Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic joined Rob Dauster for an epic, two-hour podcast on the first weekend of the tournament. It was so good that we had to split the podcast into two parts. On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the South and West Regions, from Sister Jean to UMBC to Nevada’s comebacks to Kentucky’s chances at a Final Four.
On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the East and Midwest Regions, from Villanova and Duke steamrolling to Michigan State collapsing to Syracuse and Clemson and Texas Tech and Purdue. It’s all in there.
Most memorable moments from first weekend of 2018 NCAA Tournament
eric musselContrary to what people that were caught up in the moment are going to try and tell you, this was not the craziest first weekend of the NCAA tournament of all time.
We may have had the single-craziest moment ever — we’ll get to that — and we did lose a number of the top teams in the bracket, but the insanity of this weekend wasn’t quite clinical.
That said, we did get left with a number of memorable moments through out the first four days of the greatest sporting event in America. Here are the 12 that will stick with us for the longest time:
12. THE KEENAN EVANS TAKEOVER
We’ve been trying to let you know about this guy all season long. The Texas Tech star averaged 22.5 points and 3.0 assists through the first two weekends of the event, and 33 of the 45 points that he scored came in the second half of two close wins. He hit the go-ahead three to beat Florida with just over two minutes left and made all the big plays in the come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the first round. He is a killer.
If you’re not a gambler, you may not have noticed that the final, seemingly meaningless shot in Kansas’ win over Seton Hall in the second round had all kinds of weight behind it. Powell hit a running 30-footer as time-expired, cutting the Kansas lead to 83-79. Kansas was favored by 4.5 points in that game. The shot that he hit meant that the Pirates covered the spread. Millions of dollars — that’s not an exaggeration — changed hands as a direct result of that shot going in.
You may not have known who he was before this event started but you probably know who he is now. The Gonzaga freshman scored 15 points and hit the game-winning three as the Zags beat UNC Greensboro in the first round of the NCAA tournament, following that up by going for a career-high 28 points, a career-high 12 boards, a career-high six threes and his first career double-double in a second round win over Ohio State. He’s scored at least 14 points in each of his last six games. He will be the next superstar in Spokane.
9. SYRACUSE IS IN THE SWEET 16 PLAYING BASKETBALL THAT MAKES VIRGINIA SEEM EXCITING
Jim Boeheim, man. You have to give him credit. For the second time in three seasons, his Orange team has snuck into the NCAA tournament with a resume that didn’t deserve a bid and proceeded to make everyone seem like an idiot for saying they didn’t belong. The Orange are in the Sweet 16 after starting in the First Four and failing to score more than 60 points in any of their three games. Boeheim just packs in that 2-3, puts as many long and athletic people on the floor that he can and lets Tyus Battle go make plays. And it works. Sometimes basketball is an easy game, I guess.
8. TEXAS A&M MOLLYWHOPS THE REIGNING NATIONAL CHAMPS
One thing that I never thought that I would see in this event is a team with Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson getting run out of the gym. Those two dudes are so good and so tough and been through so much that I expected them to be in a dogfight every time they set foot on a court for all of eternity. Then Sunday happened, and Texas A&M — who spent four months flirting with the idea that maybe living up to their potential was a possibility — absolutely trucked them. They won by 21 points, and the outcome never really felt in doubt after the final TV timeout of the first half.
7. BUFFALO STEAMROLLS ARIZONA
Remember when we all thought that this was going to be the most memorable upset for the first weekend?
Hahaha. That was fun.
But just because Virginia happened to go full Virginia and exactly one half of the top three seeds in the tournament were knocked out before the start of the second weekend doesn’t mean that what Buffalo did should be swept under the rug. The Bulls eviscerated an Arizona team that looked like they were ready to quit on this utterly forgettable season by the middle of the second half.
6. FLORIDA STATE SENDS XAVIER PACKING
Xavier, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, looked like they were going to be able to cruise into the Sweet 16, as they led the Seminoles by 12 points with under 10 minutes left in the game. But that did not last, as they were outscored 18-4 to close out the game while Florida State reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.
It’s the first time since 2004 that we head into the Sweet 16 with two of the nation’s No. 1 seeds sitting at home.
5. NEVADA WITH TWO COMEBACKS IN THREE DAYS
Eric Musselman and the Wolf Pack managed two thrilling wins in the span of three days. First, they came from way behind to beat No. 10-seed Texas in the opening round of the event before erasing the second-largest deficit in NCAA tournament history when they came back from 22 points down in the final 11:43 to second No. 2 Cincinnati back to the Queen City.
4. JORDAN POOLE HITS HIS GAME-WINNER
This shot, to beat Houston in the second round, will be the most memorable shot from this first weekend:
While this image is one that will forever epitomize what makes March Madness so special:
3. ROB GRAY’S FIRST ROUND PERFORMANCE
The shame in Poole’s shot going in was that it ended the tournament run of Houston star Rob Gray, who put together one of the best first weekend’s in tournament history as well as a performance that should have been iconic. In the first round, against No. 11-seed San Diego State, Gray finished with 39 of his team’s 67 points, including the game-winning bucket with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.
For the first time in the history of the world, a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as the Retrievers knocked off Virginia to get their shot to play their way into the Sweet 16. They lost to Kansas State on Sunday, but who cares? It would have been terrific theater to see them get their shot in the Sweet 16, but it was not meant to be.
We’ll have to simply settle for UMBC truck-sticking the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.
Thursday NCAA Tournament Recap: What a wild, wild day of basketball
The Houston star scored a career-high 39 points, including a game-winning bucket with just 1.1 seconds left on the clock, as the Cougars advanced past San Diego State to take on Michigan in the second round of the tournament. Gray’s performance — and the shot that he hit to cap it — will go down as one of the great individual games of the NCAA tournament this decade.
LAMONTE TURNER, Tennessee: The No. 3 seed Vols weren’t really tested by No. 14 Wright State, and that had a lot to do with Turner’s 19 points and nine assists.
TEAM OF THE DAY
The No. 13 seed Buffalo Bulls beat the breaks off of No. 4 seed Arizona. They won 89-68. They put in their walk-ons at the end of the game. They embarrassed the preseason No. 2 team in the country. And all this was the first NCAA tournament win the program’s ever had.
Not a bad day for Nate Oats.
GAME OF THE DAY
The first game of the day was an absolute thriller, as Rhode Island knocked off Oklahoma and Trae Young in overtime in a game that very nearly featured a game-winning, buzzer-beating tip-in.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shoutout to Donte Ingram, because he made this shot to kick off what turned into an incredible, exciting day of basketball:
Tuesday’s First Four matchup between East Region 11-seeds St. Bonaventure and UCLA was considered by some to be the top matchup of the tournament’s first two days, due in large part to the perimeter matchup. With the Bonnies being led by Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley, and UCLA having it’s own perimeter stud in Aaron Holiday, it was easy to see why there was so much anticipation.
But in the end Courtney Stockard, who missed the Atlantic 10 semifinal loss to Davidson with a hamstring injury, stole the show in leading the Bonnies to the 65-58 victory.
With the win, the program’s first NCAA tournament victory since 1970, the Bonnies advance to face 6-seed Florida Thursday in Dallas.
On a night that saw both Adams and Mobley struggle offensively, Stockard stepped forward to score 26 points to lead the way. Playing with two big men for much of the game, UCLA struggled to match up with Stockard at the four. Stockard’s effort helped the Bonnies pull out the victory despite Mobley (14 points) and Adams (eight points) combining to shoot 6-for-28 from the field.
And with LaDarien Griffin chipping in with ten points off the bench, the Bonnies had all the production they needed.
UCLA got off to a hot start, jumping out to a 14-7 lead with Holiday either scoring or assisting on 13 of those points. But St. Bonaventure would switch things up defensively, with head coach Mark Schmidt employing multiple zone looks in an attempt to slow things down. The move worked, as UCLA was careless with the basketball and would finish the game with 20 turnovers.
St. Bonaventure, which turned the ball over just six times, converted UCLA’s miscues into 30 points. Holiday was responsible for 10 of those turnovers, and he lost his poise late with some key mistakes before fouling out with 20 points and seven assists. Price Ali added 13 points and Kris Wilkes ten for UCLA, but Thomas Welsh shot just 1-for-5 from the field and finished with two points to go along with 15 rebounds.
St. Bonaventure will need to be sharper offensively if they’re to have a chance of beating Florida. But in taking care of UCLA, this group of Bonnies has accomplished something the program hadn’t done since Bob Lanier was in uniform.
Regardless of the year, guard play tends to be one of the biggest factors in determining a national champion.
Whether it’s a lead guard who properly balances getting his with putting his teammates in spots where they can success, or an off-guard capable of going off on a moment’s notice, if a team doesn’t have good guards they’ll be heading home early.
Below are a few of the guards destined to become household names before the 2018 NCAA tournament comes to an end.
And since we know you’ll ask, we’ll answer first.
There already are some guards that are household names.
We’re staying away from the players such as Jalen Brunson, Devonte’ Graham, Joel Berry II and Trae Young because, quite frankly, those guys are already well-known.
1. Rob Gray, Houston: Long known as one of the best players in the American, it’s about time the nation get to know Rob Gray. The senior guard has helped lead Houston to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010, averaging 18.5 points, 4.5 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. Gray’s the focal point of the Houston offense, with Kelvin Sampson entrusting him with the task of either making a play for himself or setting up a teammate. The casuals will likely be drawn in by Gray’s hairstyle; they’ll stick around once they watch him go to work.
2. Zach Lofton, New Mexico State: If you’re looking for a “12 over 5” upset to pick, the WAC champion Aggies are worth taking a look at and Lofton is why. In his first season on the court for New Mexico State, the Texas Southern transfer is averaging 19.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent from beyond the arc. While the matchup with Clemson’s deep and experienced perimeter attack will be a tough one, Lofton is more than capable of making some things happen.
3. Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies are back in the NCAA tournament and Adams, who shared Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors with Davidson’s Peyton Aldridge, is a big reason why. The senior point guard is averaging 19.8 points, 5.4 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game, shooting 45.4 percent from the field, 45.7 percent from three and 85.6 percent from the foul line. It should be noted that teammate Matt Mobley is outstanding himself, but the pick here is Adams since he runs the show. And that First Four matchup between the Bonnies and UCLA: must-see TV, due in large part to the matchup between Adams and Aaron Holiday.
4. Kellan Grady, Davidson: The Atlantic 10 tournament champions drew a tough matchup in Kentucky, but in Grady they’ve got a talented freshman guard who’s only going to become more popular nationally as his career progresses. The 6-foot-5 Grady is averaging 18.0 points per game, and he’s doing so on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 37.7 percent shooting from three. The Atlantic 10’s best freshman, Grady has the tools needed to make life difficult for Kentucky’s talented guards.
5. Jon Elmore, Marshall: Dan D’Antoni’s offensive system gives his players a lot of freedom on that end of the floor, and Elmore (along with fellow West Virginia native C.J. Burks) has taken full advantage. The 6-foot-3 Elmore is averaging 22.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game, and he’s averaging 7.6 three-point attempts per game. Against a Wichita State team that’s had trouble defending the three this season, Elmore (and Burks, who’s averaging 20.5 ppg) could end up captivating the country if he gets hot.
6. D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State: The 6-foot-3 sophomore has been outstanding for Ron Hunter’s team, leading the Panthers to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2015 (whey they knocked off Baylor). Averaging 21.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, Simonds has what it takes skill-wise to put the Panthers on his back. That being said, the matchup with Cincinnati is a difficult one.
7. Grant Riller, College of Charleston: Riller’s teammate, senior Joe Chealey, would also fit here. But the pick is Riller, as the efficient sophomore is averaging 18.7 points per game and has done so by shooting 55.0 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from three. In the Cougars’ overtime win over Northeastern in the CAA title game, Riller supplemented Chealey’s 32-point effort (16-for-16 FT) with 20 of his own.