The 2014 NCAA tournament got underway Thursday afternoon with a trio of games. Though second-seeded Wisconsin rolled, the other two contests brought some unexpected results, including one dramatic finish that kicked off March Madness on a high note.
The majority of brackets are likely eliminated from Warren Buffet's billion-dollar prize, but for those who want another look at their picks, check out an updated bracket from Turner Sports and all its essential links below:
So what should college basketball fans make of the early action from the round of 64? Here's a recap of what occurred, as well as what the results mean for the rest of the tournament.
(11) Dayton 60, (6) Ohio State 59
The one-and-done format of the tournament naturally heightens drama, and Dayton ensured that the tourney began with a thriller. After a seesaw final few minutes that saw multiple lead changes, Flyers guard Vee Sanford hit a game-winning bank shot with 3.8 seconds left, adding another jewel to the tournament's collection of dramatic finishes and busting innumerable brackets:
80.3% of ESPN's 11 million brackets had Ohio St over Dayton; only 19.7% still have a perfect bracket after 1 game— Mike Humes (@MikeHumesESPN) March 20, 2014
The loss ends the decorated career of Ohio State senior Aaron Craft. Craft hit the apparent winner with 10.8 seconds, and he had another opportunity at the buzzer but drew iron. The one-point loss was the latest in a recent string of heartbreakers for the Buckeyes:
According to @EliasSports, Ohio State's 6 straight NCAA Tourney losses by 5 points or fewer is the longest such streak all-time.— Jason McCallum (@ESPNJMac) March 20, 2014
Meanwhile, Dayton will move on to the round of 32 to face third-seeded Syracuse. In a preliminary evaluation of the matchup, it's clear the Flyers will need to shoot better to beat the Orange's 2-3 zone. Dayton shot just 3-for-13 from beyond the arc against Ohio State and will likely be forced into more attempts against Syracuse.
If there's one area in which the Flyers can exploit the Orange, however, it's their vastly superior depth. Dayton is an 11-deep team, with a multitude of different players who can catch fire and beat a team. Syracuse is a top-heavy team heavily reliant on Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair, so if the Flyers can limit turnovers and hit a few more outside shots, they could be on their way to a surprise Sweet 16 run.
(2) Wisconsin 75, (15) American 35
The Badgers took care of business in a romp over the Patriot League champions. Though American kept within a relatively manageable 10-point margin at halftime, Wisconsin used seven second-half three-pointers to pull away.
The Eagles are built upon getting high-percentage looks at the basket, opportunities Wisconsin largely erased in the second half. At one point, the Badgers were on a mind-boggling 59-11 run. The 40-point victory was one of the largest for any Big 10 team in tournament history:
Wisconsin's 40-pt win is the 3rd largest by a Big Ten school in NCAA tournament history (1993 Indiana won by 43; 2001 Illinois won by 42)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2014
Of course, the Badgers harbor much higher expectations. Wisconsin will face the winner of the Oregon-BYU game, a contest in which the Ducks are favorites. Many are sending Oregon through into the Sweet 16, though the game being in Milwaukee could provide an edge to the Badgers:
See a lot of Oregon over Wisconsin picks. Get the pick, but many are forgetting the #Badgers would esssentially be playing a home game.— Evan Flood (@Evan_Flood) March 19, 2014
Looking ahead, Oregon's uptempo style could certainly create problems for a Wisconsin squad that has had issues with quick slashing guards. Joseph Young is a fearless slasher and a 40 percent three-point shooter, and he would likely have plenty of opportunities in a potential matchup.
If BYU upsets the Ducks, Wisconsin would be facing a much more comforting matchup. The Cougars are a high-scoring team predicated on jump-shooters and tons of free throws. Bo Ryan's Wisconsin squads have always been known for their extraordinarily stingy man-to-man defense and should be able to contest every BYU jumper and slow down the Cougars offense.
Wisconsin will be favored against its next opponent regardless, even if one is trickier than the other. As today's contest showed, the Badgers possess significantly more firepower than in years past, making them a greater threat to embark on a Final Four run.
(9) Pittsburgh 77, (8) Colorado 48
In what was forecasted as the tightest game of the three early tipoffs, the Pitt used hot first-half shooting to jump on an overwhelmed Colorado team, cruising to a second-round victory. The Panthers shot 62 percent from the field in the first half, en route to a 46-18 halftime lead and their biggest tournament victory:
Pittsburgh: 29-point win is school's largest margin of victory in NCAA Tournament (previously 26 vs Wagner in 2003)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2014
Colorado was utterly hopeless without starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie. The Buffaloes have been inconsistent since Dinwiddie's season-ending torn ACL in January, and though wins over Stanford and Arizona State demonstrated some potential, it's clear Colorado was a shell of its early-season self:
Colorado getting smacked by Pittsburgh. Buffs just not the same team without Spencer Dinwdiddie. Not even close.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) March 20, 2014
For the Panthers, the 18-point performance from Talib Zanna was a highly encouraging showing. Pitt will almost certainly face top-seeded Florida in the round of 32, and while the Gators have few weaknesses, Kentucky demonstrated that strong interior play can keep a team close.
Besides Zanna, Pitt must also keep their spacing to create more scoring diversity. Five Panthers scored at least eight points in the victory over Colorado, reflecting better balance and ball movement. If Florida can hone in on Zanna and especially Lamar Patterson, Pitt will be in trouble.
The Panthers will not be expected to beat the Gators, though their tough man-to-man defense should give them a puncher's chance. Regardless of next round's result, Pitt can revel in a historic win—and their first tournament win since 2011.