As happens every year, pundits have proclaimed this year the best ever for games in the first round. This year, they may have an argument. The tournament took a moment to spark to life, but by the time Octavius Ellis forgot all about the game situation, most fans had seen a dazzling array of great finishes, huge upsets, and the kind of action that we all think about during the dark, dank days of February. Start chronologically, here are the great games and stories so far.
Yale upsets Baylor
Yale led at the half and then clung desperately to that lead as the Bears came back late. Makai Mason went for 31/6/4 and the Bulldogs propelled themselves into a second round matchup with the fellow silver spooners of Duke.
Josh Hagins carries UALR over Purdue
The Trojans wouldn't go away, wouldn't go away, and finally erased a 13 point Purdue lead before Josh Hagins took the game over and dragged his team into the second round with a 31/7/6 performance to which he added five steals for good measure. Hagins hit big shot after big shot in the upset.
The air conditioning goes out in the Lexus
While Sean Miller conducted one of the least asked for one man wet t-shirt contests of all time, Wichita State stormed to a huge lead and never looked back. The Wildcats didn't make a significant run and, just like that, Arizona was gone.
Rodney Bullock sneaks right
With Providence needing a basket to win the game, all eyes were on Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Ed Cooley set up a play where Dunn screen for Bentil, but it took too long to develop. The unsung Rodney Bullock snuck out to the right and collected the inbound pass for the game winning bucket.
"I'm not wasting a second on next year"
Tom Izzo was incredibly classy after the game, but even his grace under fire was merely a footnote to Middle Tennessee's shocking win over the Spartans. Reggie Upshaw led the way for the Blue Raiders as Denzel Valentine and MSU never made the run that everyone thought was coming. In the second half MTSU went toe to toe and outslugged the Big Ten power 49-46 to hold a hard fought first half lead and secure the win.
Woodbury pushes Iowa to the win
Iowa faltered down the stretch of the regular season after putting together 3/4 of a great year. It looked like Temple was going to force them into a second overtime just to make the second round of the tournament when Adam Woodbury cleared himself some space and then had the presence of mind to know he only had time to tip in the game winner.
SFA handles the pressure
West Virginia was a trendy Elite Eight pick that many experts thought would give Xavier fits in a potential Sweet 16 matchup. Instead, the Mountaineers only turned Stephen F. Austin over seven times and Thomas Walkup went for 33/9/4 and buried a dagger of a left wing three pointer to seal the win. This win meant that a 15, 14, and 13 seed had won on the same day for the first time ever. Hawaii's earlier walkaway from California provided the defeat of the four seed that was required.
The last three minutes
The final three real time minutes of first round play were an encapsulation of Friday's insanity. Texas and UNI played an excellent back and forth game that saw both coaches let their teams play the final 20 seconds despite having timeouts left. Texas tied the game with 2.7 seconds left on an Isaiah Taylor runner. Unfazed, the Panthers inbounded to Paul Jesperson who tossed in a game winning three pointer from half court.
Three minutes and ten seconds later, Octavius Ellis beat the buzzer himself with a dunk that looked to propel UC into overtime. Octavius, however, did not beat the light around the backboard that indicated time had expired. The Bearcats were beaten after St. Joe's ran a simple pick and pop action to get Isaiah MIles a three pointer that he buried. Troy Caupain went the length of the court to find Ellis, but the senior simply didn't let go of the ball in time and a review proved the officials had the call correct. St. Mick Cronin whined that the referees had again cost his team their win but, at the end of a wild first round, the team that earned the win had advanced.