the Spartans away pretty early, but this was a nice moment.

5. Chandler Jacobs, Colorado State

Like I said, pretty lame day for dunks, but this one at least acknowledges Michigan-Colorado State, which we’ve barely done in this wrap.

5 Best Day 1 Images

1. Soaring Spiders

Not as scary as it sounds, unless you’re an Iowa fan or someone who bought into the Hawkeye hype.

Richmond v Iowa Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

2. Steve Pikiell gets memed

I’m counting it since Notre Dame-Rutgers ended after midnight on the East Coast. It’s amazing how much he looks like the guy.

3. Sad Fran

This will not be the year Fran McCaffery finally gets Iowa over the hump and into the Sweet 16 for the first time under his watch.

South Dakota State v Providence Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

4. Racing into the weekend

Most entertaining game of the day. Unreal shot making and athleticism were on full display for 45 minutes.

San Francisco v Murray State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

5. Zip ‘em up

It didn’t end the way they wanted, but the Akron bench was fired up as the Zips pushed UCLA to the brink.

Akron v UCLA Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

5 Notable Quotes From Day 1:

1. “I know our fanbase has not been hungry for it. They’ve been starving for it.” —New Mexico State head coach Chris Jans on the Aggies snapping a 12-game NCAA tournament losing streak and winning in the Big Dance for the first time since 1992

2. “It’s sad because I’ve been wanting this moment for a long time. I even told my teammates, ‘this is not going to be easy for us. If we’re not willing to fight, any team in March Madness — they make it that for a reason.’ I did the best I could. It just happens.” —Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe

3. “This game is probably the worst game we played all year, and I don’t think it’s close. So it’s definitely not a good feeling in our stomachs right now.” —Iowa senior guard Connor McCaffery

4. “Gotta win some games.” —Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson

5. “If I remember, coach Fisher started five freshmen.” —Michigan head coach Juwan Howard after being asked about starting three freshmen in Thursday’s win over Colorado State

Full Friday schedule for 2022 men’s NCAA tournament

Prepare your mind, prepare your body, and prepare your soul to do this whole thing all over again.

Go basketball.