The madness is officially underway with a slate of 16 games in the men’s NCAA Tournament first round and two more First Four games in the women’s field tonight.
The first slate of games has delivered with upsets, with a pair of 12 seeds leading the way. Richmond knocked off trendy Final Four pick Iowa 67-63 and New Mexico State held off Connecticut 70-63.
Also, No. 11 Michigan, favored in the Vegas odds, “upset” Colorado State by overcoming a 15-point deficit for its own comfortable victory, 75-63.
Elsewhere, No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga began its quest for an elusive championship by defeating No. 16 Georgia State 93-72.
Another No. 1 seed, the Baylor Bears, dominated Norfolk State in an East Region matchup, 85-49. The defending NCAA champions set a program record for margin of victory (36). And in the Midwest Region, the Kansas Jayhawks play in the day’s latest tipoff as they entertain Texas Southern, which won its First Four game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
On the women’s side, Longwood edged Mount St. Mary’s 74-70 in a battle for the No. 16 seed, while Missouri State is taking on Florida State for the No. 11 seed.
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No. 12 seed New Mexico State takes down UConn
Teddy Allen made a steal, converted a three-point play and hit four clutch free throws, all in the final 30 seconds, to lead 12th-seeded New Mexico State to a thrilling 70-63 upset of No. 5 seed UConn in the West Region.
Allen finished with a game-high 37 points and scored the Aggies’ last 15 points of the game as they were ablt to hold off a second-half comeback by the Huskies. New Mexico State led by 10 at halftime before UConn rallied to tie the game at 52 with just over five minutes to play.
But Allen was just too tough down the stretch. “My teammates kept looking for me, telling me to shoot it,” Allen said. “That’s all you can ask for, a team that believes in you, a coach that believes in you. And you see what happens.”
Longwood women hold on to beat Mount St. Mary’s
Longwood got off to a scorching start, leading 22-5 after the first quarter, but had to withstand a furious comeback by Mount St. Mary’s to pull out a 74-70 victory in the NCAA women’s First Four.
Lancers senior Akila Smith led the way with 32 points and 13 rebounds in a battle of No. 16 seeds. They’ll move on to meet top-seeded N.C. State in Raleigh on Saturday.
Play was stopped early in the second half of the East Region matchup between No. 5 seed St. Mary’s and No. 12 seed Indiana when the basketball got wedged in between the backboard and the TBS camera.
But never fear! It was nothing good old human ingenuity and some top-tier athleticism couldn’t fix.
Two members of the Indiana cheerleading squad took care of the problem with a quick overhead lift, a move they’ve probably practiced thousands of times. And play quickly resumed.
TBS announcer Andrew Catalon provided an enthusiastic play-by-play call as well.
Junior guard Daryl Banks III has been money for St. Peter’s in the first half, scoring 16 points — including a perfect 4-for-4 on 3-pointers — as the 15th-seeded Peacocks hit the locker room at halftime in a 37-37 tie with second-seeded Kentucky.
The game has been close throughout, with neither team holding more than a four-point lead.
In another potential upset, 12th-seeded New Mexico State has a 32-22 halftime lead over No. 5 UConn. Junior guard Teddy Allen is setting the pace with 14 points for the Aggies.
In recent years, men’s college basketball coaches have needed to win the national championship to accumulate $1 million in bonus money.
On Thursday, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes reached that figure with the Volunteers’ first-round victory over Longwood. The win added $200,000 to his total for this season — and he can get $200,000 more for each additional win except a win in the title game, which would be worth $300,000.
MORE SALARY INFO: Coaches’ compensation database
Although Barnes has missed on some bonuses this season, he still could end up with more than $2 million in incentive pay.
Since USA TODAY Sports began tracking these amounts in the 2016-17 season, the top single-season totals, including amounts based on team academic performance, have been Virginia coach Tony Bennett’s $1.25 million in 2018-19 and North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ $1 million in 2016-17. Those seasons ended in NCAA titles for their respective teams.
— Steve Berkowitz
No. 1 Gonzaga pulls away after shaky start
Georgia State made a bid to become only the second 16th seed to win an NCAA Tournament game, but in the end, top-ranked Gonzaga was too much for the plucky Panthers.
Georgia State held a 54-52 lead with 13:10 to play before the Zags finally caught fire and turned the game into the blowout everyone expected, outscoring Georgia State 31-14 over the final 10 1/2 minutes. Drew Timme led the way with 32 points and 13 rebounds.
However, the Zags’ uneven performance didn’t provide much support for their status as a title contender, USA TODAY Sports’ Scott Gleeson writes.
Gonzaga faces Memphis on Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Did refs botch end of Richmond vs. Iowa?
Iowa was on the wrong side of Richmond’s upset on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawkeyes, winners of the Big Ten tournament and a sleeper team picked by many analysts to reach the Final Four, had several calls not go their way down the stretch – including one momentous no-call off a Kris Murray three-point attempt with exactly one minute remaining. Iowa was trailing 60-57.
Two NCAA referees appeared to be viewing the play and opted not to call a foul on the three-point attempt despite there being clear contact on Murray’s arm by Richmond’s Matt Grace.
After that play, Iowa went on to lose 67-63 thanks to a bucket and three-point play by Richmond’s Nathan Cato and two clutch free throws from Jacob Gilyard.
— Scott Gleeson
North Carolina takes it to Marquette
There’s no argument over which team should have been seeded higher in this 8-9 East Region matchup. No. 8 North Carolina drubbed No. 9 Marquette 95-63.
Brady Manek had a double-double with 28 points and 11 rebounds, while Caleb Love drilled 6 of his 11 shots from beyond the arc and scored 21 of his 23 points in the first half as the Tar Heels were never seriously threatened.
No. 12-seeded Richmond was unfazed, stunning the Hawkeyes 67-63 to become this NCAA Tournament’s first true Cinderella.
Richmond, winners of the Atlantic 10 tournament, had no shot at making the NCAAs as an at-large bid despite hanging around the bubble through February and March. On Thursday, the Spiders (24-12) proved they belonged on the big stage with a gutsy and determined performance against one of the better teams in the mighty Big Ten Conference.
Jacob Gilyard, a 5-9 senior sparkplug point guard, helped spearhead the upset with 24 points and six assists in the win. Richmond forward Tyler Burton came up clutch from the free-throw line (9-for-10) to finish with 18 points. Senior Nathan Cayo (15 points) had a pair of crucial baskets in the final 1:30 to help the Spiders pull away.
Iowa’s All-American forward Keegan Murray, who averages 23.6 points a game, couldn’t find an offensive rhythm in this game – finishing with 21 points and scoring most of the baskets late. A major no-call in the final minute off Kris Murray’s three-pointer sealed the Hawkeyes’ fate.
Richmond will face Providence in the second round Saturday.
— Scott Gleeson
Tennessee trounces Longwood
Fresh off its SEC tournament championship, No. 3 Tennessee dominated No. 14 Longwood end to end in a 88-56 victory. Five Volunteers scored in double-digits and the team made 14 of 24 3-pointers.
Many thought the Volunteers deserved a two-seed, and it’s easy to see why. They remain a threat in the South Region. Tennessee will face 11-seeded Michigan on Saturday in the second round.
Baylor dominates Norfolk St.
Matthew Mayer finished with a career-high 22 points (4-for7 from 3-point range) to lead all scorers as No. 1 seed Baylor throttled Norfolk State 85-49. It was the largest margin of victory in a tournament for Baylor and the 24 assists are a team-high in a March Madness contest.
Meanwhile, drama brews in the Midwest Region. Fifth-seeded Iowa, a popular “sleeper” Final Four pick, enters halftime of its first-round matchup against No. 12 Richmond down 29-28.
Boise State fought back from a 19-point deficit and had Memphis on its heels in the closing minutes but couldn’t put it all together for a huge comeback. The Tigers lost momentum late in the game but did just enough to escape Boise State 64-53 in the NCAA Tournament’s first round in Portland, Oregon.
A crucial defensive play by veteran point guard Alex Lomax prompted a steal and lay-in for Jalen Duren with 47 seconds left. That proved to be the play of the game for the Tigers, stopping the Broncos’ momentum.
Memphis draws a second-round matchup with the winner of No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 16 Georgia State.
Coach Leon Rice’s team, the regular-season champion in the Mountain West, started slow and trailed 38-19 at halftime. But Boise State kept clawing back play by play before the crowd in Portland sensed a potential March Madness moment. That moment never materialized.
Abu Kigab paced Boise State with 20 points in the loss and Memphis overcame 15 turnovers in the win.
The Mountain West hasn’t won a tournament game since 2018 and the conference is off to an 0-3 start this March – and it’s not even Happy Hour of the first round.
— Scott Gleeson
In what appeared to have all the ingredients of a spicy matchup, No. 9 Memphis is trouncing No. 8 Boise State 38-19 at halftime. Meanwhile, No. 1 seed Baylor is taking care of business over 16-seed Norfolk State, 43-27.
No. 3 Tennessee and No. 14 Longwood have tipped off.
A trendy upset pick, as the “expert” brackets trickled out, was No. 13 South Dakota State over Providence. The No. 4 Friars – the Big East regular season champions – took care of business over the Jackrabbits, though, winning 66-57 in Buffalo. They’ll face the winner of Iowa-Richmond in the Midwest Region’s second round.
The Jackrabbits’ 21-game win streak came to an end and their season ended with a 30-5 record. Providence’s defense held the Jackrabbits to 29 points below their season average in scoring.
“I thought our players were determined … our will to win,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said after the game. “We always heard about ‘how good they (South Dakota) were, how good they were.’”
It didn’t take long for the first upset of March Madness. The Wolverines topped Colorado State 75-63 after a slow start that saw them trail by 15 points. They scored 46 points in the second half to pull away. Next up for Michigan: Tennessee or Longwood.
As Michigan battles Colorado State in a first-round matchup, someone is having fun.
That’s former Wolverine, NBA player and “Fab Five” star Jalen Rose getting hyped in the stands.
Popular upset pick trails at half
The 13-4 matchup is usually ripe for an upset, and the public settled on South Dakota State over Big East champ Providence this year. But the Friars lead the Jackrabbits 31-23 at halftime (truTV).
Michigan without top point guard in opener vs. Colorado State
Michigan’s top point guard DeVante’ Jones did not travel with the team to Indianapolis due to a concussion. Jones averaged 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game this season. Eli Brooks, Frankie Collins and Kobe Bufkin are expected to assume a majority of the ball-handling duties.
– Detroit Free Press
Dark horses and overrated teams
When filling out your bracket, keep in mind there are bound to be many upsets, so don’t forget to pay attention to these teams, such as Iowa, which is a trendy pick to make the Final Four. Also, look out for UCLA, which is trying to repeat its Final Four magic from a year ago. The Bruins are starting to get healthy at the right time and could be trouble an issue for teams that overlook them.
While there are sleepers in the field, there are also teams that either have no business in the tournament or could find their way back home before the first weekend is gone.
Teams like Houston, Texas, Iowa State, Saint Mary’s and Ohio State earned at-large bids while navigating their regular-season schedule, but haven’t shown why you should pencil them in when it comes to advancing through the tournament.
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Dick Vitale vs. cancer
College basketball Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Vitale usually is pumped up for this time of year, but after being diagnosed with cancer and recovering from surgery on his vocal cords to treat lymphoma, Vitale hasn’t been able to speak and show his enthusiasm for the game he loves.
“Not being able to communicate has me crying my eyes out,” Vitale, 82, told USA TODAY Sports through text messages. “I love speaking with people – at lunch or dinner, with my wife and family, and especially with people in public when they come up to me for a conversation.”
Vitale was set to have an evaluation to check his voice on March 16 – the day before the first round of the men’s NCAA Tournament.
Bill Self tops list of highest-paid in college basketball
Kansas coach Bill Self has guided the Jayhawks to success on the court and is handsomely rewarded for his effort to the turn of being one of the highest-paid coaches in college basketball. Self is making $10.2 million this season as the Jayhawks have another team capable of making a title run.
Each of the top five coaches who earn the most have won at least one national championship.
On the women’s side, South Carolina’s Dawn Staley sets the standard as she is making nearly $3 million per season.
Notre Dame outlasts Rutgers in double overtime
Notre Dame forward Paul Atkinson Jr.’s made a putback layup with 1.4 seconds remaining in the second overtime lifting the Fighting Irish to a 89-87 win in the final First Four game in Dayton. The Irish now travel to San Diego in a West Region contest to face No. 6 seed Alabama.
Indiana’s plane issues
After Indiana beat Wyoming in a First Four matchup, the Hoosiers had issues leaving Dayton. The team didn’t leave the city until 4 a.m. because it had to switch planes because the one that was waiting for them was too small to accommodate everyone.
The plane ended up landing five hours later in Portland, giving Indiana less than 36 hours before they take on Saint Mary’s in Thursday’s NCAA tournament first round.