Table of Contents
Sayonara, Purdue, Arizona, Virginia, and others of you that don’t deserve a mention. You will define the most embarrassing annotations of this season’s edition of the Madness. But your sacrifices have not been in vain – your failures, and the successes of others, have schooled us as we turn to the rest of this tournament. We’ve learned so much in such little Madness. The first round of the NCAA Tournament never disappoints, does it?
Come along and educate yourself on five of the tournament’s earliest lessons. It could help you in those revival pools that pop up around the Sweet 16, with future bracket entries, or be a fun way to avoid doing work. The power is in your hands.
Five Things We Learned in the NCAA Tournament’s First Round
Matt Painter’s Got Some ‘Splaining to Do
That should never happen. You should never have the height Purdue has, with a player like Zach Edey, against a team like Fairleigh Dickinson, and lose. FDU is last in KenPom in effective height; Purdue is first. The Knights played in the worst conference in the country, according to Sagarin, and won neither its regular season nor tournament title – this team is in the tournament on a technicality. Plus, Fairleigh Dickinson had to win a game earlier this week to even be here.
Matt Painter has been a mainstay in West Lafayette for some time, and he’s won Big Ten titles and had the Boilermakers dancing plenty, but this one will rightfully loom. He had the 7-foot-4, probable National Player of the Year towering over FDU’s 6-foot-something “big men,” and for an almost six-minute stretch to close out the game, Purdue did not attempt a two-pointer. Edey took just 11 shots in total. He averages 14.2 per game. His team went 5-of-26 from deep.
Yes, FDU head coach Tobin Anderson came up with a great game plan, and his team played an absolutely incredible game. I don’t want to diminish this extraordinary accomplishment. But even with how the Knights played and the Boilermakers shooting that poorly from three, this was avoidable.
I Guess 15-2 Is a Thing Now
Those 12-5 upsets are so 2019. It’s the 2020s. We do 15-2 upsets now.
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a No. 15 seed has overcome a No. 2 seed 11 times. More than a quarter of those instances have occurred in the last three years.
Arizona was the latest victim, bowing out to Princeton, 59-55, to become the first program to ever complete the wonderful feat of losing to a No. 15 seed more than once (Steve Nash sends his regards). The Wildcats follow in the fallible footsteps of Kentucky and Ohio State, who got this trend going in 2022 and 2021, respectively.
Whether Princeton can do what Saint Peter’s did remains to be seen. The Tigers didn’t light it up against Arizona – they went 4-of-25 from beyond the arc and had times of real struggle on the offensive end. But that might be different next time out, and how the Tigers defended and rebounded should be noted.
It was conventional to mock those who predicted No. 15 seeds to advance in their brackets. Picking at least one of them to win might become the new standard.
To That Point: It’s the Era of Upsets
It used to feel rare when a first-round upset occurred. Of course, they always happened, but mostly a few times per tournament. A No. 4 seed might go down, a 12-5 upset was a given, and one or two No. 1 or 2 seeds might have some fear put in them but still escape. You always felt like the upset was less likely than not, and when the Norfolk States and Mercers of the world really did get over the line, it was euphoric in a different way.
Now, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. These major upsets have become so commonplace, that you’re just waiting for the shoe to drop. Nobody is ever safe. Each game feels like a toss-up in a way that wasn’t there even 10 years ago.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still just as euphoric, and it’s as fun as ever. David blindsiding Goliath is the main component to this event’s uniqueness. I could never get enough of it.
I don’t see this trend ending any time soon. Players leaving early to play pro and the transfer portal have allowed talent to spread further than in the past. The pandemic’s impact on eligibility leniency has exacerbated this phenomenon. In a single-elimination tournament, all it takes is one unfortunate matchup, one bad shooting night, one mistake, and it’s all over. We’ve reached a point where a 15-2 shocker is yesterday’s news – it’s the era of upsets.
Uh, Duke Is Scary
We’ve seen this story before. A blue blood enters the season with a highly-ranked recruiting class expected to carry it to glory. The freshman-heavy roster takes a while to adjust, and the blue blood spends January in comparative mediocrity. By March, all is solved, and the eye test indicates a title contender in our midst. But a hiccup-filled regular season means a lower seed relative to talent. Sorry, everyone else in that region.
Oral Roberts came into the tournament averaging 84.2 points per contest, the third-highest mark in the country. Duke held them to 51.
The Blue Devils smothered ORU and dominated in every aspect of the game. Whenever the Golden Eagles appeared to have any life, Duke stamped it out with impunity. It felt more like a 16-1 game than a 12-5.
Duke’s potential path to the Elite Eight includes a Zakai Zeigler-less Tennessee, then C-USA champion FAU or No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. Nothing is guaranteed in this tournament, but you could conjure tougher roads. The Blue Devils are in prime position to go deep yet again.
Don’t Trust the Mountain West
I know San Diego State survived, but that’s the one and only game the Mountain West has won in the last four tournaments. A member of the league last claimed supremacy in a tournament contest on March 18, 2018, when Nevada defeated Cincinnati in the second round. With the Aztec’s victory, the Mountain West is now 1-11 dating back to the 2019 tournament.
Nevada laid a giant egg in its First Four game. Utah State couldn’t buy a three and turned it over too much to overcome Missouri. Boise State secured the record for most tournament losses among teams that have never won one, stumbling to an all-time 0-9 mark – so long, Eastern Kentucky, this milestone belongs to the Broncos now.
Maybe San Diego State can do what no Mountain West team has ever done and reach the Elite Eight. Maybe it could improve on the league’s 5-31 record against power-conference opponents in the tournament since 2007. The Aztecs will first have to defeat No. 13 Furman to get that chance in the Sweet 16. If San Diego State does go deep, maybe it can be the start of a new era of Mountain West success in the Big Dance, but I doubt it. You simply cannot trust this league in March.