It’s been a wild first weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, with an argument for the best ever. Whether it was good teams that dominated or one-time upsets, it’s hard to think up a better year of action. Strong teams like Alabama and UConn, who posted double-digit margins in their first two games, have had little issues while plowing through their competition. Others narrowly pulled off historic upsets like Fairleigh Dickinson, who became the second No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed. Or what about Princeton, the third straight No. 15 seed to make the Sweet 16? Who had the most impressive weekend though? DC Sports discusses in this week’s roundtable…
Associate Sports Editor
Why not go with the hometown Huskies here? If you consider just their first halves against Iona and St. Mary’s, you’ll be disappointed at their -2 margin. Their +40 second half margin? Well that tells a completely different story. The Huskies have methodically worn down each of their opponents so far, keeping it close in the first half, then exploding in the second as the opposition tries to catch their breath. Before you know it, they’re up 15 or 20 after any number of their weapons exploded. There’s no team in the tournament that’s better when they’re clicking, which they demonstrated. If they can turn their second halves into full games, there’s little stopping them from bringing title No. 5 back to Storrs in just a few weeks.
While FDU’s upset was bigger seeding-wise, Princeton’s two wins in the first rounds of March Madness were more impressive. Prior to this tournament, head coach Mitch Henderson had never won an NIT game, let alone one in the Big Dance. Now with two wins, and the amount of parity that seems to be in this tournament, who knows where the train will stop. In addition to the novelty of having a Princeton men’s team go far in March, the way the team got to the Sweet 16 was also special. The Tigers didn’t just edge past No. 7 Missouri, they won by 15. Putting the present-day matters aside for a second, one of the most out-there things about Princeton this year is that they’ve earned a grudge match against Creighton that’s been over 60 years in the making. The two teams met for the first and only time on Dec. 29, 1961, and the Bluejays defeated the Tigers. Back then, Creighton was the underdog and took the victory;
, will this time’s underdog do it again?
Tennessee was put into a tough region with Purdue and Duke on its side of the East Region. However, they have managed to punch a ticket to the Sweet 16 by holding Louisiana and Duke to under 56 points each. While the Vols were given a first round scare by the Ragin’ Cajuns, they were able to escape. Tennessee is all about defense, but Oliver Nkamhoua has been terrific on the offensive end, scoring 27 points in their second round win over Duke. Duke was red-hot, on a ten-game winning streak. Even with Zakai Zeigler out, Santiago Vescovi has been huge leading the Vols to the Sweet 16. They have been to nine Sweet 16s, but only have made one Elite Eight, in 2010. I think Tennessee will make their deepest NCAA Tournament run in program history, winning the East Region and punching their ticket to Houston.
Florida Atlantic Owls
In their last year in Conference USA before joining the American Athletic Conference, the Florida Atlantic Owls have had a memorable season. But why should their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance end in the first weekend when the team has lost just three games and spent four weeks in the Top 25? Trailing by seven at one point, Nicholas Boyd hit a two in the dying seconds of regulation to upset the Memphis Tigers in the first round before bringing the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights’ tournament run to an end. While that second win came against a No. 16 seed, the Owls have proven they are not leaving March Madness without a fight. Led by Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin in the backcourt and Vladislav Goldin at center, FAU will give the No. 4 Volunteers a hard time under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden in their first Sweet 16 appearance. In addition, Jalen Gaffney, who previously spent the last three years playing for Dan Hurley, is playing in the second weekend just like Connecticut is.
Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats have been a talented team all season, but with what they’ve shown in the tournament, I feel like they’ve really turned it on. Their first round matchup against Montana State may have been close in the first half, but the team kept their foot on the gas in the second half to take over. Their second round matchup was pure March Madness entertainment as well, headlined by Markquis Nowell’s 27 points and 9 assists. The duo of Nowell and Keyontae Johnson have been two of the best storylines in college basketball and it’s only made this team more interesting as they advance into their toughest matchup of the tournament against Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. They’ll once again have to capitalize on the talent that’s gotten them to this point, but if they’re able to perform like what they’ve shown so far, they’ve got as good of a chance as anyone to continue to advance in the tournament.