So, something called the "March Madness" started today.
Oh, you know about it?
And you're a big fan, you say?
Well then I'll skip the introductory blather and get right to the analyzin' and dissectin' and teeth-sinkin' goodness that is Winners and Losers.
In the slides ahead we'll look at all 16 games from the opening day of Round 2, with an eye toward who excelled and who disappointed.
We'll also talk about that terrible Billy Donovan UPS commercial. The universe commands it.
Note: All advanced statistics courtesy of KenPom.com unless otherwise noted.
Drama was in short supply during third-seeded Michigan State's 65-54 win over 14th-seeded Valparaiso.
Tom Izzo's team led 32-12 at one point during the first half, and rode the early cushion to an easy win.
Spartan forward Derrick Nix (6'9", 270) tallied 23 points and 15 rebounds. Meanwhile, Valpo's senior front court tandem of Kevin Van Wijk (6'8", 240) and Ryan Broekhoff (6'7", 215) shot a combined 2-of-17, finishing almost 19 points below their aggregate season average.
The big question heading into this game was whether the Crusaders' (185th nationally in effective height) could get their normal production down low against Michigan State (75th nationally in effective height) and its burly front line.
The answer came early: "Nope."
Credit Nix, Adreian Payne and the rest of Sparty's bigs for meeting the challenge against an accomplished senior duo.
Michigan State (3) -- 65
Valparaiso (14) -- 54
Basketball implications aside, the Round of 64 provides a critical first glimpse into the corporate flipbook that is the March Madness television commercial rotation.
We've got the Axe Apollo spaceman (mildly clever, if somewhat predictable), the Capital One parade of stars (Alec Baldwin's career post-30 Rock looks more depressing by the day) and this Grade A Television Acting Felony from the good folks at UPS.
I guess the idea is that Florida coach Billy Donovan holds staff meetings where he rails on about the virtues of careful planning and expects his associates to complete his sentences as he goes. Maybe they've had this exact meeting before? Unclear.
Problem is, Billy Donvan can't act. Like, at all.
The casting director's solution was to round up a posse of the world's least charismatic people and place them alongside Donovan in an effort to make the Florida coach look passably lifelike.
The result is what you see above.
Playing in his 10th career NCAA tournament game, 6'11" Butler senior Andrew Smith was matched up against Bucknell standout Mike Muscala, a second-time tournament participant.
The experience gap showed. Either that, or Smith is a world-class defender. Maybe both.
Point is, Smith iced Muscala in the post, holding the Patriot League POY to 9 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Thanks to some creative game planning by Butler coach Brad Stevens, Smith wasn't on Muscala all game. But he was the primary defender, and he did a masterful job in that role.
The Indiana native also grabbed 16 rebounds and added 14 points of his own to spearhead Butler's 68-56 win over the upset-minded Bison.
Butler (6) -- 68
Bucknell (11) -- 56
What a rotten way to end a brilliant career.
Bucknell won 92 games during Mike Muscala's four years on campus, during which time the star center scored 2,027 points, snagged 1,083 rebounds and won two Patriot League Player of the Year awards.
And then, on arguably the biggest stage of his career, Bucknell's all-time leading scorer does this: nine oints, 4-of-17 shooting, 0 blocks.
Hard to know which part of that which part of that is the opposition's doing and which part is statistical fluke. Watching the game, I can tell you that Muscala had some decent looks that didn't drop. He also struggled to gain deep post position against a team that likes to play rough.
In the end, his glaring offensive ineffectiveness was the obvious talking point in a game where Bucknell hung close through the latter stages of the second half. You kept waiting for Muscala to emerge and tilt the scales. He never did, and the Bison lost.
Muscala's prospects at the next level are a bit hazy.
ESPN's Chad Ford has him as the 55th best prospect in the 2013 class, teetering on the boundary between the late second round and rookie free agency. Draft Express sees him as a potential first rounder.
Of course that was all tabulated before the Butler game, one which seemed to expose Muscala's lack of upper body strength and limited athleticism
Hopefully this wasn't our final impression of Muscala, who can be a wonderfully fluid outside-inside threat when he's playing well. Hopefully he gets a shot to prove himself in the League.
But if he doesn't, and he winds up touring Europe for a decade or so, I suppose there are worse things.
Butler (6) -- 68
Bucknell (11) -- 56
In an afternoon session largely devoid of turmoil, perhaps the most notable result was Wichita State's surprisingly easy win over Pittsburgh in the West Region.
The Shockers took a 23-21 with 2:16 remaining in the first half and ran out front from there, blitzing Pitt with their relentless on-ball pressure and yeoman's work in the paint, the latter of which resulted in 41 free throw attempts.
Basically they out Big-Easted the Big East.
Seniors Cleanthony Early (21 points) and Malcolm Armstead (22 points) certainly deserve some love, but sophomore Tekele Cotton was the player that popped off the TV screen for me. Cotton scored only six points, but he played a team-high 33 minutes and tallied five steals.
Cotton's work against the Panthers' backcourt gave Wichita State a definitive defensive edge, and his timely three-pointer with 12:49 left blunted would prove to be Pitt's final comeback push.
From there, the rout was on.
Wichita State (9) -- 73
Pittsburgh (8) -- 55
The tale of woe that was Tray Woodall's final college game needs little elaboration, just a box score line.
2 points, 1-of-12 shooting, 0-of-5 from three, 1 assist, 5 turnovers, 5 fouls
The visuals pretty much followed from there.
Wichita State's defense deserves a good chunk of the credit, but even with all due given, it's hard to explain how a fifth-year senior can have the single worst shooting performance of his career in a game of such consequence. Luck, it would appear, is a cruel mistress.
And I'm not just throwing out the term "worst shooting performance of his career" as bait. In 139 previous college games, Woodall had never shot a worse percentage from the field in a game where he took more than six shots.
It was that bad.
Of course you feel for any kid going out under such bitter circumstances, but Woodall presents a particularly heartbreaking case. Virtually abandoned by his parents, the Brooklyn native dealt drugs as early as fifth grade to provide for he and his sister. That he even made it to college is remarkable, and far more important than how he performed against Wichita State in the first round of a basketball tournament/profit cow.
That kind of perspective, however, is hard to muster in moments like these.
In the post-game press conference, Woodall broke down in tears, telling reporters, "I'm sorry I let my team down."
Another reminder that sometimes this basketball stuff really sucks.
I don't want to infantilize Southern University with a bunch of hooey about how the Jaguars "gave it the ol' college try" in their upset bid against Gonzaga.
It still sucks to lose. And for Southern's four seniors (one of whom is Manute Bol's son!), it still sucks to realize that your college career is over mere minutes after thinking you might stage one of the greatest upsets ever.
So what I'll try to do here is contextualize what the Jaguars accomplished today against the 'Zags without belittling them or insinuating that they should be grateful to lose by such a small margin.
For example, Southern is just the second No. 16 seed since 1997 to lose by single digits against a No. 1 seed. And the Jaguars are just the third No. 16 ever to accomplish that feet against a team that finished the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll.
In fact, Southern's six-point margin of defeat is the smallest by any No. 16 seed playing against a reigning AP No. 1.
All of which is to that Southern accomplished something pretty remarkable in its 64-58 defeat to Gonzaga today.
Not quite as remarkable as a win would've been, but certainly something worthy of acknowledgment.
Gonzaga (1) -- 64
Southern (16) -- 58
If not for a heroic stretch of play by guard Vander Blue in the game's final 40 seconds, Marquette would be 25,000 feet in the air right now on its way back to America's Dairyland.
Our scene starts with the Golden Eagles down 56-51 to the fourteenth-seeded Davidson Wildcats, 41 seconds on the game clock.
A wing trey by Blue cuts the lead to two. After a pair of Davidson free throws, Marquette's Jamil Wilson sinks a follow-up three.
The Wildcats now have the ball under their own basket with ten seconds left and a one-point lead.
And. They. Turn. It. Over (more on that later).
With five seconds left and his team down one, Blue takes an inbound pass at half court, dribbles to the top of the arc, accelerates left and scoops home a driving layup to win the game for Marquette.
Blue finishes with a team-high 16 points, seven of them in the game's final two minutes.
Stephen Curry sheds a solitary tear (conjecture).
Marquette (3) -- 59
Davidson (14) -- 58
Now about that turnover.
As stated in the previous slide, Davidson had a one point lead over Marquette with 10 seconds left and possession of the ball.
After a quick inbound sequence, the ball finds its way to junior forward De'Mon Brooks. As Marquette defenders swarm toward him in an attempt to foul, Brooks spots senior guard Nik Cochran streaking up the left sideline.
Now the idea here is entirely defensible. If Brooks gets the ball to Cochran, the game probably ends. At the very least, Cochran (an 94.1 percent free throw shooter compared to Brooks' 76.9 percent) is a good bet to hit two freebies.
Problem is, Brooks overshoots Cochran and the ball careens out of bounds.
Strapping on our hindsight goggles, it's tempting to imagine Brooks accepting the foul and shooting the free-throws himself. He isn't Cochran from the stripe, but he isn't Chamberlain, either.
And even if he misses the FTs, Marquette would have to drive the length of the floor instead of receiving the ball at half court.
All that considered and weighted, the pass attempt was probably foolhardy. At the very least, it was unnecessary.
And like that, a beautiful upset-in-the-making goes bust.
An unwelcome site for Louisville fans on Thursday, as Saint Louis, the Midwest Region's No. 4 seed, turned in one of the afternoon's most dominating performances.
For those who haven't seen the Billikens live before, let me say this:
No, their defense isn't that good, but it's frighteningly close.
Jim Crews' team posted the seventh-best adjusted defensive efficiency this year thanks to a bruising style of play that should mesh well with postseason officiating tendencies.
Against New Mexico State, it resulted in a 64-44 win that saw the Aggies shoot 27.9 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from three.
Bandja Sy was the only NMSU player to make more than two field goals. He made six—on 20 attempts.
It helped that New Mexico State ranked a miserable 122nd in adjusted offensive efficiency. It will also help that Saint Louis' next opponent, twelfth-seed Oregon, ranks 120th.
Saint Louis (4) -- 64
New Mexico State (13) -- 44
Attention, mid-major conferences of America!
If you keep awarding your automatic NCAA tournament berths to the champions of your conference tournaments, this is what you're going to get.
And by this, I mean 20-point, opening-round losses like the one WAC "champion" New Mexico State suffered on Thursday.
The WAC had two pretty good teams this year in Louisiana Tech and Denver. Based on efficiency metrics, both clubs would have been better NCAA entrants than the Aggie team that got waxed by Saint Louis.
And guess what?
Both schools finished with better regular-season conference records than New Mexico State.
Yet somehow, the Aggies end up in the big dance after winning a conference tournament in which they didn't have to face either (arguably) superior team.
Louisiana Tech and Denver quietly advanced to the second round of the NIT earlier this week. Meanwhile, the WAC representative in the tournament that people actually watch got flogged.
How do you look at that if you're a mid-major conference commissioner and not see a lost opportunity?
Memphis ground out a 54-52 win over eleventh-seeded Saint Mary's, and senior D.J. Stephens was the difference.
At 6'5", the Killeen, Texas native is one of the nation's best, underszied interior defenders, and he proved it against the Gaels with eight blocked shots.
That number is a season and career high for Stephens, but it's not exactly a bolt from the blue. In fact, it's the ninth time this season that Stephens has recorded five of more blocks in a single game.
Memphis -- 54
Saint Mary's -- 52
Ah jeez, another one of these?
Like Bucknell's Mike Muscala and Pittsburgh's Tray Woodall, senior Matthew Dellavedova shouldn't have to defend the contributions he's made to his program over the past four years because of one bad game.
He probably will, however, feel some remorse over how it all ended.
As brilliant as the Australian was in an opening-round win over Middle Tennessee State, he was almost as bad against Memphis on Thursday.
Granted, his teammates didn't provide much help. Stephen Holt shot 1-for-10. Beau Levesque was 2-for-8, lowlighted by three consecutive three-point attempts that failed to reach the rim.
With the Memphis defense calibrated to stop him, Dellavedova needed his supporting cast.
However, that doesn't entirely excuse his 3-for-13 shooting performance, or his six turnovers.
Nor does it explain why he missed the basket altogether on a go-ahead three-point attempt from the corner as time expired. Fans who've watched the Gaels' all-time leading scorer for the past four years probably expected more. And I'm guessing Dellavedova did, too.
The common refrain around college basketball after Selection Sunday was that Oregon got the shaft as a 12 seed. Not just because the Ducks won 26 games and captured the Pac-12 tournament title, but because a handful of Oregon's worst losses came without freshman point guard Dominic Artis in the lineup.
If he hadn't already, Artis proved he's recovered from his foot injury with a steady offensive performance in Oregon's opening round upset over Oklahoma State. The California native scored 13 points (almost five above his season average) on 4-of-7 shooting.
His contributions on defense may have been even more important. In addition to his four steals, Artis helped slow down star OK State point guard Marcus Smart.
Ok, so "slow down" might be the wrong phrase. After all, Smart scored 14 points, grabbed 9 rebounds and racked up 5 steals.
But Artis at least kept his freshman counterpart from running wild, which is no small feat considering Smart projects as a top-five pick in June's NBA draft.
Oregon (12) -- 68
Oklahoma State (5) -- 55
I wouldn't say the NCAA Selection committee did a bad job with this year's field.
Really, it's hard to discern "good job" from "bad job" with a task so fluid and variable.
But every year, the Selection Committee makes a few decisions that the punditry identifies as "controversial" or "unjust." And said pundits generally judge the committee based on how the teams involved in those decisions fare
Two years back, VCU was one of the last teams in. The Rams validated that selection by making a run to the Final Four.
This year, many harped on the committee's decision to include Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders responded with an ugly opening round loss to Saint Mary's.
There was also a fair bit of consternation over Oregon being seeded 12th, with many of the opinion that Dana Altman's Ducks deserved a better draw.
The Ducks proved it by smoking Oklahoma State, 68-55.
Oh and those that felt Gonzaga hadn't earned a spot on the top line?
Well the Bulldogs' six-point victory over Southern in the Round of 64 wasn't exactly the mighty roar one might have expected from a deserving No. 1.
It seems like anyone that had a gripe with the Mighty Pickers last weekend now has ammo for the year ahead.
I doubt that's what the suits wanted to see.
The word "hero" might be a bit hyperbolic in this instance, but roll with me here.
By most any measure, it's been a disappointing year for Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski. The freshman seven-footer came in as the most heralded member of a loaded recruiting class, expected to play major minutes early for Sean Miller's Wildcats.
The minutes for the most part have been there, but Tarczewski's offensive limitations have kept him from dominating the way his class rank might have portended.
But he's remained a part of Miller's rotation, and he's contributed throughout as an improving defender and fantastic young rebounder.
Tonight against Belmont, Tarczewski augmented his dirty work with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the Wildcats' 81-64 win. He also helped limit Belmont's forwards to a combined seven points.
Not a bad March debut for the big fella (Bill Raferty voice), and a welcome one after he took a few lumps early.
Arizona (6) -- 81
Belmont (11) -- 64
For what feels like the zillionth year in a row, the Belmont Bruins came into March as a sexy upset pick.
And for what feels like the zillionth year in a row, the Bruins lost their first tournament game.
In actual countin' terms, "zillionth" scales out to six of the last eight years. But it's still a lot of swings and misses for a program that's (a) been so successful and (b) regularly rates as one of the most dangerous tournament teams according to generally reliable metrics.
The Bruins shoot well from three. They're efficient on both sides of the ball. They force scads of turnovers.
Those things combined usually spell trouble for a higher-seeded foe. And yet in Belmont's case, the results seem to be getting worse.
With their loss at Arizona on Thursday, the Bruins have been outscored 227-181 in their last three tournament games.
With Cal's 64-61 win over UNLV, the much-maligned Pac-12 finished Thursday with a 3-0 record in tournament play.
That mark included two 12-5 upsets: Oregon's triumph over Oklahoma State and the above Cal win.
And considering the number of people who picked against Arizona in it's 6-11 game against Belmont, you could argue that all three victories fell somewhere between "surprise" and "escape" on the upset spectrum.
Tournament seeding suggested that the committee thought the Pac-12 was the country's weakest power conference. Today, at least, the conference room warriors were wrong.
California (12) -- 64
UNLV (5) -- 61
As opening Thursdays go, this one was pretty bland.
Eleven of the 16 games were decided by double digits, and two of the three upsets we saw were courtesy Power Six teams (Oregon and Cal). Doubt anyone is gonna wax nostalgic about the time tiny Oregon toppled mighty Oklahoma State—except maybe when Phil Knight corners T. Boone Pickens in the billiards room at the next annual Pennybags Ball.
On those rare occasions when a plucky David did rise up to challenge its Goliath, it seemed everything broke the Philistines' way.
Saint Mary's missed a potential game-winner against Memphis. Southern got burned by a long rebound in the waning seconds against Gonzaga. Davidson let a sure thing slip away against Marquette.
Harvard finally broke through in the nightcap, but by then, many of the March revelers (at least those stationed on the East Coast) were snug under the covers.
Just an all-around bad day for bracket-busting. And a good one for hegemony, I suppose.
The VCU head coach watched his Rams dismantle Akron on Thursday, and Smart's Havoc system was the obvious difference maker.
The Rams "only" forced 21 turnovers, but VCU's constant pressing clearly gassed the undermanned Zips, to the point where it was almost uncomfortable watching them wheeze up and down the court.
By midway through the second half, VCU was getting any shot it wanted. The Zips couldn't muster the stamina to contest, a rare display of physical submission in a game that meant so much to both sides.
The win was yet another feather in Smart's well-plumed cap, his third consecutive year with an NCAA tournament win and his seventh overall.
There's always been an assumption that Smart's strategic proclivities are somehow gimmicky, and only suited for a certain (presumptively inferior or one-dimensional) type of recruit. But you have to wonder how much longer elite high school prospects will watch VCU undress teams on national television before saying, "You know what, I want to be part of that."
And if that does happen, the other 346 Division I college basketball are screwed.
VCU (5) -- 88
Akron (12) -- 42
As Akron limped ingloriously to the finish line, it was hard not to think of the Zip who wasn't there.
Starting point guard Alex Abreu was suspended indefinitely on March 7 after police charged him with trafficking marijuana. Outside star center Zeke Marshall, Abreu was easily Akron's most important player.
Matched up against a pressing team like VCU, his role as primary ballhandler would have been ever more vital.
Now it's unlikely that Abreu alone could have accounted for the 46 difference between the sides. But deficits against VCU tend to have a multiplying effect, and Abreu could have kept things manageable for longer.
At the very least, he would have been an extra body for coach Keith Dambrot to throw on the alter, and perhaps might have saved his teammates some excruciatingly public pain in the process.
Jim Boeheim has enjoyed big wins aplenty during his Syracuse career, but this one had to feel extra sweet.
The sharks had been circling his program all week amid reports of an ongoing NCAA investigation. Plus, all the pundits were saying his Orangemen were in for a dogfight against Montana.
The grumpy old man was finally getting his comeuppance, right?
By the second TV timeout, Syracuse led Montana 20-8. By the fourth it was 30-11. By the 14-minute mark of the second half, it was 55-17.
Need we elaborate?
Syracuse (4) -- 81
Montana (13) -- 34
The Colorado State-Missouri game figured to be a showdown between Colorado State's front court of Pierce Hornung and Colton Iverson and Missouri's backcourt of Phil Pressey, Jabari Brown and Keion Bell.
Instead, it was a CSU guard that stole the show.
Dorian Green dropped 26 points on the Tigers, a tally that included 11 free throws and 3 three-pointers. The output was a season high for the senior, and the second-highest scoring game of his Colorado State career.
Colorado State (8) -- 84
Missouri (9) -- 72
Consider this slide subject to change, since we don't know yet why Missouri senior Keion Bell didn't appear in the second half of Missouri's opening-round loss to Colorado State.
The most recent update I can find on Twitter is exactly that: We're aware he didn't play. We're trying to find out why.
We do know, however, that he was unavailable to his team as the season slipped away.
And if the reason wasn't injury or some other unforeseen calamity, you have to feel that the "goat" label is a distinct possibility.
If it weren't for all the smarmy Harvard grads working in various levels of media and all the haughty prose they'll be producing by the reamful on Friday morning, the Crimson's win over New Mexico would be the game of the night.
Ok, so it is the game of the night. But please note that I said it reluctantly.
Consider first that Harvard lost two top players before the season started because of an academic cheating scandal. Also consider that the Crimson were at risk of losing the Ivy League automatic bid (which is awarded in accordance with regular-season results) as late as March 2.
Finally consider that Harvard has fielded a Division I basketball team every single year the NCAA tournament has been contested. This is the program's first ever win.
Wesley Saunders and Laurent Rivard were brilliant for the Crimson against New Mexico's usually stout defense. On the other side of the ball, Tommy Amaker's club managed to harass Lobo stars Tony Snell and Kendall Williams into a combined 5-of-18 from the floor.
The best news for Harvard fans is that only one of the seven Crimson players that entered the game on Thursday night was a senior.
Harvard (14) --68
New Mexico (3) -- 62
Ok, so Colorado State beat up on Missouri, but overall it's been a miserable tournament for the supposedly mighty Mountain West.
The nine-team conference placed five teams in the Field of 68.
Boise State lost in the First Four.
UNLV dropped a close one to twelfth-seeded Cal.
New Mexico (widely considered a darkhorse contender for the national title) went down in stunning fashion to Harvard.
This isn't the first time the MWC has come into March highly regarded only to disappoint. Last year, the league's four entrants went a combined 1-4. Two years before that, the ledger stood at 2-4.
And now this year, the league that led the country in conference RPI has eighth-seeded Colorado State and seventh-seeded San Diego State carrying the banner. Looks like another underwhelming March for the MWC.
As Trey Burke's player of the year candidacy gained momentum, the Michigan Wolverines took on a one-man-band type of feel. Most that was probably media myopia, but tonight was a nice reminder that the other three guards in John Beilein's starting lineup can play a little, too.
With Burke looking out of sorts and South Dakota State clearly keying on the sophomore point guard, Glenn Robinson III, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Nik Stauskas combined for 55 of Michigan's 71 points.
Burke, meanwhile, went 2-of-12 and finished with just six points
The Michigan is as diverse as it needs to be, and on this night, the featured players filled the vacuum.
Additional kudos go out to the Wolverines defense, which did a lockdown job on South Dakota State star Nate Wolters. The Michigan D has been suspect at times, but it looked solid on Thursday against a guard with next-level skills.
Michigan (4) -- 71
South Dakota State (13) --56
They lost, by a lot.
Louisville won, by a lot.
We'll always have Dayton, my dear Aggie friends.
Louisville (1) -- 79
North Carolina A&T -- 48