Although there were only four upsets, there were plenty of scares to higher seeds including West No. 1 Gonzaga and East No. 3 Marquette Thursday during the NCAA Division I mens basketball tournament.
And although some of the lower seeds – such as Midwest No. 12 Oregon and East No. 12 California – might have been seeded lower than what they deserved, but the matchups meant only a few blowouts, and that is always good for the tournament.
How many people must have turned the television off after West No. 14 Harvard took down No. 3 New Mexico? Who wants to see East No. 4 Syracuse destroy No. 13 Montana by 50 points?
But that was one of the only points Thursday that didn’t have fans on their feet, intently watching until the final buzzer sounded.
And so here are my grades for the first round of games, which I was 15-1 with my predictions in my main bracket.
No. 3 Michigan State (W) vs. No. 14 Valparaiso – C
Michigan State dominated this game from start to finish, and there wasn’t much drama.
However, a 23-point, 15-rebound performance by senior center Derrick Nix was fun to see.
Stepping up in the tournament is different then stepping up in the regular season, and even against one-sided matchups, it was nice to see good basketball by Nix and company.
Let’s not forget senior guard Ben Boggs for Valparaiso either. He finished with 15 points and was 3-for-4 from downtown. He gave his team some life with those nice shots.
No. 4 Saint Louis (W) vs. No. 13 New Mexico State – C
This was another blowout that was only bad because of poor shooting. The game should have been much closer than it was, with New Mexico State finishing with 41 rebounds to Saint Louis’ 30.
But the Aggies went 17-for-61 from the field and 2-for-16 from downtown that ultimately clinched their doom.
Junior forward Dewayne Evans was impressive for Saint Louis with 24 points, but this game was a letdown because of what it could have been.
No. 6 Memphis (W) vs. No. 11 St. Mary’s (Calif.) – B
This is when the madness began in the Midwest region, and this was my only pick I missed on the first day. But it was close.
Both teams were back-and-forth for most of the way, but it was the wild ending that really got my blood flowing. Memphis had the game wrapped up with a seven-point lead in the final minute, but a barrage of 3-pointers brought St. Mary’s to within two.
Then Memphis turns the ball over with 2.2 seconds to give St. Mary’s a chance to win or tie. St. Mary’s went for the win and missed the shot, sending Memphis on.
But this game still doesn’t get an A, because St. Mary’s played horribly in the last part of the second half that put them in that tough position to begin with.
Plus, Memphis played horribly in the final two minutes that made this game close to begin with.
Still, this was the game that got me excited for the rest of the day.
No. 5 Oklahoma State vs. No. 12 Oregon (W) – B
The first upset of the day wasn’t really close, but Oregon had something to prove after being shunned by the selection committee and put in the tournament as a 12-seed.
Oregon outplayed Oklahoma State all game, and the energy made this game really fun to watch. It also sets up an interesting matchup in the second round against St. Louis that should be close.
But, in the end, Oregon played a game to remember with a 44-30 advantage on the boards and eight 3-pointers. Oklahoma State didn’t play incredibly poorly, but it just never got into an offensive rhythm, thanks to great defense by Oregon.
No. 1 Louisville (W) vs. No. 16 North Carolina A&T – F
This was one of the worst games all day. North Carolina A&T had no chance to win, and it showed early.
Louisville dominated on all sides of the ball, and I found myself switching to the other games more often than the rest.
No. 8 Colorado State (W) vs. No. 9 Missouri – D
Usually, these matchups are the closest, but the selection committee got it wrong here. Missouri was severely overmatched all game and looked like it was out of the game before the tip.
Colorado State also lit them up on the 3-point line with seven of 14 makes.
MIDWEST grade – C
This was one of the worst brackets in terms of matchups, but it wasn’t too bad.
No. 4 Michigan (W) vs. No. 13 San Diego State – C
The first half was very good in this game that made thoughts of upsets prevalent, but that soon subsided when Michigan showed why the Big 10 is one of the best conferences by putting on a clinic with defense and inside-outside offense.
The game wasn’t bad, but the endings are what is remembered. This ending was far from great.
No. 5 VCU (W) vs. No. 12 Akron – D
This game was completely awful from start to finish unless you are a VCU fan.
There was never a chance for Akron, and it was made apparent early with Shaka Smart’s gameplan.
VCU pressures teams into turnovers and scores on transition. While VCU did play really well, which was fun to see. The lack of drama hurt this grade.
SOUTH grade – C
Most of these games are on Friday, but the first two were nothing to brag about.
No. 6 Butler (W) vs. No. 11 Bucknell – B
This was a fun game, despite Butler having an advantage most of the way through.
Bucknell made a nice run late to make the game close, but both teams played well.
Butler was just the better team.
However, the lack of real drama knocks the game from an A, it was still quality basketball.
No. 3 Marquette (W) vs. No. 14 Davidson – A
I started thinking of Stephen Curry with how well Davidson played in what would have been an immense upset.
But Marquette was saved from a debacle with Davidson’s inexperience in the tournament. Davidson had this game won, because Marquette played awful.
However, this game had everything fans of the tournament want – a potential upset, a game decided in the final seconds and drama from start to finish.
No. 5 UNLV vs. No. 12 California (W) – A
The second upset of the day was a battle. California didn’t have this won until the end, and even then, it had to make free throws to keep UNLV back.
Both teams were incredibly talented, and it showed in this close game. California also had something to prove like Oregon after being seeded low out of the Pac-10.
No. 4 Syracuse (W) vs. No. 13 Montana – F
The only reason this game was watched was because it was the last game on, but there was nothing about it that screamed good basketball.
Syracuse shellacked Montana in every facet of the game.
EAST grade – A
Despite the horrible Syracuse game, these were all quality contests and had madness written all over it.
No. 8 Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Wichita State (W) – D
Another No. 8 vs. No. 9 that was nothing special. The teams combined for three 3-points out of 37 attempts.
The shooting was awful, and the rest of the stats were similar. However, Wichita State grabbed a lead, and Pittsburgh could never come back.
No. 1 Gonzaga (W) vs. No. 16 Southern – A
It is rare that a No. 1 vs. a No. 16 gets an A, but this game was one of the close ones that had fans cheering for Southern even if they never heard of them.
Southern played well enough to hang in there with some late 3-pointers, but in the end, it was hurt by taking too many deep shots.
Gonzaga’s junior forward Kelly Olynyk (21 points, 10 rebounds) saved his team from becoming the No. 1 seed ever to fall with a great assertion in the paint in the second half. This was a good game.
No. 6 Arizona (W) vs. No. 11 Belmont – C
This was a game that many had an upset with, and despite Belmont’s run early in the second half, Arizona was too much for Belmont all game.
It wasn’t a bad game, and Arizona was impressive. However, there wasn’t much to this game. Arizona was just that much better.
No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 14 Harvard (W) – A
I might be the only person besides Harvard fans that picked them to win, but I had a hunch.
Harvard is talented, and the Ivy League has a recent history of doing well in the tournament. And all of those aspects showed again.
New Mexico didn’t lose this game. Harvard won it with timely shots and really good defense.
And yet, the game had to be won at the free-throw line, and Harvard did just enough to survive and score its first tournament win in school history.
All around great storyline for a good game.
WEST grade – B
There was a mix of OK games and really good games, but overall, this was a nice bracket to watch.
OVERALL Thursday grade – B
It is really hard to get an A, especially with so many bad matchups, but don’t be fooled. The good games were worth their weight, and there was always something to watch, even when there was a blowout going on.
If Friday is like Thursday, we are in for great tournament.