The first round of the 2023 NCAA Tournament is officially in the books. Sit back, take a breath, let it wash over you. We’ve experienced 32 games in the span of less than 48 hours. That is a lot of basketball. And there’s more coming, baby.
But before we look ahead we must first look back on the second day of first-round action, because man, oh, man there is a lot to process here. Friday had a little of everything from crooked rims to blown leads, big comebacks to big performances, tears and triumphs. That’s a full day in the life of March Madness.
And as if that wasn’t enough to whet your college hoops appetite, No. 1 seed Purdue’s stunning loss to No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson — a team that would not have been in the Big Dance if not for a technicality after losing in its conference tournament — took the cake as the biggest result of the day. Purdue took the tumble becoming just the second No. 1 seed in tournament history to fall to a 16 seed, joining the ranks of infamy that also includes 2018 Virginia.
So, yeah, as you might guess: Purdue is an obvious loser from the final day of Round 1 as we put a bow on Friday. FDU is an obvious winner.
But there were also plenty of other notable results across the landscape that popped. So to sort out the noisiness of the day, we’ve got all the biggest ones from each of those categories below.
Fairleigh Dickinson is the smallest team in college basketball and one of the smallest of the game’s modern era. But the No. 16 seed Knights pulled off a gargantuan upset by taking down No. 1 seed Purdue 63-58 in the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. Purdue’s 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey finished with 21 points and 15 rebounds against pint-sized FDU, but his teammates combined to make just 12 of 42 shots.
Just a year ago, FDU finished 4-22. The private university in Teaneck, New Jersey, opted for a reboot and hired Tobin Anderson from nearby St. Thomas Aquinas College, a Division II school. Anderson brought three starters with him, kept a few players from the previous roster and welcomed a handful of newcomers. Somehow, in a matter of months, he blended it all together into a team capable of pulling one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.
“We’re all irritated. We all have a chip on our shoulder,” FDU coach Tobin Anderson said. “People say we shouldn’t be here, we shouldn’t be in the tournament. We want to prove people wrong. And now I think people see that we do belong.”
The latest postseason failure for Purdue — a 63-58 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson — was just another string of disappointing NCAA Tournament losses for the Boilermakers. It marked the third time in three straight years it has fallen to a double-digit seed and second time in as many years it has been booted out of the bracket by a No. 15 seed or worse after falling last season to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s in the Sweet 16.
“The form within our system in terms of recruiting is to have the balance of great bigs with skill [around them],” Painter said. … “It’s frustrating. It kind of just mounted for us and got worse at times. I think we shot one out-of-rhythm 3, maybe another one. But the gameplan is not for people to stay in there on them and contest, it’s to stay in on [Edey] and then not even contest.”
To all who had Florida Atlantic and Fairleigh Dickinson facing off against each other in the second round with a Sweet 16 berth and a trip to Madison Square Garden at stake in the East Region: congrats! (And also, you’re lying!) No. 9 seed FAU advanced past No. 8 seed Memphis in its first-round game Friday to draw No. 15 seed FDU after outlasting the Tigers for aa 66-65 victory — its first NCAA Tournament win in program history. The Owls won it with flair after grabbing the lead in the final seconds and defending Memphis’ would-be game-winner tightly.
With the win, FAU improves to 32-3 on the season and thrusts itself squarely in the mix to be a potential Cinderella-in-waiting.
Xavier has Jack Nunge to thank for why it avoided overtime in a 72-67 win over upset-minded No. 14 seed Kennesaw State. Xavier’s seven-footer blocked a potential game-tying shot from KSU’s Spencer Rodgers with five seconds left to preserve a victory that was anything but easy for the Musketeers. Making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, Kennesaw State led 61-48 midway through the second half before Xavier buckled down to avoid catastrophe. Jerome Hunter led Xavier with 24 points, and the Musketeers held the Owls to just 31.3% shooting in the second half.
No. 14 seed Kennesaw State saw its season come to an end in a 72-67 loss to No. 3 seed Xavier – so sue me, I’m skirting the rules here about winners and losers by definition! – but it was a great day for KSU on the whole. The Owls, who won three games three seasons ago under then-first year coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, introduced themselves to the world as a fun-loving team who wore it all on their sleeves in a near-upset of one of the best teams in the bracket – on and off-the-court. While the Musketeers came back to retake the lead late and delivered KSU a loss, Abdur-Rahim after the game was happy and reflective of his journey in shedding tears of joy in one of the most heartfelt moments of the tournament.
While Iowa State was warming up before the game, event staff halted their session to check if the rim was level. They determined that it was not, prompting them to make an adjustment to it during the pregame that affected their warmup time. That immediately led to a stumble of epic proportions out of the block, as Pitt raced out to a 22-2 lead and ISU – which totaled two points in the opening 10 minute – missed its first 11 shot attempts of the game. It was just that kind of day for Iowa State, which fell 59-41 to the No. 11 seed Panthers.
But before ISU sympathizers blame the rim for the performance, consider this: Iowa State actually shot worse in the second half (17.2%) on the other basket than it did in the first. The bottom line is that the Cyclones finished the season with a 6-12 record over their final 12 games and had been struggling offensively for several weeks. Blame the rims if you want, but Iowa State simply isn’t a good offensive team.
At one point in the second half of No. 2 seed Marquette’s 78-61 win over No. 15 seed Vermont, sophomore guard Kam Jones scored 18 straight points for the Golden Eagles. With point guard Tyler Kolek slowed by a hand injury, Jones’ offensive explosion came at the perfect time as Marquette kept flying high following a Big East Tournament title. Jones scored all but one of his game-high 19 points after halftime. When his spurt began, the Golden Eagles led by only five. When it ended, they were ahead by 17. Next up for Marquette is a showdown with No. 7 seed Michigan State in what could be an epic battle.
Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner scored a career-high 31 points on 11 of 14 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots as the Bluejays bested NC State 72-63. The seven-footer made 11 of 14 free throws and even hit the one 3-pointer he attempted. Terquavion Smith countered with 32 points and some highlight-reel plays for the Wolfpack, but Creighton was just too efficient in the second half. Kalkbrenner scored 20 ofter the break while thoroughly out-dueling NC State big man DJ Burns. Creighton will play No. 3 seed Baylor in a compelling second-round matchup.
When VCU clinched its spot in the NCAA Tournament with a win over Dayton in the A-10 Tournament title game on Sunday, the Rams held the Flyers to just 20% shooting in the second half. On Friday, VCU ended up on the receiving end of a defensive beatdown as the Rams shot just 22.2% in the second half of a 63-51 loss to No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s. VCU made just one basket from the floor in the final eight minutes as the Gaels advanced to the second round for the second season in a row. Typically this season, it was the Rams who imposed their will on opponents through tenacious defense, which made the nature of Friday’s loss a particularly bitter pill.
In a preview of future Big Ten battles to be, No. 7 seed Michigan State on Friday got the better of current Pac-12 member and future Big Ten member in Round 1 with a 72-62 victory. The Spartans were cruising well into the second half with a lead that ballooned to as many as 15 before USC made a late charge, but Michigan State – down a whiteboard after a Tom Izzo hissy fit – managed to make free throws when it needed and relied on Joey Hauser to carry it down the stretch to a win. Hauser finished with a game-high 17 points to move Sparty into Round 2, setting up a showdown on Sunday against his former team, No. 2 seed Marquette, with a Sweet 16 berth on the line.
We know Baylor can hang points on anyone in college basketball – it has the No. 2 offense in adjusted efficiency ratings at KenPom on the season – but its defense has at times this season been … how shall we put this … unreliable? Yeah, unreliable.
That wasn’t the case in the first round, though, as it stifled a long and athletic USCB team in an opening-round 74-56 win, limiting the Gauchos to their second-lowest scoring total all season while forcing 14 turnovers in the process. The missing piece with this Baylor team and why it has not been considered among the top tier of teams as a contender has been because of its defense – and deficiencies on that side generally – but Friday was a flash of just how dangerous the Bears can be when they’re working together in lockstep on that end.
“Credit our guys in the second half for making some adjustments and really dialing in defensively,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew.
Going into the final two minutes, No. 11 seed Arizona State had No. 6 seed TCU’s backs to the wall with a lead and a chance to move in to the second round with the Horned Frogs flailing. But ASU made just one shot in the game’s final 3:24 — a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left — which tied the game but was not enough after TCU did this just before the final buzzer:
For Indiana to make a deep run this NCAA Tournament, it will need its stars to shine.
So far, so good. So, so good.
Trayce Jackson-Davis had a monstrous game for the No. 4-seeded Hoosiers in a 71-60 win over No. 13 seed Kent State, turning in 24 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and five assists in one of his most complete outings of the season. The gaudy stat line made him the first player since 1986 (!) to tally 20+ points, 5+ assists and 5+ blocks in an NCAA Tournament game.
“They were tremendous tonight,” IU coach Mike Woodson said of both Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, the latter of whom finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. “It was a total team effort from everyone. This team can score the ball. To hold them 60 points? Our defense was really good tonight.”
One of the most efficient outings of the first-round belonged to Sanogo, the UConn big man who delivered a 23-point, 13-rebound performance Friday in an 87-63 win over No. 13 seed Iona. Sanogo went 13 of 17 shooting and made quick work of the Gaels, doing so in only 28 minutes of play. That’s the fewest minutes play in a game in which someone scored at least 25 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds in an NCAA Tournament game since 1984, per CBS research.
Drake led 55-47 with under six minutes remaining but could not close it out against No. 5 seed Miami as the ‘Canes finished on a 16-1 run to win 63-56. Nijel Pack led Miami with 21 points and Wooga Poplar added 15. For Miami, it must have been nice to be on the winning side of a big second half rally. Earlier this season, the Hurricanes were on the wrong end of the ACC’s largest comeback win ever when Florida State roared back from 25 down to beat the Hurricanes.
Grand Canyon jumped out to a 28-21 lead in the first half on No. 3 seed Gonzaga, putting the Bulldogs on early upset watch. But from there, the Zags handled business and escaped with an 82-70 victory. Gonzaga shot 53.6% from the floor and played most of the game’s final 26 minutes like a veteran team on a mission. At one point, the Zags led by 22 before easing off a bit down the stretch. This isn’t the best-seeded team that coach Mark Few has had in recent years, but it made a cool-headed debut after some early adversity on Friday.
Antonio Reeves and Jacob Toppin combined for 40 points as No. 6 seed Kentucky beat Providence 61-53 and secured some redemption for last season’s first-round loss to No. 15 seed Saint Peter’s. The Wildcats also dominated on the glass as Oscar Tshiebwe pulled down an obscene 25 rebounds, which helped UK to an 18-2 edge in second-chance points. Providence’s leading scorer Bryce Hopkins scored just seven points on 2-of-9 shooting as he faced off against his former team.
While fellow No. 3 seeds Xavier and Baylor stumbled out of the gates in their respective first-round games on Friday, Kansas State did not. K-State led for all but about 65 seconds in a near wire-to-wire win over No. 14 seed Montana State to advance in a 77-65 win. The Wildcats’ stars showed up in a big way as Markquis Nowell had 17 points and 14 assists and Keyontae Johnson added 18 points and eight boards. The win advances them in to the second round where they will face Kentucky.
“Kill ’em,” Nowell said postgame on his thoughts about a matchup with Kentucky. “It’s simple as that. Kill ’em. They’re another team in our way, and we’re trying to advance to the next round. They’re a really good team with a really good coach, but they’re in our way and we gotta get it done.”
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