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NCAA Tournament 2015: Best and worst of everything from Day 1

Perhaps the most memorable opening day in NCAA Tournament history took place on Thursday, and we've got your full recap.

SB Nation 2015 March Madness Bracket

Not all opening Thursdays are made equal, and I'm not sure there's been a more wild, entertaining and eventful first real day of the NCAA Tournament than the one we're about to document. A tournament record five games decided by one point, three of those coming inside the same arena, a pair of 14 seeds winning on the same day for the first time in 20 years, and a total of eight contests that came down to the final possession. That's right, HALF of the games played on Thursday were or could have been won or tied on the game's final shot.

It sounds hyperbolic, but Thursday was pretty much everything that we love about March Madness packed into one 13-hour span. The expectations for the tournament seem to grow more and more gargantuan every year, so it was pretty special to see a day that met the mammoth standards of both the casual fan and the college hoops diehards.

There's no way to get to each and every noteworthy item from one of the most insanely beautiful days the tournament has ever given us, but let's try our hardest.


1. (10) Ohio State 75, (7) VCU 72 (OT) (West)

The giant upsets and/or the games with wild made shots in the final seconds may have garnered the earlier mentions on SportsCenter, but there wasn't a higher quality contest played on Thursday than the one between Ohio State and VCU in Portland.

The Buckeyes trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half before freshman star D'Angelo Russell started going to work. The soon-to-be millionaire did just about everything for OSU, connecting on 4 of 7 shots from beyond the arc, pulling down six boards, recording two blocks and two steals, and scoring a game-high 28 points, an Ohio State record for a freshman playing in the NCAA Tournament. The total was also the third-highest for any Big Ten freshman playing in the tournament, checking in behind only Michigan's Chris Webber (30 in 1992) and Indiana's Isiah Thomas (30 in 1980).

VCU, which suffered a heartbreaking defeat in the Round of 64 for the second straight year, had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Treveon Graham's well-defended shot in the lane found nothing but iron. Graham scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his final game as a Ram, but shot just 3-for-12 from the field.

After the teams traded baskets to begin the extra period, Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop buried a huge three-pointer that gave the Buckeyes a lead they would not relinquish. Graham's attempt to tie the game with a three-pointer in the closing seconds again went wanting, and Thad Matta's squad fully exorcised some of the demons which had stayed with them since last year's gut-wrenching loss to Dayton.

2. (14) Georgia State 57, (3) Baylor 56 (West)

There were very few times on Thursday afternoon when it seemed like this game could be destined to wind up on anybody's "best games" list. Playing without star point guard Ryan Harrow (stunningly, the Panthers are now 7-0 in games without him) and getting next to nothing out of leading scorer R.J. Hunter, Georgia State fell behind Baylor 16-6 early, and still trailed by 10 with just 1:56 to play.

Then, a perfect storm of Hunter remembering who he was and Baylor refusing to do anything to put the game away took place. In 16 seconds, Hunter scored seven points and the Bears turned the ball over twice. Just like that, 56-46 became 56-53, and the world was sent scrambling to try to remember which channel they had been watching the game on.

After another Panther free throw and Baylor inexplicably pushing the ball and missing a dunk instead of milking the clock and waiting to be fouled, this happened:

It was going to take a lot for the attention following Georgia State's second NCAA Tournament win ever to not fall directly on Louisville transfer Kevin Ware, and this certainly did the trick. The situation, the shot, the father (whom the son injured while celebrating the team's conference tournament championship) falling out of his stool ... there have been few March moments better than this one.

While Hunter and the Panthers undoubtedly want to keep this run going into next week, even if the journey ends on Saturday, they're always going to have this moment. People are always going to talk about it, and each and every March that video is going to be replayed all over the country. Immortality is cool, and this Georgia State team has already achieved that.

3. (14) UAB 60, (3) Iowa State 59 (South)

A few of the upsets and close calls Thursday were events that at least seemed reasonably possible when the brackets were released Sunday. I'm not sure this one falls under that same umbrella.

Iowa State was the Big 12 Tournament champion that had struggled to realize its Final Four potential all season long, but had hit its stride at the absolute perfect time. UAB was the fluke automatic bid thief from Conference USA, the youngest team in the field of 68, and one which had entered the postseason with an overall record just one game above .500 (16-15).

The Cyclones were a 13.5-point favorite for a reason.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the tournament's first shocker was that the underdog seemed to be the better team for the entirety of the game. There was no fluke finish, there was no random player going off and having the game of his life; the Blazers were more physical than Iowa State, they defended Georges Niang as well as any team has all season, and they hit the big shots -- most notably freshman forward William Lee's go-ahead jumper with 26 seconds left -- when the game was on the line. The Blazers deserved to win this game, a statement that's difficult to make more times than not when it comes to March stunners.

After the game, UAB head coach Jerod Haase spoke to the youth of his team by noting that as recently as a month ago, "four or five" of his players had no idea that the Conference USA Tournament champion earned an automatic bid, and that another player had no idea what Selection Sunday was. They know now, and they also know they earned a victory for their school and their athletic program, which meant more this year than it would have in any other.

4. (4) North Carolina 67, (13) Harvard 65 (West)

The Tar Heels avoided becoming both the day's latest single-digit casualty and Harvard's third straight Round of 64 victim by the narrowest of margins when Wesley Saunders' game-winning attempt at the buzzer came inches away from banking in.

"It's the luckiest I've ever felt after a basketball game in my entire life," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said afterward. "In saying that, I'm thrilled that we're still here and we're still playing."

UNC led by 11 at halftime and had never trailed in the game before Siyani Chambers' four-point play put the Crimson ahead 65-63 with just 75 seconds to play. Freshman Justin Jackson then played hero for the Tar Heels, tying the game up on a jumper, and then wisely getting out in transition after a long miss by Chambers and putting away an uncontested dunk that would prove to be the game-winning score.

5. (8) Cincinnati 66, (9) Purdue 65 (OT) (Midwest)

That's right, a one-point game which went to overtime thanks to a made buzzer-beater at the end of regulation was only the fifth-best game Thursday had to offer.

Purdue appeared destined to be the team next in line to take a shot at Kentucky thanks to a seven-point lead with just 48.5 seconds to play. Then, just as they did earlier in the Georgia State-Baylor game, things got weird. The Boilermakers turned the ball over, they committed completely unnecessary fouls and they bricked a pair of free throws.

That all set the stage for Troy Caupain to hit one of the more tantalizing (for Purdue at least) buzzer-beaters you're ever going to see.

Coreontae DeBerry scored four of the Bearcats' seven points in overtime, and UC claimed its first tournament victory since 2012 when Vince Edwards' three-pointer at the buzzer clanked off the rim.

For Purdue, the loss snapped a 14-game winning streak in NCAA Tournament openers that had dated back to 1994 and Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. The streak had been the fifth-longest in the history of the Big Dance.


1. Utah

Naturally, the one upset pick that everyone seemed to have on Thursday was one which didn't come to fruition.

Utah had to have spent the previous three days feeling at least mildly insulted. For the bulk of the season, the Utes had been projected as a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed, and then not only do they feel like they've been shafted when they get a No. 5 seed on Selection Sunday, but they're paired with a 12 seed that had won 28 of its last 29 games, and which had won from the exact same spot in the tournament the year before.

Larry Krystkowiak wouldn't let his team fall victim to the 12/5 narrative, as the Utes trailed for just 22 seconds against a Stephen F. Austin team that had seemed primed for a tournament "upset" since the start of the 2014-15 season. The impressive victory was the first for the Utes in the Big Dance since 2005.

2. Xavier

Since its inception in 2011, the First Four has produced a Final Four team, three Sweet 16 teams and at least one Round of 32 team in all four years. Ole Miss was supposed to be the latest team to assume that role on Thursday, but instead found itself run over by a Xavier squad which may have played its best game of the season at the perfect time.

The Rebels had no answer inside for Musketeer big man Matt Stainbrook, who connected on 8 of his 10 field goal attempts on his way to a game-high 20 points. Dee Davis chipped in 17 as the X-Men rolled to a 19-point victory that puts them just a win over Georgia State away from the Sweet 16.

3. Georgetown

It could have been the victory guarantee by Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford, all the talk about past losses to double-digit seeds, or some combination of both, but Georgetown played Thursday night with a level of anger and aggression that had to have made big John Thompson smile. Or at least nod his head knowingly.

After the game, John Thompson III spoke about both his team's ultra-physical play and the opponent's guarantee.

"I didn't need to stoke them up and I didn't want to calm them down," Thompson said.

And the guarantee?

"Maybe it's just me, but when I think of that, I think of Joe Namath, I think of Muhammad Ali, I think of Larry Bird and the three-point shooting contest," Thompson said. "The kids brought it to me and said, `Their coach is guaranteeing victory.' I kind of looked down there at him. Thought he didn't foot the bill of guys that usually guarantee victory. Our guys were fired up about that."

The night ended with Jabril Trawick throwing down an unnecessary dunk that elicited boos from the crowd (and allowed the Hoyas to cover a 9.5-point spread), and the Georgetown basketball Twitter account throwing some serious shade at Hayford and EWU.


SB Nation presents: The bracket of awful Internet things


1. Iowa State

A trendy Final Four pick for both fans and media members alike, the Cyclones had way too much talent on their roster for their season to be over right now. I can't decide which was more surprising: Georges Niang going 4-for-15 from the field, or Monte Morris finishing with four assists and three turnovers.

2. Texas

Despite conference play struggles that sent them from the top 10 to the bubble, there was always a sense that the Longhorns had all the talent necessary to make a run if they could just make the field and get a decent draw. Both of those things happened, and the Longhorns ... well, they played exactly the same type of uninspired basketball they'd spent the previous three months playing.

Last season was supposed to be Rick Barnes' make-or-break year on the hot seat, and Texas wound up exceeding everyone's expectations by winning 24 games and advancing to the Round of 32. This season, on the other hand, was supposed to be Barnes' shot at a national title. Instead, his future in Austin seems to be extremely shaky at best.

3. LSU

It feels unfair to put a team which lost to a better seed in this spot, but the comprehensive collapse the Tigers put forth on Thursday demands such an admonishment.

LSU held a 16-point lead early in the second half, and was still in complete command when Jarell Martin's jumper put the Tigers ahead 60-48 with 10:25 to play. They would not make another field goal.

NC State took full advantage, mounting a furious comeback which ended with BeeJay Anya's baby hook/push shot for the win. The big man scored just four points all night, but they just happened to be the final four points of the game. That kind of finish would leave anyone embarrassingly sweaty.

The Tigers shot just 29 percent from the field in the second half, and missed 10 of their 22 free throw attempts.


D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State

When Chris Webber and Isiah Thomas are the only former Big Ten freshmen who have scored more points than you in a tournament game, you've probably given a pretty solid performance.

Bryce Alford, UCLA

The coach's son was in the zone on Thursday, burying 9 of 11 shots from beyond the arc. His final three points weren't exactly a thing of beauty, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that there were 24 more that came before those.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona

The sophomore forward began what Wildcat fans hope is a monster tournament for him with a 23-point, 10-rebound effort against Texas Southern.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame

It's almost criminal that we haven't said one word yet about Notre Dame-Northeastern, which might have been one of the best two or three games on a standard opening Thursday. The Fighting Irish were able to avoid both the tournament's and their own upset trend thanks in large part to Auguste, who scored 25 points in just 27 minutes.

R.J. Hunter, Georgia State

I don't care how many shots he'd missed before the game's final two minutes, what he did in that final span warrants an honor. Feel free to print this out and hang it on your hotel wall, R.J.


1. Ron Hunter's happy fall

2. Yanick Moreira and the other side of March

Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

3. Purdue, Cincinnati and the buzzer-beater that hung out on the rim for an eternity


1. The end of UCLA/SMU

I'm not going to get into the rulebook or how I feel about the accuracy of the goaltending call, because I think regardless of a person's stance on the sequence, we can all agree that it was a pretty atrocious way for a tournament game to end.

Whether it was the correct call or not, UCLA won the game on a shot which had no chance of going in. Add that to the fact that the young man who is now forever on the wrong end of one of the more controversial endings in recent tournament history is a senior who will never play another college game, and the whole thing just sits even more unfavorably.

To his credit, Yanick Moreira took full blame for the play both during a tough-to-watch postgame press conference and on Twitter later in the night.

The whole thing would be absolutely brutal in any scenario, but it's even more so when you consider that the Mustangs would have been a win over UAB away from going to the Sweet 16 and winning multiple games in the tournament for the first time since 1956.

2. The Big 12

You're not going to see a conference have a worse tournament day than the one the Big 12 had on Thursday very often. The league entered the Big Dance thumping its chest over its seven bids and No. 1 overall RPI, but that talk has died down significantly after an 0-3 start.

It had been 20 years since two 14 seeds had won in the Round of 64 in the same year, but Big 12 brethren Iowa State and Baylor changed all that by dropping stunners within an hour of one another. Toss in Texas' absolute clunker against Butler, and you have a day the conference would just as soon pretend never happened.

3. Cincinnati's Octavius Ellis getting himself ejected

You can't do this, man.

Ellis has had anger issues in the past, and they're somewhat understandable when you take a deeper look at his story, but he still has to know better when the stakes are as high as they were Thursday night. This was a justifiable ejection, and one which really hurt his team at the time.

The good news for Ellis is that the ejection will not keep him from playing against Kentucky on Saturday.

4. The state of Texas

The Longhorn state put five teams -- Texas, SMU, Stephen F. Austin, Baylor and Texas Southern -- into the field of 68 this year. After one day of play, all five are back home.

5. The shoe-throwing incident in Arkansas-Wofford

An additional jeer for the predictable flood of "who throws a shoe" references that followed. I mean, I get it, I enjoy the scene and the line as well, but you have to know everyone else is heading toward the same place you are in that situation. Choose a different path, a fresh path.

Anyway, I'm still not entirely sure what took place here, but Seth Rosenthal tried his best to break it down.

Honorable Mention: Everything that Purdue did in the final minute of regulation against Cincinnati.

It was almost as if the Boilermakers, close enough to victory for the realization to set in of what actually winning the game would entail, came together and were like, "all right, let's make sure we've really thought this through?" And then as a team decided that it probably wasn't worth it.

Also, this pass off A.J. Hammons' face.


1. The Big East

We talked earlier this week about just how monumental this tournament is for the new Big East in terms of its perception going forward. It's safe to say the conference is off to a decent start, with three trendy upset picks having little trouble advancing, and Villanova taking care of business in predictable fashion against Lafayette.

2. Everything that happened with Ron Hunter

As with pretty much everything that happened on Thursday, I'm not even sure where to start here. The first "Huntering" trend was fantastic enough, but everything that's taken place since the most famous stool fall in the history of American sports has somehow surpassed that.

The subsequent photoshops were stellar, the postgame interviews were appropriately memorable, and the whole thing ended with Hunter calling out the President of the United States in the locker room.

3. UAB players and their shoes

As if UAB's upset win didn't already have enough feel-good storylines, Thursday helped spread the word about the reason why the Blazers have been wearing mismatched color shoes. first wrote about this back in November:

The Blazers have partnered with the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's of Alabama. Sporting one green and one white sneaker this season is their way of helping raise awareness and, hopefully, money for pediatric cancer.

"We played a team over in Spain (this past summer) and one of the players came out, wearing a black and white shoe and everybody just noticed it," Haase said. "So we started talking and kind of joking about that and one idea led to another idea about 27 ideas later this is the one we came up with."

This is not a difficult team to root for.

4. No. 1 seeds dominating

Originally I was going to put the inability of the 16 seeds to keep things interesting in the "jeers" section, but if this tournament is truly going to be an all-timer, it needs the headlining teams to look the part. They certainly did on Thursday, with Arizona, Villanova and Kentucky all destroying their competition in games where the final score wasn't truly indicative of the gap between the participating teams.

Villanova, in particular, made it a point not to embarrass Lafayette, switching to zone once the game got out of hand and playing 12 players. Part of that was because the Leopards' coach, Fran O'Hanlon, was once a star for the Wildcats and is a member of the Villanova Hall of Fame, and another part is that Jay Wright is just a chill dude like that.

Again, as much as everyone loves the early-round upsets, recent history has also shown that people also love a Final Four loaded with blue-blood powerhouses. This tournament always been one with the potential to give us both of those things. The disparity between the top six or seven teams and the rest of the country has been unusually large all season long, and it would almost feel wrong for at least three of those teams not to make it to Indianapolis and give us an all-time great Final Four. On the other hand, there has been so much parity among the teams that are now seeded 3-14 that this has long felt like the perfect setup for an opening Thursday and Friday loaded with double-digit seeds advancing.

Kudos to the top seeds for holding up their end of the deal on day one.

5. The Georgia State men's golf team's reaction to R.J. Hunter's shot

This is the stuff, man.

Honorable Mention: Lafayette's straight out of the 1920s team doctor.


1. Trey Lyles, Kentucky

A decent first basket for the Wildcats' 2015 tournament run.

2. Michael Qualls, Arkansas

This is sort of what he does.

3. Kyle Washington, NC State

Also seen: the type of elite rim protection that has LSU headed home to enjoy the rest of the madness.


1. "It was something like, 'Hey, I like your shoes,' and he's like, 'Oh, I also like your shoes.' And that's just pretty much what happened." --Xavier's Matt Stainbrook on what he said to Ole Miss' M.J. Rhett that earned him a technical foul

2. "Maybe we should have let them get up double digits. That's kind of how we play our best.'' --Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg on the fact that his team had erased double-digit leads to win each of its previous five games heading into the tournament

3. "It was important for us just to give the city something to cheer for. They were down about football, and it's something that we've all kind of talked about, but it's something that we wanted to just give the city, and especially our UAB community, something to cheer for, something exciting." --UAB's Robert Brown

4. "If they would have made their bucket, we knew we would have taken care of business in overtime." --Arkansas' Michael Qualls on Wofford missing a buzzer-beating shot that would have tied the game

5. "I was like, 'you know what, it's time for me to shoot the ball.' Trevor (Lacey) called for it back. He had a chance. It was my turn to shoot it." --NC State's BeeJay Anya on his game-winner against LSU


That was enjoyable. I vote that we do it all again.

Friday Afternoon, March 20 (Noon-6 p.m. ET)

Tip (ET)





12:15 p.m.


Omaha I

Kansas vs. New Mexico St

Marv Albert/Chris Webber/Len Elmore//Craig Sager

12:40 p.m.


Charlotte I

Michigan State vs. Georgia

Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill//Tracy Wolfson

1:40 p.m.


Seattle I

Northern Iowa vs. Wyoming

Spero Dedes/Mike Gminski//Jaime Maggio

2:10 p.m.


Columbus I

West Virginia vs. Buffalo

Ian Eagle/Doug Gottlieb//Evan Washburn

After conc. I


Omaha II

Wichita State vs. Indiana


After conc. I


Charlotte II

Virginia vs. Belmont


After conc. I


Seattle II

Louisville vs. UC Irvine


After conc. I


Columbus II

Maryland vs. Valparaiso


Friday Evening, March 20 (6:30 p.m.-Midnight ET)

Tip (ET)





6:50 p.m.


Omaha III

Oregon vs. Oklahoma St.


7:10 p.m.


Charlotte III

Duke vs. Robert Morris


7:20 p.m.


Seattle III

Iowa vs. Davidson


7:27 p.m.


Columbus III

Oklahoma vs. Albany


After conc. III


Omaha IV

Wisconsin vs. Coastal Carolina


After conc. III


Charlotte IV

San Diego State vs. St. John's


After conc. III


Seattle IV

Gonzaga vs. North Dakota St.


After conc. III


Columbus IV

Providence vs. Dayton