NCAA tournament surprises: St. Peter’s over Kentucky and more Madness
For the first time in three calendar years, we had March Madness as we always have known it on Thursday. And it was as delectable a treat as ever.
In 2020, of course, the NCAA canceled the tournament. Last year, it held a “bubble” version in Indianapolis that had limited fans and a first-round game canceled because of COVID-19. In 2021, we relished the distraction, but the whole thing felt predictably off.
What was missing was the ridiculous atmospheres that somehow develop at what often begin as sterile neutral sites. Part of what made St. Peter’s remarkable upset of Kentucky so fun Thursday was that the Peacocks happened to do it in front of a partisan Big Blue Nation crowd in Indianapolis. Welcome back, devastated crowd shots.
Here are my five biggest surprises from a perfectly wild day.
Here’s a roundup of Thursday’s first-round NCAA men’s basketball tournament games.
No. 15 seed St. Peter’s beats No. 2 seed Kentucky
The first thing you need to know is that I picked Kentucky all the way to the championship game in my bracket. I liked the Wildcats’ combination of having a dominant big man in Oscar Tshiebwe and a collection of veteran transfers around him — a much different roster composition than John Calipari has been known for. I knew the Wildcats were vulnerable to a poor shooting night, but thought their intangibles could overcome it.
St. Peter’s — my friend genuinely wondered if the school was going to be jet lagged due to the trip from Vatican City — set fire to all of that like a character in a Dan Brown novel.
One would have assumed that the blue-blood with the Final Four expectations would be the team to take control of the overtime period. Eh, shows what I know.
No. 12 seed Richmond knocking off No. 5 seed Iowa
The second thing you need to know is that I picked Iowa all the way to the Final Four in my bracket. The high-scoring Hawkeyes were coming off four straight wins in the Big Ten tournament and had won 12 of their last 14 games. Keegan Murray’s outstanding performance was building confidence in everyone around him, and I saw no reason that wouldn’t continue, even against No. 1 seed Kansas in the Sweet 16.
Looking at it now, we shouldn’t be surprised by Thursday’s result. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has never led a team to the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes don’t play very good defense, which wasn’t going to suddenly change in this tournament.
Richmond is on its own roll after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament and deserves its props. But this result was about Iowa’s mentality changing once it was suddenly a favorite with expectations of making the second weekend. The Hawkeyes looked super tight, and that, my friends, is a recipe for a March heartbreak.
St. Mary’s crushing Indiana
St. Mary’s 82, Indiana 53.
And I’m not sure it was that close.
The Hoosiers had won three of four games — beating tournament teams Michigan, Illinois and Wyoming — to get here. But now it’s looking like the Big Ten and Mountain West were overvalued by the selection committee.
Rutgers, Indiana and Iowa are all gone from the Big Ten. Only Michigan has punched its ticket to the round of 32. The Mountain West has lost all four of its teams in three days of this tournament.
The Gaels proved they are good — but not this good. Yikes, Hoosiers.
No. 12 seed New Mexico State edges No. 5 Connecticut
As a proud one-time Buffalo, N.Y., transplant — I finished high school there — I can tell you that the city loves an underdog. So it just felt right that Richmond beat Iowa and later New Mexico State put down the Huskies amid the grit of Rust Belt recovery.
Ultimately, I didn’t have a great feel for these teams, so I’m not that blown away that the Aggies, who have won 25 games in four of five seasons, got it done.
Creighton’s furious comeback tops San Diego State
No. 9 seed Creighton trailed No. 8 seed San Diego State 62-53 with a few minutes left. The Aztecs had controlled this game, and it felt over. The Bluejays quickly chipped away and got the game to overtime thanks to a missed front end of a one-and-one by Matt Bradley with seven seconds left. From there, it was Creighton’s game.
San Diego State seemed like it was going to get over the tournament hump with likable head coach Brian Dutcher. Instead, Creighton gets a date with No. 1 seed Kansas (likely) on Saturday.
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