And now, finally, an answer to one of the biggest questions as the men’s NCAA Tournament started on Thursday: What the heck is a Paladin?
Turns out, it’s a heartbreaker. Specifically, it’s a heartbreaker to the Virginia Cavaliers.
In all seriousness, a Paladin is a knight, often renowned for honor and heroism.
Maybe they should also get credit for good defense.
The 13th-seeded Paladins of Furman stole the show on Day 1, topping No. 4 seed Virginia 68-67 in a wild finish that gave us our first major upset of the day. A couple of hours later, No. 15 seed Princeton joined the party, knocking off No. 2 seed Arizona.
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This is what we want on the first day of Madness: Brackets breaking all over the country and double-digit seeds shocking everyone (except themselves, at least if you’re Princeton).
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But other top seeds looked dominant — which is what they’re supposed to look like, especially in their first-round games. All of it is coming together to provide an intriguing second round. But first, we’ve got one more whole day of first-round games, which may provide even more chaos.
For now, here are the winners and losers from Day 1.
There’s nothing like an upset — or two!
First, in the Virginia-Furman game, the Paladins’ suffocating, trapping defense made Virginia senior Kihei Clark panic, and he heaved a dangerous, cross-court pass as the game’s final seconds wound down. That pass was intercepted by Furman’s Garrett Hien, who kicked it to JP Pegues, who’d missed his three previous attempts from long distance. Pegues calmly buried the 3 to go up 68-67. After a timeout, Virginia’s game-winning attempt was off.
Then, in Arizona-Princeton, the Wildcats went ice cold from the field in the final 4:43 (0-for-7) as Princeton pulled off an improbable 59-55 upset. Arizona missed numerous shots in the final couple of minutes that could have won it, and Princeton iced the win with free throws. It’s the third consecutive year a 15 has beaten a 2.
Trailing by as much as 13 in the first half and looking half-asleep in the first game of the day, the Terrapins came back behind 17 points and nine rebounds from sophomore forward Julian Reese, beating West Virginia 67-65. The win advanced Maryland to the second round, where the Terps will take on overall No. 1 seed Alabama. In a back-and-forth slugfest — the game featured nine ties and 11 lead changes — points in the paint (34-24 Maryland) were the difference.
The Terps will have to start and play much better to compete with the Tide on Saturday, but grinding out a win and coming from behind should give them confidence. This is especially important when you consider how bad Maryland has been away from home (5-11 coming into Thursday) this season.
A glimpse into the No. 2-seeded Bruins’ dominance Thursday: At one point late in the first half, UCLA had more made shots (16) than UNC Asheville had attempts (15). That didn’t wind up being the case at the end, but it was still an impressive 86-53 blitz. The Bruins scored 30 points off Asheville turnovers and dominated the boards 40-25. All five starters scored 10 points or more, except for Tyger Campbell — he had seven points but dished out 10 assists.
On a rough day for the ACC (see Virginia), the Blue Devils were never challenged in their 74-51 win over Oral Roberts. One of the best teams in the country the last few weeks of the regular season, the Blue Devils shot 48.4% from the field and dominated the rebounding battle (46-32). Led by Jeremy Roach’s 23 points (on just 17 shots), Duke advances to play No. 4-seeded Tennessee on Saturday.
The best freshman in the country, and maybe the best player in the country, had a rough first NCAA Tournament. The 6-foot-9 forward, a likely NBA lottery pick despite controversy swirling around him, went 0-for-5 from the field in 19 minutes of play, finishing with five rebounds, three assists and three turnovers. The overall No. 1 seed still cruised to a win without him, but Miller’s play will be critical going forward.
Fans of offense
Man alive, there was some ugly shooting on Thursday. A staggering 19-of-32 teams who were in action shot 43% or less from the field, with 11 teams shooting below 40% — and some of those teams won! None was worse than Northern Kentucky, which shot a cover-your-eyes 27.5% from the field.
Teams missed easy shots, took bad shots and missed badly on all kinds of shots. Defense is great, but so is seeing the ball go through the net. Here’s hoping Friday’s games are prettier all around.
Sure, the No. 1 seed Cougars won 63-52. But the decision to play All-American guard Marcus Sasser just days after he suffered a serious groin injury will be second-guessed by everyone, and deservedly so.
Sasser, who was originally hurt in the AAC tournament semifinals last week, is key to the Cougars’ title hopes. After re-injuring himself in the first half vs. Northern Kentucky, he didn’t see the floor in the second half. Did the Cougars just cost themselves?
Trivia time: What happened to Virginia basketball on March 16? If you said, “they made history,” you’d be right. It wasn’t the good kind of history — and this year, history repeated itself. This is becoming a jinxed date for UVA.
On March 16, 2018, Virginia became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16-seed in the men’s NCAA Tournament. Five years later to the day, UVA again blew a game in which it was a clear favorite. What’s worse is how it happened. Tony Bennett’s teams are typically disciplined and smart, so to lose because of an extremely dumb pass is rough.
Virginia hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since the 2019 title run, having lost twice in the first round since then.