A 15-seed prevailing for a third straight year, a 13-seed winning on a crazy shot in the final seconds, a 1-seed being pushed deep into the second half; The first Thursday of the NCAA tournament always seems to deliver, and this year was no different.
Let’s dive headfirst into all the best and worst from the first “true” day of March Madness.
The 3 Best March Madness Games Of Day 1
1. (13) Furman 68, (4) Virginia 67 (South)
Perhaps Thursday being the five year anniversary of Virginia becoming the first 1-seed in NCAA tournament history to lose to a 16-seed should have given away the ending to this one.
While the Cavaliers’ stunning loss in 2018 was slow, painful, and ultimately decisive, this one was more like a vicious left-hook smashing in out of nowhere from out of frame.
Virginia was able to keep upset-minded Furman at arm’s length for most of the afternoon, but could never quite gain the level of separation necessary to feel at ease. Still, UVA led by 12 with less than 12 minutes to play, a situation in which a favored Tony Bennett coached team is almost always a sure thing. Toss in the fact that Furman’s leading scorer, Mike Bothwell, fouled out with 6:30 still to play, and everything seemed to point towards being able to pencil the Cavaliers into round two.
A Kihei Clark made free-throw to bring the score to 67-63 with 19 seconds to go put UVA within one stop of being able to all it an afternoon. Even after an iffy foul call on Virginia’s Kadin Shedrick and two made free-throws by Garrett Hien, Furman needed something just short of a miracle to have their madness moment.
The gods of March answered.
Clark’s strange decision to chuck the ball down the floor despite having a timeout to use resulted in JP Pegues, who had been 2-for-8 from the field and 0-for-3 from three before that shot, becoming a Big Dance immortal.
Virginia’s Reece Beekman got a pretty good look at a potential game-winner, but his shot found nothing but glass and rim.
The dramatic victory would have been an incredible moment for any 13-seed in any situation, but it was especially sweet for this group of Furman players. A year ago, the Paladins built upon a rough recent history of bad luck in the SoCon tournament by losing to Chattanooga in the championship game on a 30-footer at the buzzer.
Both Bothwell and 2022-23 SoCon Player of the Year Jalen Slawson could have transferred to major programs in the offseason and virtually guaranteed themselves a shot at experiencing March Madness, but they chose to come back and get Furman to its first NCAA tournament since 1980.
One of the cooler moments of Championship Week was, in the closing seconds of Furman’s SoCon championship victory, Bothwell making it a point to go over to the same spot on the floor where he had been lying in agony 12 months earlier. Now, the ‘Dins are a win over San Diego State away from the first Sweet 16 appearance in program history.
For Virginia, the loss marked their second straight in a 4/13 matchup, and their fourth tournament defeat at the hands of a double-digit seed since 2016.
Thank goodness for that little national title sprinkled in between all the chaos.
2. (8) Maryland 67, (9) West Virginia 65 (South)
It’s always nice when the early window delivers on the first day, and the initial wave of games on Thursday afternoon was tremendous.
Setting the tone was the very first game of the day to tip-off, which featured Maryland and West Virginia trading ridiculous runs for 40 minutes before the Terrapins ultimately prevailed by a bucket.
Maryland trailed 16-4 to start the game, but carried a 2-point lead into the locker room after hitting nine of their last 13 shots (and all seven of their free-throws) to close the first half. That stretch set up a back-and-forth final 20 minutes, which ended with West Virginia’s Kedrian Johnson getting a shot to play hero.
JUST SHORT. (8) Maryland hangs on 67-65 over (9) West Virginia at the buzzer. They’ll play Alabama on Saturday pic.twitter.com/U6Ti28I6s4
— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) March 16, 2023
First-year head coach Kevin Willard, who won just one NCAA tournament game in 12 seasons at Seton Hall, can make himself the toast of The Old Line State if he can take out No. 1 overall seed Alabama on Saturday.
3. (15) Princeton 59, (2) Arizona 55 (South)
In 1996, Mitch Henderson was a starter who had eight points, four steals and three assists in Princeton’s famous first round upset of reigning national champion UCLA. On Thursday, he was the head coach of a Tiger team that became just the 11th 15-seed in the history of the NCAA tournament to win a first round game.
The shocker marked the third straight season in which we’ve had a 15-seed advance to the second round, and this one may have been the strangest of them all.
Typically when a teen seed advances in the tournament, it’s due to the little guy going nuts from the outside, or feasting at the free-throw line, or living off of a slew of uncharacteristic turnovers from their opponent. None of that really happened in this game.
Princeton shot just 4-of-25 from three and was only 3-of-5 from the charity stripe, but they took down one of the biggest pre-tournament favorites by appearing to have a superior game plan, controlling the tempo, and by being the more poised side down the stretch. The Tigers scored the final nine points of the game and held Arizona scoreless for nearly five minutes to notch their first NCAA tournament win since 1998 (a team Henderson also played for).
After the game, Henderson couldn’t help but think of his legendary former Princeton coach, Pete Carril, who died last August.
“He would be very proud of the group,” Henderson said. “He wouldn’t want any attention to be brought other than what these guys did. They played to win. We knew we had to keep the game low possessions.”
The 5 Teams That Won It The Best
Look, I don’t like this any more than you do, but the Blue Devils appear to once again be a problem that we’re going to have to deal with this month.
Duke scored the first 15 points of the game against trendy upset pick Oral Roberts — some idiots even thought the Golden Eagles could be the first 12-seed to crash the Final Four — on their way to a dominant 74-51 victory. ORU, the only team in college basketball to run the table in their conference this season, saw their winning streak snapped at 17 games.
Jeremy Roach, who scored 23 points, appears to have recaptured the same March magic that he found a year ago. Dariq Whitehead is finally healthy and playing like the guy who was a top five recruit in the 2022 class. Jon Scheyer didn’t show any signs of jitters in his first March Madness experience as a head coach. It’s all coming together for a Duke team that has now won 10 in a row and which is 19-1 this season when playing with its full complement of players.
Oh, and the Blue Devils are also playing in the region that feels the most likely to have completely crumbled by the time we get to the second weekend.
2. Penn State
So much of the talk surrounding the 7-10 matchup between Texas A&M and Penn State was centered around the Aggies being under-seeded and also staring down a potential showdown against old rival Texas in the second round.
The Nittany Lions made quick work of both narratives Thursday night.
Micah Shrewsberry’s team drilled 10 of its first 14 three-point attempts, finished with 13 makes from beyond the arc for the game, and led by as many as 26 on their way to a dominant 76-59 victory. Andrew Funk, who scored a game-high 27 points (the most of any player on day one) was 8-of-10 alone from three.
The win was Penn State’s first in the NCAA tournament since 2001, and it came in their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2011.
Every 10 years these Nittany Lions are something special.
No. 2 seeds are dropping like flies in the first round these days, so we can’t just gloss over UCLA’s 86-53 thrashing of UNC Asheville.
Playing without Jaylen Terry and big man Adem Bona, who could be back on Saturday, the Bruins scored the first 14 points of the game and never allowed the Bulldogs to think for a moment that they had a shot at pulling off the second 15/2 upset of the day.
UCLA players admitted after the game that they were well aware of what had happened to Virginia and Pac-12 brethren Arizona earlier in the day.
“It’s like the first day and there’s already so many upsets,” point guard Tyger Campbell said. “It just makes us lock in more because we know it’s possible. Especially earlier today, Princeton and Arizona. I think it made us come out and just understand that, you know, every team in this tournament can play.”
A win over Northwestern on Saturday will send UCLA to a third straight Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006-08.
Did you know that Auburn is 11-0 all-time in the first round of the NCAA tournament? Because Auburn is 11-0 all-time in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
That’s weird, right?
The Tigers controlled things from pretty much start to finish in their 83-75 “upset” of 8th-seeded Iowa. They’ll face a wounded No. 1 seed Houston in Birmingham, on Saturday.
Also undefeated all-time in first round games? Northwestern.
The Wildcats moved to 2-0 in tourney openers with an impressive 75-67 win over Boise State.
The 5 Biggest Disappointments
I don’t think this one requires an explanation, but just in case you wanted to see a checklist, Arizona …
—Became the first program in NCAA tournament history to lose multiple 2/15 games.
The Wildcats were also upset by Steve Nash in Santa Clara in the first round of the ‘93 tournament, the second 2/15 upset ever.
—Lost to Princeton despite the Tigers shooting just 4-of-25 from three.
Normally in monumental upsets, the little guy shoots better than 40.6 percent from the field and 16.0 percent from beyond the arc, and makes more than three free-throws, but that wasn’t the case here.
—Lost to a Princeton team that was one of the most inexperienced squads in the country.
Circling back to this, Princeton is the 2nd-least experienced team in the tourney.
They do start 3 seniors, but one didn’t really play until this year, and the other two didn’t play in 2021 because Princeton didn’t play. https://t.co/cwT4LEGHCl
— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) March 16, 2023
Again, not exactly fitting the mold of a classic David-Goliath upset.
—Went scoreless over the last 4:45 of the game.
Arizona led by double figures at the under eight timeout and had seemed to put Princeton’s upset bid to bed. Then, the Wildcats inexplicably started to play like the double-digit seemed that was blinded by the bright lights of the sport’s biggest stage. They missed their final seven shots of the game and turned it over three times in the last four minutes.
—Lost a year after taking a disappointing upset as a 1-seed in 2022.
Tommy Lloyd’s first two regular seasons as Arizona’s head coach have been wildly successful. A year ago, the Wildcats won 33 games, captured both the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles, and earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. They then needed overtime to survive TCU in the second round of the Big Dance before being manhandled by fifth-seeded Houston in the Sweet 16.
That disappointment was nothing compared to the disaster that Lloyd experienced in his second March Madness on Thursday.
—Added to an unprecedented history of March disappointments.
This graphic has to cut right at the heart of the fine people of Tucson.
The only school to ever* lose to an 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 seed in the tournament?
The only school to ever lose twice to a 15 seed in the tournament?
*since seeding began pic.twitter.com/5AXBY0S7xb
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 17, 2023
Yeah, but 1997 was still awesome.
2. Texas A&M
Buzz Williams and Texas A&M fans were furious about being left out of the NCAA tournament a year ago, and they let everyone know about it. Twelve months later, Buzz Williams and Texas A&M fans were furious about being a 7-seed, and they let everyone know about it.
With a chance to show the college basketball world that College Station deserves a jolt of respect from the college basketball world, the Aggies laid an absolute egg Thursday night against Penn State.
Another year, another first weekend exit for Fran McCaffery, who has been a head coach for 27 seasons (13 at Iowa) and never been to a Sweet 16.
His fan base is aware.
mood when ur team loses in the same fashion over and over again and ur the only person who doesn’t seem to understand why or do anything different pic.twitter.com/LTDcbiPUbd
— Black Heart Gold pain (@BHGP) March 17, 2023
Iowa’s loss to Auburn also allowed the SEC to take an early lead in the “I told you idiots our conference was the best” race. SEC teams went 5-1 on day one. The Big Ten is still off to a solid 3-2 start.
I know the Cougars are banged up, but shew, that was scary to watch for anyone who has Kelvin Sampson’s team playing deep into this tournament. UH looked completely disjointed on offense and turned the ball over a whopping 17 times, allowing Northern Kentucky to keep things way more interesting than they had any business being.
5. Oral Roberts
On Sunday, I said Duke-Oral Roberts was going to be the best game of the first round. On Wednesday, I picked the Golden Eagles to become the first 12-seed ever to make the Final Four.
Is this personal? You’re damn right it is.
ORU couldn’t even keep this thing remotely interesting for a minute, and now we’ve got everyone agreeing that Duke kind of looks like the team to beat in the East.
We’ll always have 2021, Max.
5 Day 1 Cheers
1. Locker room celebrations
One of the best parts of this time of the year was back in full force on Thursday.
2. Furman’s “FU” free-throw cheer and fans
Everything about Furman on Thursday was spectacular, including their cheerleader’s free-throw celebration cheer.
You can’t help but smile.
Also love the showcasing of the two types of Furman fans in the game’s final moments.
Fan 1: Can’t stop smiling and saying “what the fuck”:
Fan 2: Frantically praying and on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown:
They both got the job done.
3. SDSU breaking the Mountain West losing streak
Following Nevada’s blowout loss to Arizona State on Wednesday night in the First Four and Utah State’s loss to Missouri earlier in the day on Thursday, the Mountain West was riding an 11-game NCAA tournament losing streak when San Diego State took the court to face Charleston in a 5/12 matchup.
Though they may have been aided a bit by a bogus foul call in the final minute (more on that coming), SDSU was ultimately able to hold on for a 63-57 win over a Cougar team that finished its season with 31 wins.
With Boise State’s loss to Northwestern a few hours later, the Mountain West is now 4-18 in the NCAA tournament since 2015, and has sent just one team to the tournament’s second weekend over that same time span. The conference is also now 2-14 in first round games since 2016.
But hey, at least they avoided having all four of their participants out before Friday for a second straight year. Brian Dutcher says you’re welcome.
4. This glorious Northern Kentucky fan
I wonder at what age it was that his wife — who is noticeably not wearing any sort of costume whatsoever — just accepted that this was going to be a thing.
Northern Kentucky has only been a Division-I program since 2012. Was this man wearing his Norse gear to Great Lakes Valley Conference games in the late ‘80s? Did the wife dress up at any point in the past? And who the hell is she texting right now? Is it about the get-up? Because we both knew this was happening when we bought the tickets, CYNTHIA.
So many questions.
5. The continued rise of the 15-seeds
The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Between then and 2011, we witnessed just four occurrences of 15-seeds upsetting 2-seeds in the first round of the Big Dance.
Then, in 2012, something amazing happened. A pair of 15-seeds — Norfolk State and Lehigh — pulled off first round stunners on the same day. A year later, Florida Gulf Coast became the first 15-seed to ever advance out of the tournament’s opening weekend. The upset happened again in 2016, then again in 2021, and then last season Saint Peter’s became the first 15-seed to play in a regional final.
Now, for the first time in tournament history, we’ve had at least one 15-seed advance out of the first round in three consecutive years.
Could Princeton take this thing all the way to the Final Four? Could Vermont join the club on Friday?
At this point it feels like it’s all possible for the second littlest of the little guys.
BONUS CHEER: Dexter Dennis’ pin block
All due respect to Xavier Rhodes, this was the best individual highlight of the day, so we had to find a way to work it in here somewhere.
Just two or 25 more of those and A&M would have been right in the game.
5 Day 1 Jeers
1. Houston’s health concerns
After missing the AAC tournament championship game because of a groin injury, Marcus Sasser — the conference Player of the Year and an All-American — was back in the starting lineup Thursday night for Houston’s NCAA tournament opener against Northern Kentucky. He played just 14 minutes before appearing to aggravate the injury and limp to the Cougar bench. Sasser did not see the court in the second half of the game.
If that weren’t enough, Jamal Shead — a double-figure scorer and the team leader in assists — hyperextended his knee during the win. Shead told reporters after the game that he expects to play on Saturday, but it’s hard to say how close to 100 percent he’ll be.
“I’m very concerned,” Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson said of his team’s injury status after the game.
Adding to that concern is the fact that Houston now must deal with an Auburn team that looked very impressive in their first round win over Iowa on Thursday, and they must deal with them in Birmingham.
2. The wedgies in Des Moines
Four wedgies, one court, one day.
Something’s going on in Des Moines, and I’m terrified of what that might be.
Thankfully, we’ve got Ricky with boots on the ground.
3. Boise State’s winless streak
The Mountain West may have snapped its 11-game losing streak with San Diego State’s afternoon victory over Charleston, but Boise State’s all-time winless streak in the Big Dance moved to nine. No team has appeared in more NCAA tournaments without posting s single victory than the Broncos.
On the flip side, Northwestern — which knocked off Boise by a final of 75-67 — has still never lost a first round NCAA tournament game. The Wildcats, making just their second appearance in March Madness ever, will look for their first trip to the Sweet 16 when they face UCLA on Saturday.
4. Kihei Clark’s final March moment
In one of the strangest juxtapositions in NCAA tournament history, Kihei Clark saved Virginia’s national title run asa true freshman in 2019 by making one of the smartest, headiest passes in March Madness history.
Then, as a fifth-year senior point guard on Thursday, his college career came to an end thanks largely to one of the more inexplicably poor pass attempts in NCAA tournament history.
It was such an odd decision that Furman star Jalen Slawson still couldn’t believe it happened even as he was walking into the locker room to celebrate.
As always, March gives and March takeaways. It just typically doesn’t do so in such extremes.
5. The foul call at the end of San Diego State/Charleston
With just 25 seconds to play and San Diego State clinging to a 58-55 lead, Charleston’s Jaylon Scott appeared to make a clean block on a three-point attempt by Matt Bradley that would allow the Cougars to have a shot to come down and even the score or draw to within a point.
Except the whistle blew.
“I disagree with that call… [SDSU’s Matt Bradley] had plenty of space to land… I think that was a bad call… I think that was outstanding defense.”- Stan Van Gundy
Kevin Harlan relays that Gene Steratore “also agrees (with SVG) that it was no foul.” #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/ZqwhjEZS2s
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) March 16, 2023
Bradley made 2-of-3 from the free-throw line, and that was pretty much all she wrote.
I am contractually obligated to say that this single call “absolutely did not cost Charleston the game,” but it sure would have been nice to know how things would have played out had play not been interrupted.
All Day-1 Team
Andrew Funk, Penn State
The Nittany Lion senior guard went 8-of-10 from three and scored a day one high 27 points to lead Penn State to its first NCAA tournament victory since 2001.
Jeremy Roach, Duke
The man who saved his best basketball for March last season appears to be at it again. Roach led the Blue Devils with 23 points, three assists and only one turnover in Duke’s impressive thumping of Oral Roberts.
Kedrian Johnson, West Virginia
Johnson picked a heck of a time to post a new career-high, scoring 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting, but ultimately it wasn’t enough in West Virginia’s 67-65 loss to Maryland.
Boo Buie, Northwestern
The senior guard with one of the best names in college basketball led Northwestern into the second round with a 22-point, five rebound and five assist effort.
Nick Pringle, Alabama
All-American Brandon Miller didn’t score a single point for the Tide on Thursday, but it didn’t matter thanks largely to the play of Pringle. The junior entered the afternoon averaging just 3.0 points and 2.7 rebounds, but went off for 19 and 15 in just 21 minutes in a 96-75 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
5 Best Day 1 Dunks
1. Jalen Slawson, Furman
It wasn’t a spectacular opening day for crams, but here’s your very early leader for dunk of the tournament. And it came from one of the day’s biggest stars.
2. Naje Smith, Boise State
More of a “thunk,” but we’ll allow it.
3. KJ Adams, Kansas
Easily the most impressive lob of Thursday.
4. Julian Reese, Maryland
You knew it was going to be a slugfest with West Virginia, and Reese was right in the middle of it.
5. Naje Smith, Boise State
Nothing thunky about this reverse.
5 Best Day 1 Images
1. The agony and the ecstasy
2. Part II
3. Clear the lane
4. Logan Cremonesi’s hair
5. All eyes on Brandon Miller
The All-American freshman, who was accompanied to the game by armed security, did not score in Alabama’s blowout win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi. Afterward, Crimson Tide head coach Nate Oats said Miller has been nursing a groin injury since the SEC title game.
5 Notable Quotes From Day 1
1. “In that moment, it’s a pretty surreal feeling. But I also can’t say I’m surprised. This team has been so good all year, so gritty. On paper, it’s going to look like a big upset. But we believe in each other and we think we’re a really good team. When we’re at our best, then I think we can beat anybody in the country.” —Princeton guard Matt Allocco
2. “I knew when it was goin’ up. I had full belief. Full belief in the shot. I’d been missing all night, but that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, I want to be in those moments. I was born for those moments.” —Furman’s JP Pegues on his game-winner against Virginia
3. “Well I don’t know if we were well-oiled. I know Bill Self is gonna kill me when we get back to the hotel.” —Kansas assistant coach Norm Roberts (filling in for Self) on his team’s slow start against Howard
4. “I’ve loved coaching him in his career. We would not be in this spot without him. You always look to that last moment and there’s so many what-ifs and who knows. But, in time, that will fade. And what he’s done, what he’s meant — it’s a hard way to end, but also there’s a whole lot of good when you look at the whole picture.” —Virginia head coach Tony Bennett on Kihei Clark
5. “It’s over, you know what I mean. I don’t know what else to say. It’s a different feeling. I can’t thank this program enough. I can’t thank coach Huggins enough.” —West Virginia’s Erik Stevenson, who played at Wichita State, Washington and South Carolina before finally getting to the NCAA tournament with West Virginia in his final college season
Full Friday schedule for 2023 men’s NCAA tournament
Prepare your mind, body and soul to do this whole thing all over again.
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