NCAA Tournament 2017: Winners and Losers of Day 1

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2017

NCAA Tournament 2017: Winners and Losers of Day 1

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    They don't get nearly as much fanfare as Thursday or Friday's action, but since every game matters in the NCAA tournament, the First Four contests in Dayton, Ohio, deserve their time in the spotlight.

    Tuesday marked the official start of the 2017 tourney with a pair of play-in games. One featured automatic qualifiers from small conferences hoping to add to their limited postseason history, while the other pitted squads who struggled with consistency all season but now have just as much a shot to make a deep run as anyone in the field. After all, at least one First Four team has advanced to the round of 32 every year since the games were added in 2011.

    What we saw on the first night of the tournament is going to pale in comparison to what we'll witness this weekend. For now, though, what happened in Dayton is all that matters.

    We've highlighted the most noteworthy things from Tuesday's games, both good and bad, just in case you were planning to wait until Thursday to fuse yourself to the couch.

Winner: Mount St. Mary's Guard Junior Robinson

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    He's the smallest guy in the NCAA tournament, but on Tuesday, Junior Robinson was a big man on the court.

    The 5'5" junior guard had a game-high 23 points to help guide Mount St. Mary's (20-15) to a 67-66 win over New Orleans in a battle of No. 16 seeds. He came in averaging 14.1 points and shooting 41.7 percent, but he shot 9-of-14 overall and hit three of his four three-point attempts against the Privateers.

    The only thing Robinson wasn't able to do Tuesday was show off his dunking ability. He had one chance to do so in the second half when he got ahead of New Orleans on a fast break, but he lost control of the ball just before going up for a slam.

    Next up for Robinson and the Mountaineers: a trip to Buffalo and a first-round game Thursday against top overall seed and defending national champion Villanova. The Mount will be decided underdogs, but perhaps an opportunity will present itself for Robinson to go up and flush it home.

Loser: New Orleans' Final-Minute Strategy

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    Playing in its first NCAA tournament since 1996 and seeking its first tourney win since 1987, New Orleans (20-12) found itself down three entering the final minute. And from that point on, very little went right for the Privateers, much of it because of their own doing.

    Christavious Gill turned it over with 53 seconds left, but New Orleans got the ball back thanks to a steal by Nate Frye, who was fouled on the play with 35 seconds to go. He made two free throws to narrow the margin to one.

    That's when the head-scratching decision-making really began. Rather than foul early to ensure it had a good amount of time for another possession, New Orleans played straight up, thus enabling Mount St. Mary's to eat up a ton of time. The Mountaineers obliged, with star Junior Robinson taking an errant jump shot at the very end of the shot clock.

    New Orleans' Erik Thomas pulled down the rebound with four seconds left, and when a timeout was called, only 2.6 seconds remained. That left the Privateers with few options, as they had to inbound the ball from under the opposing basket, and they settled on a poorly thrown baseball pass that was intercepted near midcourt. 

    New Orleans getting into the tourney after dropping out of Division I for a few seasons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was a great story. It just didn't have the kind of ending the Privateers hoped for.

Winner: Travin Thibodeaux's One Shining Moment

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    Anyone who's stuck around through the post-championship game celebrations, interviews and commentary knows one of the best parts of the NCAA tournament doesn't come until the very end. That's when "One Shining Moment" airs, the music-backed clip montage that reminisces on the tourney and tends to create some teary eyes.

    A good portion of the highlights will be from later in the proceedings, but a fair number of moments come from the early rounds and even the First Four. If there's a candidate for inclusion from the Mount St. Mary's-New Orleans game, it might be Travin Thibodeaux's monster dunk over multiple defenders.

    With New Orleans trailing 40-35 early in the second half, Thibodeaux was fed on the baseline and wasted little time going up with the ball. Those were two of the 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the 6'8" junior forward in the Privateers' 67-66 loss.

    That memory will be far more enjoyable than another involving Thibodeaux, one later in the second half when he and teammate Christavious Gill got into a minor scuffle near their bench.

Winner: Kansas State Guard Wesley Iwundu

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    Kansas State made the NCAA tournament in head coach Bruce Weber's first two seasons in 2013 and 2014, though that was done using mostly players left over by former head coach Frank Martin. Armed with mostly his own recruits in 2014-15, Weber and Kansas State went 15-17 and dealt with constant turmoil related to ineffective play and player discipline.

    Weber cleaned house after that season, dismissing some players while others opted to leave on their own. An exception was Wesley Iwundu, a senior who is the only remaining member of the Wildcats' 2013 recruiting class. (That class also included Marcus Foster, who's in the NCAA tourney with Creighton.)

    He's finally reaping the benefits of that loyalty, helping K-State beat Wake Forest 95-88 for its first NCAA tourney win since 2012.

    Iwundu, who came in averaging 12.5 points, had 24 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Wildcats (21-13). He was 6-of-9 from the field and made 11 of 13 free throws.

Loser: Wake Forest Guard Keyshawn Woods

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    John Collins is Wake Forest's top scorer and rebounder, while Bryan Crawford is the all-around talent. The sophomore duo was integral in the Demon Deacons' first NCAA tourney bid 2010, and they combined for another strong performance Tuesday with 46 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in the 95-88 loss to Kansas State.

    If Keyshawn Woods had contributed his fair share, as has been the case for most of this season, Cincinnati might be preparing for a first-round game against Wake Forest instead of Kansas State.

    Woods, a sophomore guard who entered Tuesday averaging 12.8 points per game, was just 2-of-8 from the field for four points. The 45.8 percent three-point shooter went 0-for-5 from deep, the first time all season he missed more than four three-point attempts in a game.

    While leaky defense again plagued Wake (19-14)—much as it had all seasonthe Deacons' inability to make shots was just as problematic. They came in shooting 47.2 percent overall and 38.7 percent from three, each of which ranked in the top 50 nationally, yet they shot only 37 percent in the first half and finished 9-of-27 from outside.

Winner: Kansas State's Body Clocks

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    Since the NCAA began including play-in games in March Madnessfirst with a one-off game and then with the First Four in 2011it's done its best to minimize the distance that winning teams must travel to their round-of-64 game. Two First Four winners will play Friday in Tulsa, and another will suit up Thursday in Buffalo.

    And then there's Kansas State. Not long after taking care of their postgame responsibilities following Tuesday's win over Wake Forest, the Wildcats had to hustle to the airport and board a flight...to Sacramento, California.

    Play-in winners generally don't get sent out west, though Holy Cross last season had to go from playing Southern in Ohio on a Wednesday to getting crushed by Oregon on Friday in Spokane, Washington. The distance itself is bad enough, but there's also the issue of time change, with Dayton and Sacramento being two time zones apart.

    Thankfully, K-State players will have a little extra time to get their bodies acclimated. Their next game, against No. 6 Cincinnati, isn't until 4:27 p.m. local time Friday.

Loser: The ACC

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    Remember when the debate raged about whether the ACC, as deep and strong as it was, could challenge the Big East's record of 11 teams making the NCAA tournament? That narrative was still going on as recently as a week ago before several of the ACC's bubble teams failed to play their way into the field.

    Instead of 11 or 12, the league got nine, which is still impressive and two more than any other conference. That number is down to eight before the main part of the tourney begins, though, thanks to Kansas State knocking out Wake Forest.

    Despite the Demon Deacons' early flameout, it's far too early to start judging the ACC's tournament performance. We should at least wait until after the first round, since seven of the remaining schools are the higher seed in their opening matchups (while Virginia Tech is a No. 9 seed).

    Let's circle back to this one Friday night or after the first weekend is over before issuing any sort of progress report. That said, Wake's effort amounting to a failed pop quiz doesn't get the grade off to a sparkling start.

Winner: TruTV

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Outside of the annual mad scramble at the start of March Madness to find what channel it's on, everything else about TruTV's inclusion in the NCAA tournament is a major boon for the little-known network.

    Formerly known as Court TV, the Turner-owned station spends most of the year showing programs like Impractical Jokers, The Carbonaro Effect and Billy on the Street. But in mid-March, it dives into sports programming by showing the First Four as well as a handful of first- and second-round tourney games.

    The shared coverage deal between CBS and Turner (which also operates TBS and TNT) runs through 2024, so you still have a few more years to memorize what channel TruTV is.

    All statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com, unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.