After a four year absence the NCAA men’s basketball tournament made it’s return to Salt Lake City. The day was full of threes, dunks, blocks, fans booing, and just about anything else you can ask for from a March Madness game. The teams that came were South Dakota State, Gonzaga, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), St. Mary’s, Vanderbilt, Northwestern, North Dakota, and Arizona.
Gonzaga vs South Dakota State: This game was truly a David vs Goliath match up. A one seed against a sixteen seed. But, the Jackrabbits came to give the Zags a challenge. South Dakota State came out firing offensively and defensively. During the first half they limited Gonzaga’s runs. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t shut down Gonzaga forever.
Gonzaga is a very versatile team and is hard to stop on the offensive end. They have so many versatile players it makes them very hard to defend. Nigel Williams-Goss comes to mind when you talk about hard to stop. But on Thursday he didn’t play so well and that meant others had to step up. One of those players was Jordan Mathews. Matthews had 16 points, one assist, and five rebounds. Johnathan Williams and Przemek Karnowski took care of business inside. These two combined for 16 points, 17 rebounds, three blocks, and just five turnovers. They are hard to stop inside.
South Dakota State gave a valiant effort. Trailing by four at half to one of the best teams in the nation is no small task. SDSU limited Gonzaga getting out on fastbreaks. One impressive player was Mike Daum. He came out in the first half and gave Gonzaga fits. He would take Przemek Karnowski off the dribble and when he had a guard on him he would step back and hit the three ball. He also grabbed seven rebounds and a handed out a couple of assists. The Jackrabbits hurt themselves with turnovers and fouls. They had four more fouls and turnovers than Gonzaga and those led to points.
So when it all came down to it, Gonzaga won by 20. They played better, they shot the ball better, and they made better decisions. South Dakota State doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. They weren’t supposed to win, but they held their ground. They competed and gave a challenge to one of the best teams in the country. So Gonzaga moves on, South Dakota State goes home.
Northwestern vs Vanderbilt: This was one of the most exciting games of the tournament so far, perhaps the most exciting. This game was kind of a battle of the guards. Whose guards could make better plays, whose guards could make the shots, whose guards could be smart, and that element lost Vanderbilt the game. Both teams were evenly matched, and both teams had a chance to win.
Northwestern definitely won the fan base. This was the team’s first ever tournament and the Northwestern fans came out of every corner just to watch this game. This element helped the Wildcats get momentum and get them going. Bryant McIntosh absolutely ripped Vanderbilt’s defense apart. He would take it inside and then he would step out and hit three balls. He was the player that hit the game winning free throws to give Northwestern their first ever tournament win. As a team they out rebounded Vanderbilt and had a better field goal percentage and three point percentage. When it came down to the final moments, Northwestern was clutch, and made big defensive stops.
Vanderbilt made perhaps one of the dumbest plays in NCAA tournament history. After a late basket they were leading by one with fourteen seconds left and they inexplicably fouled Northwestern’s best player and kissed their victory goodbye. Besides the play at the end, Vanderbilt played a really good game. Matthew Fisher-Davis came off the bench and played exceptionally well. He played 31 minutes and scored 22 points and added one assist and three rebounds. But, he was the player that fouled McIntosh at the end when they were up one and basically lost the game for them.
When Fisher-Davis fouled Bryant everyone watching was in shock, Northwestern fans were in happy shock, and Vanderbilt fans were just in shock. Both teams played really well, both shot the three ball well and they competed for 40 minutes. But, Northwestern won and advances to the third round to face the number one seed Gonzaga.
St. Mary’s vs VCU: This was a fun game to watch because of the defense. When you put great defense against great offense it makes for a great game. St. Mary’s went on a big run to end the half followed by a late rally by VCU in the second half to make this a competitive contest. The shooting, the inside play, definitely the defense, and the speed.
VCU is very entertaining to watch because they play defense and they convert that to offense. So when they started mounting their comeback, they used their momentum on defense to score on the offensive end. JeQuan Lewis, had an outstanding effort. His name will be coming up soon when people are talking draft. He brought the Rams back into the game and kept them in the game but it just wasn’t enough. He scored 30 points and added two assists, one rebound, and two steals. He just ran through the St. Mary’s defense. He has tremendous speed which made him difficult to stop on the offensive end and a force on the defensive end. Even though they lost, he was the player in the game. He sprained his ankle and he just kept going. Nothing was going to stop him.
For St. Mary’s it was the team effort. Having four of their five starters scoring in double digits isn’t easy. St. Mary’s leading scoring was Jock Landale. He played 40 of the 40 minutes of the game and produced more than necessary. He had 18 points, two blocks, two assists, and 13 rebounds. This was his 13th double-double of the season. When St. Mary’s needed a bucket, they could go to almost anyone on the floor. Calvin Hermanson had one of the most impressive dunks of the tournament this far.
At the end of the game, St. Mary’s made the plays, made the stops, and won. Each team gave their all until the buzzer sounded. St. Mary’s played a complete game and so did VCU but when you look at it, you can’t make that many mistakes and expect to win. VCU committed too many fouls fouled putting St. Mary’s at the line where they converted.
Arizona vs North Dakota: Like the Gonzaga game, this was also a David vs Goliath match up. Arizona is one of the top tier teams in the nation and is a tough opponent for almost every team. Just like most of the teams Arizona played this season, they won by a lot. But for a few minutes North Dakota gave Arizona a challenge. But when the Wildcats get going, it is hard to slow them down.
Arizona is one of the best teams in the nation and has a good chance to win the championship. They play every single play like it’s a 0-0 game. With that mentality, this team could go very far. Arizona is very athletic. They have quickness in their guards, forwards, and even their center. Lauri Markkanen is a great player and has earned the nickname ” The Baby Unicorn” This nickname perfectly describes the way he plays and the person he plays like. Against North Dakota he had 20 points and six rebounds. He is a leader on this team and they need him. Rawle Alkins is extremely athletic and quick on and off the dribble. He’s very hard to defend because he is moving almost every second they are on offense. Let’s not forget about what Allonzo Trier did. He had one of the hardest missed dunks and then right after he had one of the hardest dunks of the tournament.
North Dakota played well but they couldn’t compete with the Cats. But, they put up 82 points against one of the better defensive teams. They had four of their five starters in double digits and two of those scored over 20 points. The play of Quinton Hooker was really impressive. He weaved in and out of the Arizona defense and scored 25 points. Along with those 25 points he had one steal, four assists, and two rebounds. Drick Bernstine also played exceptionally well. Scoring 20 points and helping Quinton Hooker try and win.
Going late into the night wouldn’t stop Arizona from taking the win. North Dakota played a great game but couldn’t help that they were playing a great team near that team’s home. Arizona played very well and you should look for more of that in the future tournament games. So in the third round Arizona will face off against St. Mary’s.
The first day in Salt Lake this year was definitely full of excitement. Fans, bench players, coaches, and just about every one was going crazy. There were blow outs, comebacks, dumb plays, happiness, sadness, first wins, and the number one seeds keep their winning streak. I’d look for more of this craziness on Saturday when these teams face off against each other.