PLAYER OF THE DAY: Ja Morant, Murray State
Ja Morant was so good against No. 5-seed Marquette on Thursday afternoon that he has really smart people seriously saying they would take him over Zion Williamson at No. 1 in the draft in June. That, of course, is an overreaction by those who probably have not seen Morant before, but it’s not entirely unwarranted.
That’s because the 6-foot-3 Morant put up one of the most dominant performances that I can remember in the NCAA tournament, scoring 17 points on just nine shots while handing out 16 assists, grabbing 11 boards and doing this to Joey Hauser:
The Racers beat the second-best team in the Big East, 83-64, in a game that was never close in the second half.
TEAM OF THE DAY: Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas was one of the trendy upset picks entering Thursday afternoon, playing a Northeastern team that won the CAA and had been dubbed by many — including me — as the Cinderella du jour.
Kansas, of course, won by 34 points.
GAME OF THE DAY: Maryland 79, Belmont 77
Dylan Windler had 35 points to lead Belmont but Jalen Smith and Bruno Fernando combined for 33 points and 25 boards as Maryland launched two different comebacks to knock off the Bruins.
The highlight, of course, was The Deadening:
ONIONS OF THE DAY: Fletcher Magee, Wofford
Magee hit seven threes, scored 24 points and set the NCAA Division I career record for the most three pointers made.
All that is great, but what matters more is that the Terriers knocked off Seton Hall in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This was the biggest shot of the day:
WTF OF THE DAY: Auburn 78, New Mexico State 77
I don’t think either of these teams wanted to win this game.
Auburn did everything they wanted to do for 34 minutes. They forced turnovers, they created offense from their defense, they hit threes, they played with a ton of energy. They were up 13 points with seven minutes left … when they forgot how to pass. Six turnovers and a few missed free throws down the stretch allowed NMSU right back in the game, setting up a wild final possession.
NMSU was down two, drove the lane, passed up a wide-open layup for a three, got fouled on said three, missed two of the three free throws, got the ball back out of bounds with 1.1 seconds left down by two points, got a good look at a three from the corner and missed it by ten feet.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Minnesota Golden Gophers
I did not think that Minnesota was all that good heading into the tournament, so of course, they went out and smacked around Louisville in the first round.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Nevada Wolf Pack
Nevada finished the season 29-4. Were they the most disappointing 29-4 team ever? My column.
THREE MORE THINGS TO KNOW
1. PHIL COFER’S DAD DIED
Phil Cofer found out after Florida State’s win over Vermont that his father had died. Cofer did not play in the game due to an injury, and the death was not necessarily a surprise — his father had dealt with a “long illness” — but that is still a nightmare situation.
2. NO P.J.
Kentucky’s star forward P.J. Washington did not play in the team’s win over Abilene Christian on Thursday evening. He was wearing a hardcast on his right foot/ankle. Calipari’s statements after the game made it seem awfully unlikely that Washington will play on Saturday, which then puts his status for the rest of the tournament in doubt.
3. WILL WADE ISN’T TELLING THE TRUTH
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva spoke to Stadium in Jacksonville, and he made it clear that he was not happy with the way that Wade had handled the situation.
“I don’t know how deep this goes,” Alleva told Stadium. “That’s the problem, and Will’s refused to talk to us. That’s the hardest part for me. … I wish he’d come in and just tell the truth. Just tell me what went on. I can handle the truth even if it’s bad.”
Wade has been suspended from the LSU team after a report from Yahoo Sports that he was caught on a wiretap discussing a payment for freshman Javonte Smart.