The opening hours of the Tournament were a precursor for the rest of the 13-hour, basketball filled day. Two games ended in overtime, including a double-overtime thriller and another was decided by just one point. There were seven upsets, including a No. 4 Vanderbilt team that lost to No. 13 Murray State and No. 3 Georgetown getting thrashed by No. 14 Ohio. There were three overtime games, more than all over last year's tournament....combined. 11 of the 16 opening day games were decided by single-digits, while seven were decided by less than three points. Will Day 2 feature more of the same? Perhaps not to the same record-setting degree, but that is why this time of the year is called March Madness.
No. 6 Xavier of the A-10 and No. 11 Minnesota of the Big Ten meet in one of the Friday's first games and this one can be expected to come down to the wire. Their offensive and defensive styles are very similar, but who will get the ball in crunch time? Minnesota has three separate players averaging double-figures scoring, while Xavier's go-to player is clearly Jordan Crawford, a former Big Ten player himself, was second in the Atlantic-10 conference in scoring this season. The Golden Gophers started the season slow, dealing with suspended players in legal trouble and academic problems, but has picked up their play as of late, rolling through the Big Ten Tournament, before losing in the championship game. Xavier has been a Tournament team since the season started, even through the ultra-competitive A-10 play. If this one comes down to the wire, look for Minnesota's Lawrence Westbrook and the Muskateers' Crawford to try and win the game, with Xavier likely coming out on top.
When the brackets first came out on Sunday, No. 5 Temple and No. 12 Cornell looked like the game of the day on Friday. Many analysts were picked the Big Red of Cornell to come through with the "W" behind their 3-point shooting, the best in the nation, and their senior leadership. But with a deeper look, this game could be another thriller like yesterday's games. Cornell Head Coach, Steve Donahue, served as an assistant to Temple's Head Coach, Fran Dunphy, for 10 years at Penn. Now that the two have left, one remains in the Ivy League, while the other remains in Philadelphia, yet neither have experienced the great Tournament success they expected. Dunphy's teams have lost 10 straight NCAA Tournament games, while Cornell is 0-2 under Donahue. Much of the Cornell upset discussion revolves around their 3-point shooting accuracy and dominating inside with 7-footer Jeff Foote, Temple offers their own defense to the argument. Temple is one of the best teams in the Tournament field at defending the perimeter and they also have one of the nation's elite post defenders in Lavoy Allen. One team will head home early, and the other will put an end to their March losing. Look for Temple to come out on top and avoid Cornell's upset bid.
Since Robbie Hummel went down with his season-ending knee injury, no one has given Purdue a chance. They finished the regular-season ranked in the Top 10 of the AP and Coaches polls, but were awarded a No. 4 seed and matched up with one of the best mid-majors in all of college basketball, No. 13 Siena. One 4/13 upset has already occurred, will this be another? With or without Hummel, the Boilermakers play harassing defense, especially on the perimeter and 6'10" JaJuan Johnson patrolling the inside. On offense, they struggle without their best shooter and best playmaker, E'Twaun Moore, in the worst stretch of his career. All signs point to an upset here; an experienced Siena team, that has four starters from a squad that upset Ohio State a year ago, also has the offensive potency to take on Purdue's stifling D. Forwards Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter and guard Edwin Ubiles, all ranked in the Top 10 in the MAAC in scoring this season, combining for 45.4 point per game. But could all this upset talk fire up this Purdue team even more? Even as the No. 4 seed, Purdue feels like the underdog in this matchup.
No. 7 Clemson and No. 10 Missouri should provide one of the more exciting games of the day based on the sheer offensive numbers that could be put up in at least 40 minutes of basketball; both teams average over 73 points per game and gamble on the defensive end. Both teams utilize full-court presses that force more about 18 turnovers per game and over 10 steals per game, where Mizzou tops the country in that statistic. Missouri's offensive prowess and defensive pressure will put a lot of stress on Clemson's Trevor Booker and Co. Who else will step up in this big game for the Tigers of the ACC? How will they deal with a taste of their own pressure? We don't know. Take Missouri in this game, but expect an exhilarating game.
Two Aggie teams meet up in a 5/12 matchup that is much anticipated. No. 5 Texas A&M and No. 12 Utah State have both made a living at home, posting a combined 32-2 record at home this season, but, unfortunately for both teams, the game will be played in Spokane, Washington today. Despite coming into the tournament as an at-large from the Western Athletic Conference, Utah State has consistently been one of the best teams in the nation; along with Kansas and Gonzaga, they are one of three teams to win at least 23 games in every season of the last decade. That's not bad company to be in come NCAA Tournament time. USU has been one of the most accurate 3-point shooting teams in the nation this season (shooting 42%), so Texas A&M must keep their shooters in check. Enter the physicality of guard Donald Sloan and forward Bryan Davis. These two All-Big 12 performers will lead Texas A&M to victory.
To kick of this evening's contests, No. 7 Oklahoma State and No. 10 Georgia Tech meet in a matchup of contrasting styles. The Cowboys have one of the best guard combinations in the country with James Anderson and Obi Muonelo, while Georgia Tech dominates the paint with Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors in their front court. Furthermore, Oklahoma State only has one starter larger than 6'6" and the Yellow Jackets smallest starter stands at 6'5". This could spell trouble for Oklahoma State. Can they keep the 6'9", 230-pound Lawal and 6'10", 250-pound Favors off the glass? Or can they neutralize that frontcourt duo by getting them in foul trouble? Last season, despite having a much similar starting lineup, Oklahoma State held Blake Griffin, the 2009 Big 12 Player of the Year and 2009 NBA Draft's number one overall pick in check throughout the conference championship game. This year, James Anderson was named the Big 12 Player of the Year and finished the regular-season as the nation's third leading scorer. He has the elite ability to score from anywhere on the court. Georgia Tech must use their length to disrupt the shooting ability of the Cowboys who have a trio of shooters in Anderson, Muonelo and Keiton Page, combining for 223 3-point shots this season. Many have tried, few have succeeded in shutting down Oklahoma State's backcourt and this should be no exception. The Cowboys avoid the upset.
No. 8 Gonzaga is coming off a loss in the West Coast Conference Tournament finals where St. Mary's embarrassed the Bulldogs and they look to recover after a two-week break against No. 9 Florida State. The Seminoles are making just their third Tournament appearance in the last 12 years, where, by contrast, Gonzaga has made the Tournament each of the last 12 seasons. The Zags have star power in the backcourt with senior Matt Bouldin running the team and Steven Gray by his side, but they also have two blossoming stars, albeit young, in the front court with Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. They'll need their youthful frontcourt to mature in a hurry as they face one of the biggest challenges of the season- Florida State's massive frontcourt and intimidating defense. A pair of sophomore forward/center Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton lead the charge. Alabi stands tall at 7'1", while Singleton is 6'9", but plays like a guard out on the perimeter at times. Gonzaga's always-brutal non-conference schedule and experience should have more than adequately prepared them for today, so don't look for the Zags to crumble under pressure here. Gonzaga wins this one in a close game.