The first round of the NCAA tournament was a dud.
And I say this as someone that loves college basketball more than just about anyone loves college basketball.
There wasn’t a single buzzer-beater. The closest thing we got to a game-winning shot was when USC’s Elijah Stewart his a three with 36 seconds left to beat SMU. That was also the closest thing we got to an upset during the first two days of the event, a No. 11 seed and the fourth-best team in the Pac-12 knocking off a No. 6 seed from the AAC.
Yes, Middle Tennessee State advanced to the second round of the tournament for the second straight year, but the Blue Raiders were actually favored against No. 5 seed Minnesota just like No. 11 seed Rhode Island was favored against No. 6 seed Creighton. No. 11 seed Xavier was technically a two-point dog to No. 6 seed Maryland, but any gambler worth their vig was on the Musketeers just like every one that filled out a bracket had Chris Mack’s club in the second round.
In other words, there are no Cinderellas this year that we haven’t seen before. The top four seeds went undefeated in the first round for the first time since 2007 and just the fifth time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The issue, however, isn’t just that we lack Cinderellas, it’s that none of those potential Cinderellas even gave us a thrilling run at an upset. The two most exciting moments of the first round were the result of intentional fouls that went off the rails; Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis intentionally fouled Northwestern with his team up one and 15 seconds left because he forgot the score, and Seton Hall was whistled for a flagrant foul that iced their loss to Arkansas when an intentional foul with less than a minute left was just a little bit too intentional. The only last-second shot that mattered was when Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans hit a three at the buzzer to cover the spread.
What can you do?
You’re not always going to be getting half court buzzer-beaters and history-making collapses. We hope we do. Sometimes it just works out like this.
But what first round chalk means is a second round that is loaded with weird, tantalizing and awesome matchups. Like Kentucky-Wichita State, which will give the Shockers a shot at revenge against the team that ended their perfect season three years ago while simultaneously giving them a chance to stick it to the Selection Committee. Or the clash of styles that comes with West Virginia-Notre Dame, Purdue-Iowa State and Florida-Virginia. Or the red-hot Michigan Wolverines getting their shot at Louisville. Or plucky upstart Northwestern facing off with big, bad, overrated (?) Gonzaga.
The first two days of the tournament may have been boring.
But there are still 16 more games to be played this weekend, and if there’s anything we know about March, it’s that the Madness always shows up eventually.