Fourteen is the new 12 this year at the NCAA Tournament.
The heart-pounding first full day of the tournament was headlined by two No. 14 seeds taking down two No. 3 seeds before the day was even half over. Trendy Final Four pick Iowa State lost to UAB, 60-59, and Georgia State edged Baylor, 57-56. Northeastern nearly made it a clean sweep for the three 14s in action on Thursday when it put a scare into Notre Dame before falling 69-65.
Georgia State and UAB had two of the five one-point victories on the day, the most ever for a single day in the tournament and as many as the previous two tournaments combined. Now at least one 14-seed has beaten a 3 in each of the last three tournaments. It was the first time since 1995 that two No. 14s have advanced.
Conventional wisdom when filling out brackets includes always picking a 12 seed to beat a No. 5. It happens practically every year. But this time around, Utah beat Stephen F. Austin and Arkansas beat underdog Wofford to make the No. 5s 2-0 on the day.
There is one more 14 seed waiting to play. Albany will play No. 3 Oklahoma on Friday.
“I’m very surprised,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said of Iowa State and Baylor losing. “Two great teams that had great years and outstanding players. That’s the nature of the NCAA Tournament, I guess. It’s surprising anytime that happens, but it’s happened before.”
Here are some of the things we learned on Thursday:
BRACKETS BUSTED: The losses by Iowa State and Baylor decimated millions of brackets across the country in a matter of minutes. Just six games into the tournament, only 14,797 of the 11.57 million filled out on ESPN.com were perfect, according to ESPN’s metrics. That just 0.12 percent.
TIGHT SITE: Louisville was the place to be on Thursday, with three of the five games that were decided by one point. The Blazers beat Iowa State and No. 11 UCLA nipped No. 6 SMU by identical scores, 60-59, while No. 8 Cincinnati beat No. 9 Purdue, 66-65 in a game that was tied at 59 at the end of regulation.
TEXAS TUMBLE: Disappointment is bigger in Texas. All five teams from the state lost on Thursday. Baylor, SMU, Texas Southern, Stephen F. Austin and Texas all made early exits.
CLOSE CALL: UCLA prevailed over SMU when Mustangs center Yanick Moreira was called for goaltending on a 3-pointer by Bryce Alford to put the Bruins ahead. The shot appeared to be off line, but officials ruled that Moreira touched the ball before it had a chance to get to the rim. The NCAA’s head of officiating said goaltending was the right call.
Here are some things to watch on Friday:
TOP SEEDS: Kentucky and Villanova were impressive as No. 1 seeds on Thursday, each cruising to easy victories over Hampton and Lafayette respectively. Now the other two big dogs get their chances, with Duke playing No. 16 Robert Morris and Wisconsin playing Coastal Carolina. A 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1.
UPSET SPECIAL?: The No. 12 seed is 8-4 in the previous three tournaments, so there’s a good chance one will be victorious on Friday. Buffalo, coached by former Duke star Bobby Hurley, is a popular pick. Hurley led Buffalo to a 23-9 record and the school’s first NCAA tournament appearance. The Bulls face No. 5 West Virginia in Columbus, Ohio.
GONZAGA’S REDEMPTION: The Zags were tournament darlings for years, the plucky underdogs who beat the big boys from the big conferences in March. But Gonzaga hasn’t made it out of the first weekend of the tournament since 2009. The Zags are seeded second in the South Regional and face North Dakota State on Friday.
UNHERALDED KANSAS: After losing to Iowa State in the Big 12 title game and losing Cliff Alexander to an NCAA investigation, Kansas enters the tournament about as under the radar as a No. 2 seed and perennial powerhouse can be. The Jayhawks open against No. 15 New Mexico State.
“I wouldn’t think we’re anyone’s favorite pick to do a lot of things,” coach Bill Self said.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.