We're wrapping up the first round of the NCAA tournament, and it has been brilliant. The sun has set on the best 36 hours of the year, and the tradition truly unlike any other has come to an end.
For starters, this was the first time 13, 14, and 15 have won on the same day. The seeds were sown last night when Cal announced they had lost their point guard to a broken hand he suffered in practice. Without him guiding the offense, they only put up .90 points per possession against Hawai'i. The Rainbow Warriors turned the Bears over 16 times, which was just enough for them to pull the 77-66 upset.
That was big news for about ten minutes.
Not to be outdone, Middle Tennessee just came out and put it on Michigan State. The 15 seed opened up a 15-2 lead to begin the game and, despite the fact that Sparty reeled it all the way back to within a single possession, held on and eventually pulled away down the stretch. Matt Costello dropped 22 on 9-10/0-0/4-5 shooting, but he didn't get the ball enough to drag his team back into the lead. MTSU ended up closing comfortably and moving on.
In a matchup of similarly styled teams, Bob Huggins's West Virginia played one of the most entertaining games of the night against Thomas Walkup. Sure, there were other guys out there, but the Stephen F. Austin star went for 33/9/4 with a block and 4 steals and hit 19-20 from the line to lead the Lumberjacks past WVU. West Virginia's vaunted press forced just 7 turnovers on 70 possessions in the game.
Then UNI hit what was briefly my favorite buzzer-related shot of the night. After Texas tied the game, the Panthers eschewed the timeout, giving Paul Jespersen time for a quick run to half court to do this:
That was awesome... until this. Saint Joseph's simple pick-and-pop action undid a team that ostensibly prides itself on the competitive fire and defensive genius of its coach. They rushed the ball down the court, got it to Octavious Ellis and watched him rise for the game-tying layup. Except he didn't lay it up. Instead, he did this:
It didn't count. The ball didn't leave his hands in time, meaning that he got to end his career with the ball perched above the rim, locked in perpetual futility.
Yeah, it was a good day.