As the second day of the NCAA men’s tournament progressed, it looked like it was about to be filled with turmoil.
Xavier and Baylor, both no. 3 Seeds and Yukon, no. They were in a halftime deficit in their game with the 14 seeds. So did UConn, the No. 4 seed, in a 4-vs.-13 matchup. There was also No. 2 seed Marquette who found themselves down just five points in the second half versus No. 15 seed Vermont.
There were also No. 5 seeds like St. Mary’s and Miami, as well as No. 6 Creighton, who were on the verge of going home early.
But all of those teams avoided dangerous upsets in the first round. For Purdue, formerly the No. 1 seed, it was a different story.
In one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, Purdue was shocked by No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. FDU, the literal last team on the selection committee’s 68-team seed list, was a 23.5-point underdog to the mighty Boilermakers, but somehow emerged with an impressive 63–58 victory.
FDU became only the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed, joining UMBC. UMBC famously destroyed Virginia by 20 points in 2018. Now the terriers have company in the record books.
For Purdue, it was a complete disaster after winning both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. The Boilermakers have now lost to two-digit seeds in three consecutive NCAA tournaments. They lost to No. 13 North Texas in the first round in 2021, No. 15 St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16 in 2022 and then to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round on Friday.
That’s a brutal stretch in tournament play for a schedule that dwindles into March Madness.
Here’s what we saw on another epic day of NCAA tournament play.
Top seeds narrowly avoid upset
While they didn’t have the magnitude of Fairleigh Dickinson’s win over Purdue, Friday was on the verge of many upsets.
The closest came in the Midwest region. No. 14 seed Kennesaw State leads No. 3 Xavier by 13 points in the second half. But the Musketeers launched an epic comeback that included a 15–0 run that turned a 61–48 deficit into a 63–61 lead.
The game still came down to the wire but Xavier big man Jack Nunge saved the day as Kennesaw State’s Terrell Burden stumbled through the lane for a potential go-ahead layup in the final seconds. Bare’s clutch defensive play allowed Javier to pull out the win and move on.
Xavier wasn’t the only No. 3 seed to come back from an early deficit on Friday. Baylor actually trailed UC Santa Barbara at halftime before dominating the second half in a 74–56 victory. Elsewhere, Gonzaga found itself on the ropes versus Grand Canyon until runs by Julian Strother and Drew Timme pulled off an 82–70 victory.
FAU’s first NCAA tourney win comes in dramatic fashion
For Memphis, a golden opportunity to get back into the Sweet 16 slipped away in dramatic – and controversial – fashion.
Memphis was in a 40-minute battle with Florida Atlantic and it came down to the wire. The Tigers had a 65–64 lead and the ball with less than 20 seconds to play when a wild sequence occurred. Memphis turned the ball over with an inadvertent pass but looked like it would avoid disaster when FAU turned it over only seconds later.
Jayden Hardaway pounced on the loose ball with five seconds to go and it looked like Memphis was able to call a timeout. Instead, the officials ruled a held ball. The possession arrows favored FAU, setting up Nicholas Boyd for the game-winning lay-in.
FAU pulled off the first NCAA tournament win in program history. Now 32-3 on the season, the Owls will face No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson with a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 while Penny Hardaway and the Tigers head back to Memphis.
UConn looks like Final Four threat with second-half surge
UConn, the No. 4 seed in the West, found itself in a dogfight with No. 13 Iona. The Gaels, coached by Hall of Famer Rick Pitino, were making it difficult for UConn’s guards to lead 39–37 at halftime.
In the second half, the Huskies flipped the script and dominated the infield en route to an impressive 87–63 victory. Iona was a popular upset pick in this year’s tournament, but UConn big Adama Sanogo was unstoppable in the second half. He scored 22 of his 28 points in the last 20 minutes. Sanogo and 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Klingon destroyed the undersized Gale, opening things up on the outside for UConn’s guards.
The Huskies outscored Iona 50–24 in the second half and in the process looked like a team capable of making a deep run into March. Pitino certainly thought so.
Oh, and speaking of Pitino, Fox Sports is reporting that the 70-year-old is on the verge of accepting the St. John’s job. Pitino said after the game that nothing had been decided considering he had not been on the SJU campus since he was Providence’s head coach in 1987.
The Pitino watch continues.
Caitlin Clarke, Alyssa Pili lit up the scoreboard
Two of the nation’s top players performed brilliantly on the first full day of the NCAA women’s tournament.
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark filled out the stat sheet in a 95–43 win over Southeast Louisiana. Clark led all scorers with 26 points while also adding 12 assists and seven rebounds. In the process, he shot an impressive 9 of 14 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3.
Alyssa Pili of Utah was even better. In a high-scoring game with Gardner Webb, Pilley was the best player on the court. He scored a career-high 33 points along with eight rebounds and eight assists in the 103–77 win.
Calipari, Kentucky get much needed win
Speaking of upsets, Kentucky was a big tournament victim in last year’s tournament when it lost to No. 15 seed St. Peters. With Britain completely out of the tournament in 2021, Wildcats fans were not happy with the performance of John Calipari’s program after such a humiliating defeat.
Maybe some of those sentiments changed on Friday as Calipari’s Wildcats got a much-needed tournament win over Providence. It was not the prettiest performance. Kentucky, formerly the No. 6 seed, shot just 36.5% from the field but completely controlled the glass in the 61–53 victory.
A big reason for this was Oscar Tshebwe, who had 25 rebounds. This is the most in an NCAA tournament game since 1977. For some perspective, Providence had 31 rebounds as a team. Tshibwe dominated the boards.
UK will now face No. 3 seed Kansas State in the Round of 32.
Women’s tournament full of vicissitudes
The women’s tournament saw some great finishes.
No. 9 Marquette led No. 8 USF for the first 38 minutes of regulation but it was the Bulls who rallied to take a late lead and eventually prevail with a 67–65 victory in overtime. Elena Tsineke had the go-ahead bucket for USF in overtime and the Bulls got the stop they needed in the final seconds when Mackenzie Hare’s 3-pointer went out.
In a 7-vs-10 matchup, it was No. 10 seed Princeton who defeated No. 7 North Carolina State in comeback fashion. A day after the Tigers shocked Arizona in the men’s tournament, the women’s team overcame an eight-point deficit to come back and hit the winning shot with 4.7 seconds left in regulation. It was Grace Stone responsible for the game-winning triple.
Another upset came courtesy of South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits knocked over No. 7 seed USC 62–57 in overtime, securing the win after a 3-pointer from the Trojans forced overtime late in regulation. SDSU recorded its 22nd consecutive win despite shooting just 35.2% from the field.
Additionally, there were two lower-seeded SEC teams that pulled off upsets. Mississippi State, an 11 seed, defeated No. 6 seed Creighton, 81–66, while No. 10 seed Georgia posted a 66–54 win over No. 7 seed Florida State.
Kam Jones carries Marquette, Ryan Kalbrenner dominates for Creighton
Two of the best performances of the day came from the Big East Stars.
Marquette found itself in a battle with No. 15 seed Vermont, but Kam Jones didn’t let his team follow in Arizona’s footsteps. Jones had just one point in the first half, before exploding for 18 consecutive points in the second half that led the Golden Eagles to a 78–61 victory over the Catamounts.
Jones’ epic run included a trio of 3-pointers and some smooth drives to the rim.
In the South Zone, Creighton big man Ryan Kalkbrenner was the engine that carried his team to the Round of 32.
The Bluejays could not make a shot from outside, going a brutal 3-of-20 from long range. The team’s main source in paint was Kalkbrenner. it worked. The 7-foot-1-foot junior dominated with 31 points on 14-of-14 shooting, including hitting one of his team’s only 3-pointers.
Kalkbrenner was the Big East’s Defensive Player of the Year. On Friday, he showed that he has some offense in his game, too.
Stanford star Cameron Brink out from illness
The No. 1 seed in the women’s tournament did not play on Friday. Stanford’s Cameron Brink was not with the team due to illness. The Cardinals routed Sacred Heart 92-49 without him, but Brink’s status is a big deal ahead of the second round.
Brink described the illness as a “stomach bug” and said she would be “back as soon as possible.” Brink is averaging 14.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, so he is an important player for Stanford.
Stanford overtook Iowa for the final spot on the 1-seed line and will square off with No. 8 seed Ole Miss in the second round. Whether or not Brink will return to the lineup remains to be seen.
Iowa State’s Horrific Shooting Day
It took more than 10 minutes for No. 6 seed Iowa State to get its first field goal on Friday versus Pitt. By the time the Cyclones got a chance to fall, they trailed 22–4 at the 9:54 mark of the first half.
That deficit was too big to overcome, especially for a team that could never find a way to put the ball in the basket. Pitt won the first four 59–41 to advance to the Round of 32.
Iowa State’s final shooting statistics were appalling. ISU went 14-of-60 from the overall field, including 2-of-21 from beyond the arc. That’s 23.3% from the field and 9.5% from the 3rd.
Surprisingly, there have been some poor shooting performances in the modern era. Worst was Butler going 12-of-64 from the field (18.8%) in the 2011 national title loss to UConn. This is not a list you want to be on.