NCAA Tournament 2019: Thursday's 1st-Round Winners and Losers
The biggest upset of the first day of the NCAA tournament was Murray State over Marquette, but that was a 12-5 upset, the most predictable upset of all. A couple of No. 10 seeds, Minnesota and Florida, won their games, but those weren't big surprises.
Rallies by Belmont and New Mexico State fell short, and one of the trendiest upset picks, Northeastern, lost by 34 points.
The madness has not arrived yet.
That said, there were some big wins and humbling losses on Thursday. Auburn's "swagger" suffered a blow, Ja Morant dominated a marquee matchup, and Tom Izzo lit up a freshman.
These are the winners and losers from day one of the NCAA tournament.
Winner: The Big Ten
Michigan State, Maryland, Minnesota, Purdue and Michigan all won on Thursday, giving the Big Ten a 5-0 start in the NCAA tournament.
Most of those teams were the higher-seeded ones in their matchups, but 10th-seeded Minnesota upset seventh-seeded Louisville, 86-76, around an hour before No. 6 seed Maryland held off a rally from No. 11 seed Belmont for a 79-77 win.
These weren't just wins, either. Big Ten teams won by an average of 11 points Thursday, leaving Iowa and Wisconsin to keep it going Friday.
The Big Ten wasn't the only undefeated conference Thursday, though. The SEC went 4-0.
Tom Izzo lit into Michigan State freshman Aaron Henry for not getting back on defense, and he did it to such a degree he was asked about it in the postgame press conference, the implication being Izzo might have crossed some kind of line.
He did not agree.
"What's wrong with challenging a kid that makes some mistakes?" Izzo said. "Aaron Henry, trust me, did some things that you can't do as a starter on a top-five team at the end of your freshman year. They were effort-related. I did get after him. He did respond. He did make a couple of big buckets. He did make some big free throws, but that's not good enough. It's one-and-done time. The 'my-bads' are out the window."
Henry told reporters he'd "heard worse" from Izzo before and didn't seem bothered. It was a tough blow for the thin-skinned, a group that doesn't seem to include Henry.
This has been a weird season for Kansas. The Jayhawks have lost two of their November starters (one to injury, one to reasons unexplained), they've pulled the redshirt off a freshman (Ochai Agbaji), and they switched their playing style midway through the season.
For the first time in 14 years, Kansas didn't win the Big 12 championship, and KU appeared to be limping to the end of this season. A No. 4 seed playing a hot-shooting 13-seed, the Jayhawks were a trendy upset pick.
And then they utterly wrecked Northeastern 87-53.
The game was close-ish at the beginning of the second half, but before long it became clear Northeastern was hopelessly overmatched physically and wasn't going to be able to do anything about it. Kansas guards dashed through the lane without obstruction, big men swatted shots without jumping, and Northeastern's best player (Vasa Pusica) was completely taken out of the game (seven points, 2-of-13 shooting).
It was what 4-13 games looked like 50 years ago, and it must have been cathartic for the Jayhawks.
Loser: The 3-Point Shot
In recent years, the three-point shot has become more important than ever. But on the first day of the NCAA tournament, the more traditional approach worked best.
Marquette's Markus Howard, one of the most dangerous shooters in the country, went 4-of-14 from the three-point line in a blowout loss to Murray State (which made nine threes). Northeastern's three-point shooting made it a popular pick to upset Kansas, but it went 6-of-28 from the arc, and Kansas (which made just eight threes) won by 34. Yale went 8-of-37 from the arc in a five-point loss to LSU. New Mexico State went 7-of-25 in a one-point loss to Auburn.
Almost every team that needed a good three-point shooting day didn't get one, and one of the few who did—Vermont made 16 threes against Florida State—lost anyway.
This is probably not the start of a long-term trend, but it is a good example of how three-point shooting is great as long as the other team isn't shooting layups and free throws all night, the way Kansas and Murray State were.
Things have changed in college basketball, but controlling the paint still goes a long way.
Winner: Ja Morant
Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard was supposed to be the first round's premier one-on-one matchup. Marquette's Howard is one of the country's most prolific scorers, and Murray State's Morant is a projected top-five pick in June's NBA draft.
Adding to the intrigue was that Marquette was a No. 5 seed and Murray State was a No. 12 seed—a historically exciting combination.
Instead, Morant had a triple-double, Howard went 9-of-27 and Murray State won 83-64.
Morant's 17 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists made for the fourth triple-double of his career and the first in the NCAA tournament since Draymond Green got one at Michigan State in 2012.
It wasn't like Morant needed a big game against Howard and Marquette to prove himself as a prospect, but a little NCAA tournament heroism never hurts.
Loser: This Yale Guy's Ankles
LSU's Tremont Waters made the most spectacular move of the first day, and it looked like it about ruined poor Alex Copeland.
It's a shame Copeland has to go out like that, because he had a great showing Thursday against LSU, scoring a game-high 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting to keep Yale in the contest, which it eventually lost 79-74.
Outside Copeland, Yale was 5-of-32 from the three-point line, so there's little chance the Bulldogs could have hung with LSU without him.
Winner: Jay Wright
What a surprise: Jay Wright won another NCAA tournament game. He's more reliable than a used Lexus.
This isn't even that good of a Villanova team. It wasn't supposed to be that good before the season started, and it had a decent campaign that came with nine losses and a resume that added to a No. 6 seed.
The reigning champions haven't lost a first-round NCAA tournament game since 2013, though, when the ninth-seeded Wildcats lost to the eighth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. Since then, Villanova is 16-3 in NCAA tournament contests with two national championships.
It's no surprise to see a No. 6 seed win a first-round game, so it's not that Villanova's 61-57 victory over St. Mary's meant much—except for this: If you're looking for somebody to blow it early, it's best to look somewhere else.
Loser: Auburn's 'Swagger'
It's not that swagger itself took the L, but the idea of swagger as an explanation for Auburn's success suffered a shocking defeat at the hands of Auburn coach Bruce Pearl.
In the press conference after the Tigers' 78-77 win over New Mexico State, Auburn's J'Von McCormick was asked to describe the team's swagger, and he told reporters: "I feel like—I don't know. I can't really tell you."
Pearl stepped in to offer further clarification:
"Can I follow up on that swagger? I'm glad you think we have a swagger. But I think the hesitation in answering the question is because I'm not so sure our kids do in this sense. He came back with it. He says, We got a chip on our shoulder. J'Von was not a heavily recruited player. Most of our guys were 3 stars. So we've developed a confidence and a trust in one another and our depth as the season progressed. I don't know that we really have a swagger. Yet."
So there you have it. No swag.
Winner: Fletcher Magee
Wofford's Fletcher Magee has been described as the Steph Curry of this year's NCAA tournament. He entered Thursday's game with 502 career three-pointers, three away from breaking the NCAA record held by Travis Bader of Oakland.
And he got them. Magee made three-pointers 503, 504 and 505 early against Seton Hall, then added four more, going 7-of-12 from the arc to score 24 points and lead Wofford to an 84-68 win over Seton Hall.
The 6'4" senior has been a monster scorer his whole Wofford career, averaging 13.8 points per game as a freshman and more than 20 PPG each of the last two years, shooting at least 42 percent from the three-point line the entire time.
Magee met with some NBA teams after last season but didn't declare for the draft. Instead, he became just the second player in NCAA history to make 500 threes.
Curry, by the way, made 414 threes in his career...in 29 fewer games.
Loser: The Mountain West
Nevada was a No. 7 seed, so its first-round loss to 10th-seeded Florida wasn't a shocker. Still, we're talking about a team that won 29 games and is ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll.
The Wolf Pack represented the Mountain West's best chance to keep a team alive deep into the tournament. The only other MWC squad in the Big Dance is Utah State, which is a No. 8 seed and will face No. 9 Washington on Friday.
The Mountain West's national relevance comes and goes. It was a competitive league this year, with Utah State and Nevada both finishing 15-3 in conference play—and Fresno State two games back at 13-5.
But without a great team that shows out in the NCAA tournament, the Mountain West won't make a countrywide impression.