We’ve been there, we’ve seen this movie before. Nothing should surprise us, but it continues to do so. We know that anything goes in March Madness as these student-athletes, coaches, universities and fan bases try to cover the “CHIP.” That’s the NCAA men’s basketball championship.
It didn’t take long. In a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday night, it took Notre Dame two overtimes to knock out Rutgers, 89-87.
And once the 64-team bracket was set, the first-round games on Thursday and Friday — spread across four regions and eight venues throughout the country — did not disappoint.
Here are my takes on some of those games:
— Colorado State blows a 15-point lead to Michigan and is the first team eliminated from the round of 64.
— The first upset is 12 seed Richmond, a double-digit underdog, defeating 5 seed and Big Ten champion Iowa, 67-63.
— In an 8-9 game, 8 seed North Carolina hits 13 three-pointers in a 95-63 rout of Marquette.
— The 12-5 upset is always a popular bracket pick, and this year didn’t disappoint as 12 seed New Mexico State notches the second such upset of the day, beating 5 seed U-Conn, 79-63.
— Upset of the tournament: 15 seed Saint Peter’s knocks out blue-blood Kentucky, a 2 seed, 85-79 in overtime. Saint Peter’s is a small Jesuit college in Jersey City, New Jersey, with less than 3,000 undergraduates. The Peacocks are making only their fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
— San Diego State plays great first-half defense but blows a nine-point lead late in the second half and loses to Creighton in OT, 72-69. The Aztecs’ Achilles heel all year was free throw shooting and it came back to bite them, as they made only 10 of 17 from the foul line. This was a game they had and they let it slip away.
— Much more sedate compared to Thursday, but still some close, hard-fought games, including 10 seed Miami over 7 seed USC, 68-66, and 13 seed Chattanooga leading for all but 25 seconds of its game to 4 seed Illinois before losing 54-53.
— No Saint Peter’s-like upsets, but a pair of 11 seeds, Notre Dame and Iowa State, knock out a pair of 6 seeds from the SEC, with the Fighting Irish beating Alabama, 78-64, and the Cyclones topping LSU, 59-54.
— San Diego State’s Viejas Arena hosts four games on Friday, with four double-digit results. In addition to Notre Dame’s win, 3 seed Texas Tech destroys Montana State, 97-62; 1 seed Arizona eliminates Wright State, 87-70; and 9 seed TCU sends Seton Hall packing, 69-42.
SATURDAY & SUNDAY:
— The second round is usually somewhat more relaxed than the Thursday-Friday madness. I said usually.
— Most impressive is Saint Peter’s over 7 seed Murray State, 70-60, on Saturday. Saint Peter’s is in the Sweet 16 for the first time — only the third 15 seed in NCAA history to reach the Sweet 16.
— Among the high seeds not reaching the Sweet 16 are 1 seed Baylor, 2 seed Auburn, 3 seeds Tennessee and Wisconsin and 4 seed Illinois.
— Even though the higher seeds won, Sunday features a couple of classics, with 2 seed Duke keeping Coach K’s final season alive vs. Michigan State and 1 seed Arizona outlasting TCU in overtime, 85-80, at Viejas Arena.
THE SWEET 16:
Arizona – Arkansas – Duke – Gonzaga – Houston – Iowa State – Kansas – Miami – Michigan – North Carolina – Providence – Purdue – Saint Peter’s – Texas Tech – UCLA – Villanova
(My picks in ALL CAPS)
Gonzaga (-8½) vs ARKANSAS
VILLANOVA (-5) vs Michigan
TEXAS TECH (-1) vs Duke
Arizona (-2) vs HOUSTON
UCLA (-2) vs North Carolina
PURDUE (-12½) vs Saint Peter’s
Kansas (-7½) vs PROVIDENCE
MIAMI (-2½) vs Iowa State