After a first day of spectacular upsets, the second day of first-round matchups in the men’s NCAA Tournament delivered more madness.
Bracket-busting and Cinderella runs were brewing but ultimately put to rest in the early set of games, as Kansas staved off No. 14 Eastern Washington’s upset bid despite trailing at halftime and Florida State shook off a late rally by No. 13 seed UNC Greensboro. Then later in the day Creighton barely evaded an upset by escaping UC Santa Barbara by one point.
Major upsets finally materialized in the later games with No. 13 seed Ohio sending the reigning national champion Virginia Cavaliers home and No. 14 Abilene Christian clipping No. 3 Texas.
The big news of the day was the first-round game between No. 7 seed Oregon and No. 10 seed Virginia Commonwealth being called off three hours before it was to begin because of COVID-19 concerns. The game was ruled a no-contest and Oregon automatically advances to the second round, as VCU had several players test positive at the last minute.
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Winners and losers of Saturday’s smorgasbord of games:
Gonzaga. The Bulldogs (27-0) put on an offensive clinic in their 98-55 win over Norfolk State. It’s never a pretty sight on the scoreboard when the top overall seed plays against the bottom-feeder of the tourney, but it provided a snapshot for the nation of why the ‘Zags are the clear-cut favorite to win the whole thing and go undefeated. Coach Mark Few has a plethora of offensive weapons on this team and the bench was on display in this contest, contributing 40 points.
UCLA. The No. 11-seeded Bruins (19-9) looked impressive in a 73-62 win over Brigham Young, fueled by 27 points from Johnny Juzang. Mick Cronin has been criticized in the past for his NCAA Tournament record when he was coaching Cincinnati. Well, he’s 2-0 in this tournament, after UCLA was a bubble team that lost its last four. The Bruins’ win over Michigan State in the First Four and now BYU make them one of the biggest surprises of this tourney.
Iowa. The Hawkeyes (22-8) had no trouble with their No. 15-seeded opponent, Grand Canyon, making quick work of the Antelopes in a 86-74 victory. Luka Garza, a first-team All-American, paced Iowa with 24 points and six rebounds. This is a well-balanced Iowa team that’s a dark-horse to get to the Final Four. The pathway is favorable until a potential matchup with Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. Coach Fran McCaffery has a loaded team of guards that all thrive off of Garza for an in-and-out game that’s hard to stop.
Southern California. The Trojans (23-7) held off a scary mid-major in Drake 72-56, and they did so with a collective offensive attack. Seven-footer Evan Mobley (17 points, 11 rebounds) is USC’s NBA-ready big man and he was a difference-maker in this one, making the Bulldogs look athletically out-matched. Isaiah Mobley helped lead the charge as well with 15 points of his own. Coach Andy Enfield has a team poised to outplay its No. 6 seed in this tournament.
Kansas. The Jayhawks (21-8) trailed 46-38 at halftime vs. No. 14 seed Eastern Washington but came into their own in the second half thanks to a collective effort that saw five players score in double-figures. Kansas survived the upset bid and 35 points by the Eagles’ Tanner Groves, finally pulling away 93-84. Marcus Garrett (20 points), Ochai Agbaji (21 points), and David McCormack (22 points) paced Kansas in this victory — which was a character-building win after the team pulled out of the Big 12 tournament due to COVID-19 protocols and had three playersnot travel for Saturday’s game.
Florida State. The Seminoles (17-6) only led by one against their No. 13 seed opponent, UNC Greensboro, with five minutes left thanks to a big rally from the Spartans. But once FSU figured out how to manage against UNCG’s zone defense to make patient plays, coach Leonard Hamilton’s team was able to pull away for a 64-54 win and avoid a major upset against a dangerous mid-major squad from the Southern Conference. RaiQuan Gray (17 points) had several pace-controlling buckets that kept UNCG at arm’s length in the game’s final minutes.
Michigan. The Wolverines (21-4) were in cruise control in their 82-66 win over Texas Southern. More than anything, this game was an opportunity to re-strengthen team identity without key player Isaiah Livers, out indefinitely for this tournament. Can Michigan still get to the Final Four? They’ll need role players to step up and even larger roles for underclassmen stars Hunter Dickinson and Franz Wagner.
Oklahoma. The Sooners (16-10) fended off Missouri 72-68 in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed matchup and now draw a showdown with Gonzaga, the top overall seed in the tournament. Austin Reaves’ 23 points carried OU, which had lost five of six and wasn’t playing great basketball heading into Saturday. But neither was Missouri, and an NCAA Tournament win adjusts that narrative.
Texas. The Longhorns (19-8) had just won the Big 12 tournament and were a Final Four contender. No. 14 seed Abilene Christian wasn’t having any of it, using a stifling defense to force Texas into a season-high 23 turnovers in ending their in-state foe’s season with a 53-52 bracket-buster. For coach Shaka Smart, whose job status was in question at the start of the season, this is a big blow. He’s failed to deliver NCAA Tournament wins to the program and this season was supposed to be the breakthrough against that narrative. Not anymore.
Virginia. The Cavaliers (18-7) were unable to practice this week until Friday to meet COVID-19 protocol after being removed from the ACC Tournament last week due to a positive test. That all led to UVA not looking its best in a 62-58 loss to No. 13-seeded mid-major Ohio. The mixture of poor circumstance and a hungry Bobcats team was a nightmare for coach Tony Bennett’s squad as the reigning national champions once again suffered an early exit in the NCAAs – although this one not nearly as bad as 2018’s loss to No. 16 seed UMBC.
Connecticut. The Huskies (15-8) had played themselves off the NCAA Tournament bubble and were back at full strength with James Bouknight back in the lineup after missing a portion of the season with an injury. But the Terrapins outplayed UConn in virtually every facet in a 63-54 decision, ending the season earlier than expected for coach Dan Hurley’s group.
Virginia Commonwealth. The Rams never got a chance to participate in March Madness due to several positive COVID-19 tests within the program – just hours before they were set to compete against No. 7 seed Oregon. The game was ruled a no-contest and the Ducks automatically advanced to the second round. Considering how all teams had to show seven consecutive days of negative tests before entering Indianapolis and then daily tests were administered, it’s unclear how VCU players contracted the virus. For coach Mike Rhoades’ team it’s a challenging way to end the season after a year marred by COVID-19-realted cancellations and postponements.
UC Santa Barbara. The Gauchos (22-5) were one rimmed-out shot away from pulling off a stunner in a 63-62 loss to Creighton. Despite only shooting 5-for-21 from 3-point range, UCSB fed off high-energy hustle plays to take control of the game’s momentum – up until the final minute when the Bluejays barely escaped off a pair of Christian Bishop free throws. JaQuori McLaughlin had 13 points and seven assists in the near-bracket buster.
Iona. Coach Rick Pitino had his mid-major Gaels (12-6) on the brink of a huge upset, but ultimately Alabama pulled away for a 68-55 decision. Despite trailing by one at halftime and leading in parts of the second half, Iona ran out of gas against the SEC champions, as coach Nate Oats relied on his bench and star player, Herbert Jones (20 points) to put the upset bid to rest.
Georgetown. The Hoyas (13-13) weren’t competitive in a 96-73 loss to Colorado and simply looked happy to be there after unexpectedly winning the Big East tournament. This was a bad matchup for coach Patrick Ewing’s group at the No. 12 vs. No. 5 seed line given the Buffaloes’ versatility and depth. Colorado’s Jabari Walker came off the bench and was on fire from deep, canning five 3-pointers to finish with 24 points.
St. Bonaventure. It was just too much Cam Thomas for the Bonnies (16-5) to handle in a 76-61 loss. The freshman guard who averages 22.6 points, scored with ease in this No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed clash, with 27 points. St. Bonaventure was the best team in the Atlantic 10 but didn’t look like it belonged in the same building against its SEC opponent. Because of COVID-19, the Bonnies played seven fewer games than LSU this year. It showed. The loss hurts because an injury-plagued Michigan probably will be the second-round opponent, so there’s potential for a big upset.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.