Gonzaga stepped up and delivered a thundering win, as the most impressive team of the NCAA Tournament’s first night. Long Beach State took a tough loss to New Mexico, no surprise and no shame for a team seeded #12, but for those of us who had the 49ers as our surprise Final Four team (I say “us” as though there’s actually a plural in this situation), we’ll have to wait till next year. TheSportsNotebook takes a quick-hitter look at all 16 first-round games played on Thursday
Syracuse 72 UNC-Asheville 65: It was a game that had everyone locked in during the late afternoon, as Syracuse shot bricks from behind the arc all game long and without Fab Melo were unable to impose their will on the interior, even against a #16 seed. And they were the beneficiaries of a hideous call that denied Asheville the chance to take possession down three with less than a minute to go.
Kansas State 70 Southern Miss 64: K-State is fortunate to escape here, because while guard Rodney McGruder was great, with 30 points and saving the day in Thursday’s top scoring game, his low post mate Jamar Samuels was all-to-quiet. Between Samuels’ silence and a 2-of-12 game from three-point range, K-State would have been ripe to be picked by a better team. They were fortunate to get a team that belonged in a play-in game, not as a #9 seed.
Wisconsin 73 Montana 49: All my nervousness about this game yesterday proved unjustified, as the Badgers dominated throughout and the party I was at of college hoops’ fans audibled down to the Marquette-BYU game in the 2 PM ET time slot by the time the second half rolled around. Jordan Taylor, who needs to put the Badgers on his back, had 17/8/6 line on points/rebounds/assists.
Vanderbilt 79 Harvard 70: This one wasn’t as close as you might think from the score. Vandy had it in hand from the outset. They shot 54 percent, crashed the glass and the only nit head coach Kevin Stallings can pick is that the play from his frontcourt was a little uneven.
Gonzaga 77 West Virginia 54: A solid balanced effort from the Zags, who got production both inside and out, and kept West Virginia’s Kevin Jones off the boards. Gonzaga’s all-freshman backcourt looked nothing of the kind on Thursday night.
Ohio State 78 Loyola MD 59: It was 46-23 on the boards for the Buckeyes, and DeShaun Thomas had a 31/12 line, while Jared Sullinger grabbed 11 more rebounds. Too much muscle from Ohio State.
MIDWEST: No games on Thursday
Kentucky 81 Western Kentucky 66: John Calipari was generous to let the final score be this respectable, because UK was all over the #16 seed from the start. Nice night from sophomore Terrence Jones with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Iowa State 77 UConn 64: The Cyclones took this game over with a 40-21 edge in rebounding and have their own case for best performance of the night. Royce White put up a 15/13 line, and UConn’s big men, Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi, a big reason I picked them to advance here, had a quiet evening.
VCU 62 Wichita State 59: Wichita came storming back from a double-digit deficit, briefly got the lead, then couldn’t get the key defensive stops at the end. In the bigger picture, the Shockers are out because Garrett Stutz got into some foul trouble and ended up with a 4/7 stat line. I do have to question head coach Gregg Marshall’s decision to keep Stutz out as long as he did, especially when the Rams built the lead that proved to be too much to overcome. The center ended up three fouls on the night, and I think Marshall should have risked him on the floor more.
Indiana 79 New Mexico State 66: The Aggies got one of their keys to an upset, which was for Wendell McKines to fight Cody Zeller to a draw inside, and both had good, albeit not great games. From there it went to the perimeter, when New Mexico State had a puncher’s chance. But Indiana’s Jordan Hulls stepped up with 22 points and delivered the Hoosiers to a comfortable win.
Baylor 68 San Diego State 60: In the TV studio, analyst Kenny Smith panned Baylor for a lack of team play, and not living up to their top five talent. It was spot-on about the lack of cohesion. Pure muscle was enough last night, as the Bears won the rebounding battle 31-17, but their next shaky game will be their last.
Colorado 68 UNLV 64: Great defense from the Buffaloes, who held Vegas to 32 percent from the floor, and then controlled the glass.
Murray State 58 Colorado State 41: It was all about the backcourt. The Racers forced 21 turnovers, they held Dorian Green scoreless, and in the battle of the stars, Isaiah Caan had 19 for Murray, while Wes Eikmeier had only 10 for Colorado State.
Marquette 88 BYU 68: This was an upset call of mine, and my anticipated BYU frontcourt dominance didn’t show up. Brandon Davies played well with a 19/12 game, but Noah Hartsock didn’t get a rebound and Charles Abouo had a rough afternoon. Jae Crowder’s 25/16 showing for Marquette was the day’s top individual performance.
Louisville 69 Davidson 62: The game’s a microcosm of Louisville’s season. They won, they get it done and there’s nothing in the box score that makes you go “that’s how they’re doing it.” It’s certainly not a knock on them, just a statement about the kind of team Rick Pitino has produced this year.
New Mexico 75 Long Beach State 68: My Final Four Cinderella is gone by the boards, but it was a great game to watch. Drew Gordon and T.J. Robinson battled each other to a draw in the post. The big difference is that while Long Beach guard Casper Ware got his average at 17 points, it took 5-of-19 shooting, with 2-of-9 from behind the arc to get there. He’s normally much more efficient and a cold day—due also to New Mexico’s defense on the perimeter is the reason the Lobos move on.