By: Josh Taylor, KDKA-TV Sports
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is now in the books, and the second awaits over the course of the weekend. But the first two days provided even more excitement and drama than we come to expect every year, and even taught us a few lessons along the way: some familiar, some fairly new.
1.) Don’t trust Arizona. In their last 10 trips to the Big Dance, the Wildcats have as many first-round exits as they do Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight appearances (three), along with a second round loss. As close as they’ve come several times in the past decade, first round losses in two of the last three seasons have fans either crumpling their brackets in total frustration (I picked them to go to the Elite Eight. Don’t ask me why. I clearly don’t take my own advice.) or patting themselves on the back for not falling for it in the first place.
Then, of course, there’s the underlying theme of whether or not this latest disappointing loss will be the final go-round for head coach Sean Miller in Tucson. And if it is, would he consider a return home to coach his alma mater? The good news is both Pitt and Arizona have a head start on figuring that out.
2.) Conference records mean absolutely nothing in the tournament. As heralded as the ACC was all season as the best conference in the nation, it fell flat on Day 1, losing three of their first four games. Duke (big surprise) was the only winning team on Thursday. North Carolina helped bring things closer to normal with an 18-point win over Lipscomb, but then Virginia took the conference’s apparent prestige, dropped it on the ground and then set it on fire by becoming the first no. 1 seed to ever lose to a 16 seed… and they did it by 20 points to UMBC. Meanwhile, SEC teams won six of their first seven games, and all four Big Ten teams advanced to the second round. Neither conference had a team as a no. 1 seed, and Purdue was the only no. 2 from either.
The next time someone brags to you about a conference’s record during the NCAA Tournament, remind them of 2018. Unless your team is raising a banner at the end of the season, nothing else matters.
3. Tom Izzo is a wizard. Michigan State’s 82-78 win over Bucknell (which would’ve been a much larger margin if not for three 3-pointers by the Bison in the final 17 seconds of the game) advanced the Spartans to the second round for the ninth time in their last 10 tournament appearances – which, by the way, have come in the past 10 consecutive seasons. Six of the previous nine trips have gone past the second round, three of them to the Final Four. Izzo also has four other trips to the Final Four that took place between 1999-2005, three of them coming consecutively (1999-01). They won their lone National Championship under Izzo in 2000.
Say what you want about his resume, but there are only a handful of coaches who are as reliable in the tournament, if not more – Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams come to mind. That kind of track record is so close to magical, the dark green his team is cloaked in might as well represent Slytherin House.
4. New blood is fun. Marshall, a no. 13 seed in the East Region, beat fourth-seeded Wichita State, 81-75, giving the Thundering Herd their first ever NCAA Tournament victory in their first tournament appearance in 31 years. As an alum of a school I’ve never seen in the tournament in my lifetime, I couldn’t help but be happy for the Marshall fans. Even the teams who have no hope can sometimes have that rare opportunity for hope. Which leads me to our final lesson…
5. Anything can happen. ANYTHING. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County, making only its second appearance ever in the NCAA Tournament, became the first no. 16 seed to ever beat a no. 1. An underdog at nearly 20-to-1 odds, they outshot the ACC Champion Cavaliers, 54.2 percent to 41.1, and outrebounded them, 33-24, to earn that win. The Retrievers shot an even 50 percent from behind the 3-point line (12-for-24), while Virginia made only four out of 22 attempts from deep. Just a reminder that even the highly mathematically improbable can still happen.
Maybe your bracket is already scorched in flames after two days. (In which case, welcome to the club. Pull up a seat and get your hands warmed up.) If somehow you’re still hanging around, congratulations. There’s still much basketball to be played, and many more unique moments to give us either tremendous joy, or Earth-shattering disappointment. And then we’ll pick ourselves up and look forward to doing it all over again next year.