Welcome to my first ever March Madness Journal! Even though the Indiana Hoosiers’s season is over, that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the two best sports days of the year. In fact, I’m going to cover all 32 first round games! Here are below are my game recaps and reactions written immediately after each game ended. I hope you all enjoyed the games and enjoy this little experiment:
Notre Dame 60, Princeton 58
Honestly Notre Dame is very lucky to have won this game, as the Irish really became sluggish towards the end. That and missed free throws from one of the best free throw shooting teams almost led to a buzzer-beating upset during our first game of the day. Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson were great for Notre Dame, but they’ll need a third player to step up if they want to continue to advance.
Virginia 76, UNC-Wilmington 71
The Seahawks took control early and started making the numerous people who picked the upset (including myself) feel smart. Then the Cavaliers countered with a 19-3 run over the last seven minutes of the first half to actually take a one-point lead. From there, London Perrantes did what senior leaders do and took over, scoring 19 of his 24 points in the second half as Virginia held off a late UNC-Wilmington run. Fun fact, I actually didn’t get to watch much of the final minute because they decided to run a test emergency broadcast alert during that time.
Butler 76, Winthrop 64
Aside from a 7-0 run that cut the deficit from 14 to 7, early in the second half, Winthrop just couldn’t keep up with Butler as the Bulldogs look poised for a long tournament run despite finishing just .500 in their last 10 games before the tournament. With the two close 5/12 matchups playing at the same time, I didn’t get to see much of the game but what I do know is that if Avery Woodson (team-high 18 points) can continue this hot shooting (6 of 10 from deep), this just became a very dangerous team that North Carolina, Kentucky, and UCLA probably would like to avoid.
Gonzaga 66, South Dakota State 46
Usually you don’t start getting excited about a possible “16 over 1” upset until you get to the second half, but you can’t blame us for getting interest in this attempt. South Dakota State took an early 2-0 lead and almost went the entire first half without letting Gonzaga get ahead. Considering the Bulldogs NCAA Tournament history, this looked like a real opportunity for a 16-seed to end the streak. Alas Gonzaga finally went ahead with 1:40 left in the first and never looked back.
West Virginia 86, Bucknell 80
Bucknell made this one interesting by constantly trying to make late run, but to West Virginia’s credit the Mountaineers continuously responded to each attempt and prevented the Bison from making that necessary run. West Virginia is able to get the bad taste of losing to Stephen F. Austin last year and now has a pretty good matchup against Notre Dame in the second round.
Florida 80, East Tennessee State 65
East Tennessee State kept this game close throughout the first half and even took the lead at the start of the second half, but for the most part Florida had control of this game. Devin Robinson had a big second half scoring 14 of his 24 points after halftime. Four minutes into the second half, Robinson hit back-to-back threes to turn the Gator’s one-point lead into a seven-point lead. The Buccaneers never got closer than five points during the rest of the game.
Middle Tennessee 81, Minnesota 72
Our first “upset” wasn’t really an upset since most people picked Middle Tennessee in their brackets. Still, it was an impressive win for the Blue Raiders as they weathered a 7-0 start from Minnesota and then survived a furious 14-2 run by the Gophers in the second half thanks to the heroics of Reggie Upshaw. Middle Tennessee will face Butler in the second round and as good as Butler was earlier in the day, these Blue Raiders are going to be a tough obstacle to get through.
Northwestern 68, Vanderbilt 66
Easily the best game of the first half of Thursday. Vanderbilt came from 15 back and took the lead with 1:36 left. What followed was five lead changes in the final minute, including the still baffling intentional foul by Matthew Fisher-Davis right after Riley LaChance gave Vanderbilt the lead with 14 seconds left. McIntosh sank both free throws and somehow the Wildcats escape with a win in their first ever NCAA Tournament game. You can guarantee that foul will find itself on “One Shining Moment”.
Xavier 76, Maryland 65
This was all about Trevon Bluiett and his amazing second half performance. After being held to just three points in the first half, Bluiett was unconscious as he scored 18 in the second half and in the process turned a one-point halftime deficit into a double-digit win. Interesting enough, this ends Maryland’s run of winning at least one NCAA Tournament game, something the Terrapins had done in their previous 12 tournament appearances.
Villanova 76, Mount St. Mary’s 56
This game was basically a rehash of the Gonzaga-South Dakota State game as the 16-seed leads for almost the entirety of the first half only for the one-seed to grab it’s first lead with a minute left and take the lead into halftime. Villanova, just like Gonzaga, dominated in the second half to make the game into a blowout. Unlike in the previous game, I never really felt like the Wildcats were in danger of losing.
Purdue 80, Vermont 70
Vermont was determined to pull an “Arkansas-Little Rock” on Purdue, but these Boilermakers are much more poised than in years past and demonstrated that in this game. The defense allowed nothing easy and Caleb Swanigan was the main reason recording three blocks in the final three minutes. Having proved they can win in the NCAA Tournament, Purdue should have the confidence going forward to be a real threat to the rest of the Midwest Region.
Saint Mary’s 85, VCU 77
The only way to describe Saint Mary’s first half performance was that they destroyed VCU by hitting on 64% of their shots as the Gaels led 46-31. Yet the Rams never quit and while they never retook the lead, they made life extremely difficult for Saint Mary’s in the second half thanks to an 18-4 run that made it just a two-point game with 10 minutes left. A lot of teams may have quit after the first half beatdown, but VCU never gave up and was a few bounces away from possibly winning the game.
Florida State 86, Florida Gulf Coast 80
Probably one of the more entertaining games I watched today, the pace of these two teams was fun to watch. I admit that I underestimated the Seminoles and am happy they proved me wrong. Dwayne Bacon (25 points and 9 rebounds) and Jonathan Isaac (17 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists) were just as good as advertised. As expected, Florida Gulf Coast made it difficult as they constantly hung around and wouldn’t let FSU run away with the game.
Wisconsin 84, Virginia Tech 74
Zach LeDay and Virginia Tech really looked like they may take control away from Wisconsin and pull ahead but the Badgers’ experience was just too much for the Hokies. This was a vintage performance from Bronson Koenig, who made eight three-pointers in route to a game-high 28 points. Nigel Hayes also came in clutch as the 58% free throw shooter hit 8 of 9 from the foul line and six big offensive rebounds. Wisconsin is way too good to be an 8-seed and I have a feeling we may see that even more when they give Villanova a dogfight on Saturday.
Iowa State 84, Nevada 73
A trendy 12-5 upset pick, Iowa State really showed from the beginning that they weren’t planning on exiting early. The Cyclones dominated the first half and were able to hold on in the second half to advance to a matchup with Purdue that should be a must-see game on Saturday. Monte Morris was a little more mistake-prone than advertised (4 turnovers) but still impressed me by almost posting a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Arizona 100, North Dakota 82
I’ll just be honest that I didn’t really watch much of this game because I was so tired by then plus it was blowout. From what I saw I can confirm Arizona is just as good as I thought. Just like Villanova and Gonzaga, they took care of business but Arizona never really struggled in its game. This looks like a well-oiled machine led by freshmen Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins who each had 20 points.