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March Madness 2021: The Best and Worst of Day 1

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After 24 long, painful months, the madness finally returned on Friday. It did so in style.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oral Roberts at Ohio State IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

There will be no maundering intro here. Not this year. We have all waited far too long — and there have been far too many words written already about how long we’ve all waited — for any of that.

The madness returned on Friday, and it was glorious. That’s all that matters.

Let’s dive into it.

The 3 Best Day 1 Games

1. (7) Florida 75, (10) Virginia Tech 70 (OT) (South)

Before Friday, it had been 731 days since the last time America woke up ready for a full slate of first round NCAA tournament action. That’s a significant amount of pressure on the first game to tip, which is always on an island by itself for the majority of its first half.

Thankfully, Florida and Virginia Tech answered the bell.

The Hokies controlled the game for most of the afternoon, leading by as many as 10 points in the first half and as many as eight in the second. But a 10-2 Florida run before the final TV timeout of regulation appeared to put the Gators in prime position to salt away the first win of Friday.

The first taste of March Madness in two years wouldn’t let things end that plainly.

After Virginia Tech’s Nahiem Alleyne — who was sensational in this game — missed a game-tying three-pointer on one end, Florida’s Anthony Duruji missed a pair of free throws with seven seconds remaining on the other. That opened the door for Alleyne to right his wrong from the previous possession, and the lefty sophomore delivered.

Duruji swung momentum back in Florida’s favor on the first possession of overtime, dunking all over Virginia Tech’s Keve Aluma (you’ll see it later), fouling out the Hokie big man in the process.

The two teams exchanged blows in the extra period before Tre Mann’s ice cold step-back three all put the game out of reach for good.

“He is the Mann. Onions!” Raftery does not miss.

After a two-year wait, all of us deserved gold from Friday’s first tip. Florida and Virginia Tech gave us exactly that. Thanks, fellas.

2. (15) Oral Roberts 75, (2) Ohio State 72 (OT) (South)

Oral Roberts became the ninth team in NCAA tournament history, and the first since 2016, to win a first round game as a 15-seed.

I hate to regurgitate the overwhelming sense of being “owed” something like this, but with all due respect to everyone associated with Ohio State basketball, this was the level of madness college hoops fanatics have spent the past year daydreaming about.

After holding a slim advantage for most of the afternoon, Oral Roberts appeared to be seeing the door on its fairy tale closing when Ohio State seized a four-point lead with just 2:30 remaining. But the Golden Eagles utilized their one-two punch of Max Abams, the nation’s leading scorer, and Kevin Obanor, who scored a game-high 30 points, to pull back to level. The Buckeyes had one final shot to end things in regulation, but Duane Washington’s forced jumper found nothing but air.

Obanor scored the first four points of the extra period, and Oral Roberts never trailed again. A late flurry gave OSU two opportunities send the game to another overtime, but a Justin Ahrens force followed by a clean look from the top of the key for Washington both went wanting.

For Ohio State, this was an oddly listless performance, especially coming on the heels of its inspired play throughout the Big Ten tournament. The Buckeyes appeared to approach the game as though their effort and execution level could fluctuate without harming their chances of advancing, a notion head coach Chris Holtmann dismissed after the game.

“Their two players that obviously concerned us were terrific, so give them, their coaches, their players, their program, their university a lot of credit for this win,” Holtmann said. “We had no illusions that this was going to be by any stretch anything other than a really challenging game, and it obviously was that from the very jump.”

Oral Roberts will look to become just the second 15-seed ever to crash the Sweet 16 when it faces Florida on Sunday.

3. (13) North Texas 78, (4) Purdue 69 (OT) (South)

There were three fantastic overtime games on Friday, and all three took place in the South Region. The last of the three to conclude was North Texas’ gritty upset of Purdue from inside Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Mean Green seemed on the verge of handing Purdue full control of the game at various points deep into the second half, but somehow managed to never relinquish the lead after the contest’s opening two minutes.

After surviving a potential game-winner by North Texas’ James Reese at the end of regulation, Purdue seemed to have something of an upper hand heading into overtime. Instead, the favored Boilermakers were outscored 17-8 in the extra period.

“If I told you that we didn’t plan to do this, I’d be lying,” North Texas head coach Grant McCasland said. “Those guys in that locker room came here for this reason. You never know what happens when you get out there and scrap. ... But those guys believe we’re going to win. They really do. That’s the part that you love about sports. No one out here is any better or any different when it comes down to the work you put in and what you control.”

This marks the 10th time in the last 13 NCAA tournaments that at least one 13-seed has upset a 4. North Texas gets No. 5 seed Villanova on Sunday.

The 3 Teams That Won It The Best

1. Oregon State

In 2016, Oregon State brought an end to the longest NCAA tournament drought among any power conference program which had made a previous appearance in the Dance. The Beavers had been left out of March Madness ever since Gary Payton’s senior season of 1989-90.

On Friday, Wayne Tinkle’s team ensured that OSU would avoid another dubious distinction: Going a full 40 years between NCAA tournament wins. The Beavers advanced in the Big Dance for the first time since 1982 by hammering fifth-seeded Tennessee in game that wasn’t even as close as the 70-56 final score would lead you to believe.

Not a bad run for a team that a little over a week ago was staring down a 16-point deficit in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals and an unremarkable end to an unremarkable season.

It should also be noted that on the same day Oregon State won its first NCAA tournament game in 39 years, Rutgers won its first tournament game in 38 years.

Four of Oregon State’s five starters scored in double figures, but the story of the afternoon was OSU’s defense. The Pac-12 tournament champions held Tennessee to its second lowest point total of the season, and forced the Volunteers into a woeful 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) from beyond the arc.

The 1981-82 Oregon State team ended up playing its way to the Elite Eight. This year’s group will try and take the next step towards repeating that history on Sunday when they take on Cade Cunningham and fourth-seeded Oklahoma State.

So much orange in that pod.

2. Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts became just the ninth 15-seed in NCAA tournament history to make it out of the first round when they outlasted Ohio State in overtime on Friday afternoon. That’s awesome, and it’s the type of accomplishment that’s always going to warrant inclusion on this type of list.

But even though they created a piece of history that can never be taken away, Oral Roberts is not No. 1 on this list for a very simple reason: The Golden Eagles can be better.

While the threes they did connect on all seemed to be very timely, ORU went just 11-for-35 from beyond the arc, good for 31.4 percent. That’s solidly below their season average of 38.4 percent, which makes them the 13th-best three-point shooting team in the country. The Golden Eagles also missed four free-throws and shot below their season average of 82.4 percent from the free-throw line, which is the best in Division-I.

It feels strange to say that Oral Roberts will need to be better against 7th-seeded Florida than it was against second-seeded Ohio State if it wants to advance to the Sweet 16, but I believe that to be the case. The good news for bracket chaos enthusiasts is that ORU is fully capable of giving that type of performance. If it does, it will become just the second 15-seed ever (shouts to Dunk City) to win multiple games in an NCAA tournament.

3. West Virginia

The Mountaineers get the nod for the final spot, and not just because they shot 50.8 percent from the field as a team in an impressive 84-67 win over Morehead State. WVU slides in at No. 3 because its first round win also happened to be career win No. 900 for head coach Bob Huggins.

Huggins is just the sixth coach in Division-I history to reach 900 wins.

The 3 Biggest Disappointments

1. Ohio State

I mean, sort of a no-brainer here.

You can’t be the ninth out of 132 No. 2 seeds to lose in the first round and avoid this spot.

This is one that’s gonna stick with you.

2. Tennessee

The Volunteers proved a million times during the regular season that they were incapable of being trusted to do pretty much anything. No postseason result for Rick Barnes’ team was going to be surprising, and that includes a double-digit upset loss to a 12-seed in a game that was never really all that competitive.

Tennessee was a miserable 5-for-26 from three in this game, and 56 points was their second lowest point total of the season. Overall, a bizarre season with a predictable conclusion for a UT team that started the year ranked in the top 10 and picked to win the SEC.

3. San Diego State

On one hand, the Aztecs seem like an obvious choice here because, unlike Purdue, SDSU wasn’t even remotely competitive in its upset loss to a double-digit seed. They didn’t score for the final 9:38 of the first half, and they never really made any sort of run after the break.

On the other, it’s hard to fault anyone going up against Zombie Syracuse in March. Normal rules simply don’t apply.

Allow me to say this once again: Syracuse is not a very good basketball team and a lot of people (myself and probably you included) are very angry and annoyed that they were selected (comfortably) for this year’s tournament.

And now allow me to say this once again: This is what Syracuse lives for. This is where Syracuse thrives.

When you’ve left them for dead and the mere thought of advancing them a single round on your bracket makes you want to throw up, that’s when you know Syracuse is about to make a splash.

A disappointing performance, sure, but in actuality San Diego State never stood a chance.

5 Day 1 Cheers

1. Madness

Honestly, after going 24 months between tournaments and trudging through this bizarre season just to reach this point, if all 16 games on Friday had been won by the favorites by an average 40 points, that would have been okay.

The fact that the basketball gods rewarded our patience and loyalty with a healthy dose of extreme upsets, extra periods and fantastic finishes was ... well, it was pretty fucking cool.

2. Davonte Davis’ football snap assist

Perhaps there had been a perfectly executed between the legs football snap for a made three-pointer in the NCAA tournament before Friday. Maybe I was just blissfully unaware of it.

I’m certainly aware of the one Davonte Davis and JD Notae pulled off against Colgate though.

Maybe the most successful football-ish play we’ve seen from the Razorbacks since Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle wreck.

3. This Guy

My man is a sorcerer.

It’s one thing to correctly call a historic NCAA tournament upset on the day of the game or the day the bracket is released, but this guy nailed Oral Roberts over Ohio State while the Golden Eagles were in the midst of winning the Summit League tournament title.

He had no idea Oral Roberts would be a 15-seed. He had no idea Ohio State would be a 2-seed. He had no idea the two teams would be paired up against one another. He still called the upset. He still was right.

Unbelievable.

4. Javion Hamlet’s dad’s sweatshirt

A custom-made sweatshirt with your son’s image AND a list of all his basketball accomplishment’s is a Grade A+ March Madness flex.

Can he get the final score of North Texas’ first round win on the sweatshirt before Sunday? I can’t wait to find out.

Also, did I debate a shitty “Hamlet’s dad” joke here? No question about it.

5. Heavy underdogs getting it done

Friday wasn’t nuts just because we had a 2 and a 4 go down on the same day, it was nuts because it marked the first tournament time since 1985 where three teams that were favored by 7-points or more all lost on the same day. Shout to Oral Roberts, North Texas and Oregon State for getting the madness back with zero hesitation.

5 Day 1 Jeers

1. Big Ten flag-bearers

The only No. 1 seed from the Big Ten that played on Friday handled its business with ease, as popular national title pick Illinois rolled over outmatched Drexel. The league’s next two most prominent squads in action, however, weren’t quite as fortunate.

No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Purdue. Two trendy Final Four picks (the Buckeyes especially) gone on the first full day of action. While the other Big Ten teams taking the court on Friday — Rutgers, Wisconsin and Illinois — all did the conference proud, those performances won’t do much to overshadow the day’s prevailing storyline.

In a league as fiercely competitive as the Big Ten, you have to shine when the lights are the brightest if you want to avoid being on the receiving end of shitty rivalry jokes for the next year. Unfortunately for Ohio State and Purdue, four months of positivity and hard earned respect were washed away in a mere couple of hours.

2. Sister Jean haters

The amount Sister Jean disrespect that was floating around on the interwebz Friday was appalling.

I get that part of earning your internet membership card is being smarmy to the point of not being able to enjoy absolutely anything that other people might, but come on. It’s a 101-year-old basketball loving nun. Come on.

If Loyola had gone one and out in 2018, everyone would be falling over themselves about the return of that adorable basketball nun they remember vaguely from a few years ago. Because the Ramblers had to keep playing for three weeks, a contrarian army was forced to assemble.

How did we ever get to a point where we became too cool for college basketball-loving nuns over the age of 100?

For Christ’s sake, she spent the afternoon hanging out with Butler Blue.

SHE’S JUST SO FULL OF BASKETBALL.

You people are monsters.

3. Eric Musselman’s motivational toothpaste tactics

The toothpaste jokes were flowing fast and freely when Colgate raced out to a double-digit lead over Arkansas during the first half of their 3-14 matchup on Friday afternoon. As it turns out, Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman had already served up his own semi-comedic play on the name before the game even started.

Meh. To me that’s a C- effort at best. I expect far more from Muss, especially in March.

Also, someone’s gotta clean that up.

4. The End of the Roy Williams Streak

Wisconsin’s 85-62 trouncing of North Carolina brought an end to one of the famous streaks in all of college basketball. Roy Williams lost an NCAA tournament first round game for the first time in his career as a head coach, dropping his all-time record in March Madness openers to 29-1. The loss also snapped UNC’s streak of consecutive wins in the tournament’s opening round at 17. It was the Heels’ first one-and-done performance in the Big Dance since 1999, when Bill Guthridge was in year two of a three-year run in Chapel Hill.

On the flip side, Wisconsin exorcised some demons and improved to 5-42 all-time inside Mackey Arena. The Badgers had previously lost five straight inside Purdue’s home gym, with four of those coming by double figures. It was Bucky’s first win at Mackey since a triumph over the Boilermakers on Jan. 25, 2014.

It should also be noted that Wisconsin was the team that ended Kentucky’s run at 40-0 in 2015. No team loathes perfection quite like the Badgers.

5. No Moses Wright

Georgia Tech fans will always fondly remember 2020-21 for being the season where their Jackets won the ACC tournament, had league’s Player of the Year, and got back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in over a decade.

Having said that, it’s going to be difficult for those same fans to not also remember this as a season with an ending that will always elicit a “what if?” discussion.

Moses Wright, the previously mentioned ACC Player of the Year who was also the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, was not with the team on Friday. Instead, the big man who was the centerpiece of Tech’s return to national relevance this season, was in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 on Monday.

Teammate Jose Alvarado sported Wright’s No. 5 in his absence.

Tech came out with all the fire in the world and raced out to a 13-3 lead, but Loyola was slowly and methodically able to exploit the Jackets’ weakness in the middle, eventually walking away with a 71-60 win.

I don’t know if Wright’s presence alone would have been enough for Georgia Tech to make up 12 points on Friday, and even if it had, I’m even less certain it would have made much of a difference on Sunday against Illinois. But just like Josh Pastner, I’ll never know for sure, and I’ll always be wondering what if.

Bring the shield back, Josh. Don’t let the last five days erase the three months that came before them.

Keep the shield, Josh.

All Day-1 Team

Max Abmas, Oral Roberts

The nation’s leading scorer certainly made the most of his first opportunity on college basketball’s biggest stage. Abmas played all 45 minutes in Oral Roberts’ upset of Ohio State and scored 29 points while drilling 5-of-10 shots from beyond the arc.

Justin Smith, Arkansas

Colgate simply had no answer for the senior forward, who scored 29 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, collected five steals and blocked two shots. Smith was the only Razorback who played all 40 minutes of the team’s 85-68 victory.

Javion Hamlet, Ohio

Scored 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished out five assists in North Texas’ overtime upset of Purdue.

Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse

Boeheim’s red-hot March continued as he went 11-for-15 from the field and 7-for-10 from three in Syracuse’s rout of San Diego State. Boeheim’s seven threes in an NCAA tournament game were the second most ever by a Syracuse player, trailing only Gerry McNamara’s nine.

Miles McBride, West Virginia

The man they call “Deuce” kicked off what could be a special run for himself by torching Morehead State for 30 points, six rebounds, six assists, and three steals. McBride was 11-for-17 from the field and 3-of-4 from three.

HONORABLE MENTION:

Neemias Queta, Utah State

Scored 11 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, handed out six assists, and tied the school’s single-game record with seven blocks. Queta also joined Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh (2010) as the only players in tournament history to finish with at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks since blocked shots became a recognized stat.

3 Best Day 1 Dunks

1. Joseph Yesufu, Drake

We’re going to cheat and include a First Four game here because this dunk deserves the main draw spotlight.

Ever put an opponent on a poster? Yesufu.

I will never apologize.

2. Trevion Williams, Purdue

Bonus points for the big fella creating the steal and then doing all the work in the open floor by himself.

For a fleeting moment, it appeared as though this was going to be the play that changed the tide of the game and allowed Purdue to escape the 13/4 upset. Alas ...

3. Anthony Duruji, Florida

How do you make up for missing two free-throws that left the door open for an overtime-inducing buzzer-beater? By starting off the extra period like this:

5 Best Day 1 Images

1. Everybody’s hands go up

That first tournament win in 39 years feeling for Oregon State.

NCAA Photos via Getty Images

2. Sunset at Hinkle

Awesome.

Syracuse Orange v San Diego State Aztecs Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

3. Yesufu crams

I know, I know, I’m cheating again, but look at this freaking picture of this freaking dunk.

Drake v Wichita State Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Art.

4. It’s back, and that’s wonderful, but it certainly isn’t normal just quite yet.

Virginia Tech v Florida Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

5. Agony: Clemson. Ecstasy: Rutgers.

IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

5 Notable Quotes From Day 1:

1. “I have four children back home. This is the fifth best moment of my life.”—Hartford head coach John Gallagher on leading the Hawks to the tournament for the first time in program history

2. “We want to win more. We didn’t come out here just to win one game, we want to win multiple games.” —Oral Roberts guard Max Abmas

3. “We told our guys to play fearless, to play with courage and to let it rip. That’s our theme this year — we’re here, let it rip. We think we can win six games in this tournament.” —Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard after a 65-53 win over Utah State

4. “We had enough grit and enough Jersey tough to get ourselves a win today.” —Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell on the Scarlet Knights’ first tournament win since 1983

5. “Basketball can be the greatest game in the world and when you lose, it’s like somebody reaches in and grabs your heart and shakes it right in front of you, then sort of taunts you a little bit. But I’m coaching basketball. That’s pretty dadgum good.” —North Carolina head coach Roy Williams

Full Saturday Schedule

Prepare your mind, prepare your body, and prepare your soul for the first full 16-game first round SATURDAY in NCAA tournament history.

Saturday, March 20

Let’s do this again.