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NCAA tournament 2018: The best and worst of everything from March Madness Day 1

Let’s recap everything that went right and everything that went wrong on the first REAL day of the most exciting postseason in sports.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Miami vs Loyola Chicago Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

There were multiple moments during the opening Thursday of the NCAA tournament that made you pause and think to yourself, “this is just the best.”

Whether it was the first game of the day going to overtime, Loyola giving us a March moment we’ll always remember, Penn forcing everyone to flip over to the 1 vs. 16 game, or Rob Gray turning himself into a household name, Thursday had a little something for everyone.

Here’s the best and the worst of everything that went down.

The 5 Best Day 1 Games

1. (11) Loyola-Chicago 64, (6) Miami 62 (South)

A lot of times, March Madness buzzer-beaters are bad games with great endings. This was a great game with a great ending.

Things really picked up between the Ramblers and Hurricanes about midway through the second half when the two teams refused to stop burying highly contested three-pointers.

The haymakers continued for the next several minutes, but Miami never gave up its lead. At least not until there only 0.3 seconds left to play.

Donte Ingram, it’s time to become a March Madness immortal. Take it away ...

It just gets better every time.

The win for Loyola was its first in the NCAA tournament in 33 years. In 1985, the Ramblers won two games before falling to Georgetown in the Sweet 16. They’ll head back to that round with a win over third-seeded Tennessee on Saturday.

2. (6) Houston 67, (11) San Diego State 65 (West)

It’s hard to believe that before Thursday, Houston hadn’t won an NCAA tournament since 1984. So hard to believe that I refused to believe the billion legitimate sources who were tweeting the fact and felt the need to look it up on my own. Sure enough, Phi Slama Jama led the Cougars to three straight Final Fours between 1982-84, but since then? Nothing.

That all changed thanks to “The Man Bun Messiah” (if it doesn’t catch on, that’s on you), Rob Gray, who went off on San Diego State to the tune of 39 points. The last two of those 39 were the most memorable.

With San Diego State’s loss, Mountain West teams fell to an abysmal 1-18 when playing as double-digit seeds in the first round. The conference hasn’t produced a win in such a situation since 1999.

3. (4) Gonzaga 68, (13) UNC-Greensboro 64 (West)

For several moments, it seemed as though Gonzaga’s quest to make it back to the Final Four and avenging last year’s national championship game loss would end before it ever really got started. UNC-Greensboro — coached by former North Carolina player Wes Miller (2004-07) — led by two with less than a minute to go before the Zags scored the game’s final six points.

Despite possessing a handful of players who played key roles on last year’s run to the title, it was freshman Zach Norvell Jr. who took, and made, the biggest shot of the game for Mark Few’s team.

That UNCG even had a chance to win was something of a miracle. The Spartans, who entered Thursday averaging 9.6 made three-pointers per game, but went just 3 of 22 from beyond the arc against Gonzaga. They missed all 13 three-pointers they attempted in the first half.

Despite all the talk (before last year, at least) of Gonzaga “always choking,” the win over UNCG marks the 10th straight year that the Zags have won at least one game in the Big Dance. No other program in the country can claim that. The last time they went one and done in the tourney? A kid named Steph Curry went bananas and the Zags got knocked off by Davidson in 2008.

4. (7) Rhode Island 83, (10) Oklahoma 78 (OT) (Midwest)

There’s always a significant amount of pressure on the stand-alone that kicks off the tournament’s first full day. People are skipping class, people are skipping work, people who don’t like college basketball are tuning in to see what all the fuss is about. You need to put on a show.

Rhode Island and Oklahoma did just that, giving us some great Trae Young moments, a near buzzer-beater, and, ultimately, five extra minutes. You can’t ask for much more than that.

5. (5) Ohio State 81, (12) South Dakota State 73 (West)

Sure, there were more competitive games with closer final scores than Ohio State-South Dakota State, but show me another game where the teams combined to launch 71 threes. You can’t. The Buckeyes, who went 12 of 40 from beyond the arc, became the first team to attempt 40 or more treys in an NCAA tournament game since Drake attempted 42 against Western Kentucky 10 years ago.

So, yeah, Ohio State won a game a lot of people expected them to lose despite missing 28-three-pointers. They also had three players score 20 points or more. All of this is both weird and cool, which is the ideal March Madness combination.

The 3 Teams That Won It The Best

1. Buffalo

Where else could we start?

The Bulls had never won an NCAA tournament game before Thursday, and they wound up matching the largest margin of victory ever for a 13 seed over a No. 4.

The jarring thing about Buffalo’s performance was it never looked like the traditional first-round shocker. The Bulls weren’t struggling to score for long stretches, they weren’t benefiting from a healthy dose of extreme luck, they were simply better than Arizona for a full 40 minutes. A lot better.

Buffalo will now look to become just the seventh 13 seed NCAA tournament history to crash the Sweet 16. Of the previous six to do so, only three got there by defeating a No. 5 seed, which is what the Bulls will have to on Saturday against Kentucky.

2. Florida

A First Four team has pulled an upset in its first round game in each season since 2011. Florida made sure it wasn’t going to be the team that let the odd streak continue. The Gators forced St. Bonaventure into 18 turnovers and a woeful 17 of 48 shooting performance in a 77-62 that was well in-hand early in the second half.

Florida has been one of the most bipolar teams in the country all season. As a result, the Gators feel like one of the biggest wildcards in the field of 68. If Thursday’s performance is any indication, they’ll give Texas Tech all it wants in Saturday’s fight for a spot in the Sweet 16.

3. Duke

Iona decided it wasn’t going to pull back its up-tempo style just because its first-round opponent was arguably the most offensively talented team in the country. That proved to be a mistake.

Duke ripped the Gaels, 89-67, by shooting 53.7 percent from the field and having four of its five starters score 16 points or more. The Blue Devils also clamped down on defense after a lackluster first 15 minutes that resulted in Iona shooting 53 percent in the first half.

The 3 Biggest Disappointments

1. Arizona

For the bulk of the offseason, it seemed as though one of the biggest stories of the 2017-18 — if not the biggest story of the 2017-18 offseason — was going to be whether or not Sean Miller and Arizona would finally break through and make a Final Four. The Wildcats had received somewhat surprising return announcements from both Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier, as well as a loaded recruiting class headlined by Deandre Ayton. There was a reason why many believed the team’s preseason ranking of No. 3 (with 18 first-place votes) was too low.

Of course everything we thought we knew about the major storylines for this season was blown to bits when the FBI dropped its bombshell on the college basketball world in late September. Since then Arizona has had an assistant coach arrested, gone 0-3 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, had the eligibility of its star freshman questioned, seen Trier suspended for a positive PED test for a second straight year, dealt with a much-disputed ESPN report that Miller had been involved in a plan to pay Ayton, and then won the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles.

A story this bizarre demanded an extreme ending of some sort. That’s exactly what happened Thursday, when the Wildcats gave an inexplicably listless performance in an 89-68 loss to Buffalo that matched the largest margin of defeat in a 13/4 upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Perhaps the worst part about the loss for everyone associated with Arizona basketball is that they now have to face the harsh reality of the road that lies in front of them. The dark days may be far from over in Tucson.

2. Miami

They got a bad draw and they didn’t play especially poorly on Thursday, but they were also the only other single digit seed to lose to a double digit seed. You sort of have to be on this list when that’s the case.

3. Michigan

The Wolverines aren’t on the disappointment list because they played a bad game. They’re on the disappointment list because they played the most boring game of the day despite being in the very last time slot. We’re tired, it’s been a long day, we need something to keep us alert. An unnecessary half-court shot, a shoving match; basically anything besides a 61-47 grinder that was every bit as dull as the final score would indicate.

The All-DAY 1 Team

Rob Gray, Houston

Gray is the type of guy you love seeing have a March Madness moment. He’s a senior who has been one of the most underrated players in the country for the last three years. In his first chance to introduce himself to the segment of America who had no idea who he was, Gray dropped 39 points and hit the game-winning shot in Houston’s first NCAA tournament win since 1984.

Trae Young, Oklahoma

Hate if you have to, but Young did everything within his power to will Oklahoma to victory on Thursday. He scored 28 points on 9 of 18 shooting and dished out seven assists, but in the end his supporting cast didn’t give him enough help to pull off a win over Rhode Island.

Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

If the Big 12 Player of the Year hadn’t come to the rescue, we might be talking about the first 16/1 upset in NCAA tournament history. Instead, Graham’s 29 points, six assists, and six rebounds helped the Jayhawks cruise into round two with a 76-60 win that doesn’t tell the story of how terrifying their date with Penn truly was.

Wes Clark, Buffalo

It was a dream night for the Buffalo senior, who scored 25 points on 10 of 14 shooting and dished out seven assists in the Bulls’ throttling of Arizona.

Allerik Freeman, NC State

Freeman did all he could in his final college game, scoring 36 points on 12 of 19 shooting and grabbing seven boards in NC State’s 94-83 loss to Seton Hall.

5 Day 1 Jeers

1. The Pac-12

Technically we’re only supposed to be covering Thursday’s events here, but we’re going to make a special exception and expand this to encompass the Pac-12’s First Four game losses on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Before the first round games on Friday tip off, the Pac-12’s NCAA tournament is already over. That’s brutal. The league went 0-3, and its teams were favored to win all three of those games. That makes it even worse.

Keep in mind the Pac-12 also won just one bowl game in football, it had an international incident with UCLA in China, it has Arizona continuing to deal with a bevy of negative headlines pertaining to both football and basketball, and now it just went 0-3 in the Big Dance.

I’m not sure a conference has ever had a worse season in the two major college sports.

2. The analysis during the Loyola-Miami game.

I mean, he’s not wrong.

3. The (likely) end of Young’s college career

It’s not Young’s fault he was so ridiculously good in the season’s first two months that the public decided it had reached its Trae Young saturation point by late January. The many, many people who celebrated Young’s season being “finally over” on Thursday are the same ones who would have spent the next week riding shotgun on his bandwagon if he’d dropped 40 in a win over Duke this weekend.

Young scored 28 points and dished out seven assists, but Rhode Island slowed him down just enough to pull out the W in overtime. Now the tournament is without the player most likely to pull up from midcourt on an average mid-game possession. That might not make you sad, but it makes me sad.

4. The end of Kentucky’s three-point streak

Entering Thursday, Kentucky had made at least one three-pointer in a staggering 1,047 consecutive games. The longest such streak in the country, it dated all the way back to Nov. 26, 1988.

The Wildcats were impressive in a 78-73 win over a dangerous Davidson team, but they also went 0 for 6 from beyond the arc, snapping the streak that was just a few games away from reaching a third decade.

Sure, losing a long-standing streak that was tops in the country is rough, but there were a ton of Kentucky fans who were acting like the streak being broken totally overshadowed the team, you know, winning a first-round game in the NCAA tournament. Just look at some of these tweets.

I’m sure the Arizona fans who made the trip to Boise would trade their disappointment for yours.

5. The late games

We already ripped on Michigan-Montana, but Florida-St. Bonaventure wasn’t doing the world any favors either. If we’re going to be up watching basketball after midnight, at least make us not feel guilty about it. We don’t need a buzzer-beater or a dude dropping 50, but we need some justification.

5 Day 1 Cheers

1. Sister Jean

For those of you still unfamiliar with Sister Jean: First of all, where have you been? Secondly, read this because you need to see the light immediately.

A 98-year-old, basketball-loving nun who serves as the Loyola team chaplain and offers the squad support, scouting reports and sometimes harsh criticism, Sister Jean is the hero March demands. She was interviewed in the moments immediately following Loyola’s upset of Miami, and she absolutely delivered.

Always remember that: It’s not enough for you to just take care of your own business. Sometimes you have to get God involved to make sure he forces the referees call a fair game.

I love Sister Jean so much.

2. Penn doing the unthinkable for 30 minutes

Typically when we talk about the potential for a 16 seed to upset a No. 1, it’s an all-encompassing thing. We don’t pinpoint specific matchups, it’s more of a “could this finally be the year? discussion”

That wasn’t the case in the days immediately following the 2018 version of Selection Sunday. People immediately pointed to the fact that Penn possessed the highest Ken Pomeroy ranking of any 16 seed in six years, and also drew parallels between the Quakers and past Ivy League teams that either pulled stunners or nearly pulled stunners in similar situations.

It looked for a long while that Penn might make all of these people look brilliant, as they played right with top-seeded Kansas for 30 minutes. Devonte’ Graham and the rest of the superiorly-skilled Jayhawks eventually took over, but at least the Quakers let us dream for an hour and a half on a Thursday afternoon. That’s all we ask of the 16 seeds.

3. E.C. Matthews being a stone-cold killer

The man who has been Rhode Island’s star for what feels like the better part of a decade hit clutch shot after clutch shot to put the Rams’ win over Oklahoma on ice.

4. Simeon High School

Arguably the two biggest shots on Thursday — the game-winners by Loyola’s Donte Ingram and Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell Jr. — came from a pair of high school teammates. Ingram and Norvell suited up together for Simeon High School in Chicago, where they also teamed up with Jabari Parker to win the 4-A Illinois state championship in 2013. In another twist of fate, Parker, now a standout with the Milwaukee Bucks, was celebrating his 23rd birthday on Thursday.

5. Radford

Everything about the way Mike Jones and his team handled themselves throughout this week was awesome, but this moment after the game was particularly endearing.

The team was never really in its game against Villanova on Thursday, but that wasn’t going to stop any player or fan wearing red from soaking up the moment. That’s pretty cool.

Bonus Cheer: Swaggy Nate Oats

This is when Arizona should have known it was in big trouble.

“We should be up by 10” went from seeming outlandishly brazen to possibly on the short side in a hurry.

The 3 Best Day 1 Dunks

1. Zhaire Smith, Texas Tech

One of the best dunkers in the country showed the rest of the world what fans in Lubbock have been watching all season.

2. Admiral Schofield, Tennessee

One of the best names in the sport with one of the best crams we’ll see all March.

3. Sacha Killeya-Jones, Kentucky

Bonus points for the band guy in the background.

The 5 Best Day 1 Images

1. I hate that Sebastian the Ibis got dragged into this.

Loyola v Miami Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

2. Rhode Island symmetry.

Oklahoma v Rhode Island Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

3. Freshman Zach Norvell Jr. with the shot that may have saved Gonzaga’s season.

UNC Greensboro v Gonzaga Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

4. Frozen in time shots of hopeful fans are always awesome.

5. The Wildcats beat the Wildcats, but surprisingly, they won’t be facing the Wildcats in round two.

Davidson v Kentucky Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 5 Most Notable Quotes From Day 1:

1. “I told the ref, ‘If we score here, I’m calling timeout to gets subs in. I don’t want anyone to get hurt in the last minute. We got a chance to beat Kentucky!” — Buffalo coach Nate Oats on emptying his bench in the final minute of his team’s win over Arizona

2. “We had Rob Gray and they didn’t.” — Houston coach Kelvin Sampson on the difference in his team’s 67-65 win over San Diego State

3. “I’m just here so I won’t get fined ... I always wanted to do that, man.”— Radford coach Mike Jones following his team’s 87-61 loss to Villanova

4. “I just want to thank all the fine, smart, clever journalists that didn’t pick us. We got some great ones out there. And trust me, our guys were aware of that. So we appreciate that. Thanks, guys.” — Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann during his postgame interview

5. “They tried to bring it to us at first, but we play in the Big East. They couldn’t do anything to us. We out-toughed them.” — Seton Hall’s Ish Sanogo on his team’s win over NC State

Full Friday Schedule

I found all of this extremely enjoyable. I say we do it again.

No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Providence

Region: West
Location: Spectrum Center, Charlotte
Time: 12:15 p.m.
Channel: CBS

No. 2 Purdue vs. No. 15 Cal State Fullerton

Region: East
Location: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Time: 12:40 p.m.
Channel: TruTV

No. 4 Wichita State vs. No. 13 Marshall

Region: East
Location: Viejas Arena, San Diego
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Channel: TNT

No. 2 Cincinnati vs. No. 15 Georgia State

Region: South
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Time: 2 p.m.
Channel: TBS

No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Lipscomb

Region: West
Location: Spectrum Center, Charlotte
Time: 2:45 p.m.*
Channel: CBS

No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Butler

Region: East
Location: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Time: 3:10 p.m.*
Channel: TruTV

No. 5 West Virginia vs. No. 12 Murray State

Region: East
Location: Viejas Arena, San Diego
Time: 4 p.m.*
Channel: TNT

No. 7 Nevada vs. No. 10 Texas

Region: South
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Time: 4:30 p.m.*
Channel: TBS

No. 8 Creighton vs. No. 9 Kansas State

Region: South
Location: Spectrum Center, Charlotte
Time: 6:50 p.m.
Channel: TNT

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Bucknell

Region: Midwest
Location: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Time: 7:10 p.m.
Channel: CBS

No. 1 Xavier vs. No. 16 Texas Southern

Region: West
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Channel: TBS

No. 4 Auburn vs. No. 13 Charleston

Region: Midwest
Location: Viejas Arena, San Diego
Time: 7:27 p.m.
Channel: TruTV

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 16 UMBC

Region: South
Location: Spectrum Center, Charlotte
Time: 9:20 p.m.*
Channel: TNT

No. 6 TCU vs. No. 11 Syracuse

Region: Midwest
Location: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
Time: 9:40 p.m.*
Channel: CBS

No. 8 Missouri vs. No. 9 Florida State

Region: West
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Time: 9:50 p.m.*
Channel: TBS

No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 New Mexico State

Region: Midwest
Location: Viejas Arena, San Diego
Time: 9:57 p.m.*
Channel: TruTV

*times are approximate