The first round of the NCAA Tournament is officially complete. Every No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 seed is still standing, which we couldn’t have said last year, obviously. Twelve higher-seeded teams won their first-round matchup but just eight if you don’t count the 8/9 games.
Here’s our breakdown of the winners and losers from the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Big Ten
For just the third time in the history of the NCAA Tournament, a conference will send seven teams to the second round. That conference is the Big Ten, joining the Big East in 2008 and 2011.
[Insert joke here about the value of having Rutgers in your conference.]
The Big Ten started 6-0 in the 2019 NCAA Tournament, including wins by No. 10 seeds Minnesota and Iowa, and it finished with No. 11 seed Ohio State upsetting No. 6 seed Iowa State on Friday night in arguably the most improbable of the conference’s first-round wins.
Wisconsin was the only team from the conference that lost in the first round as it fell to No. 12 seed Oregon.
No. 2 seed Michigan State was on the ropes for a while against pesky No. 15 seed Bradley but the Spartans avoided suffering their second first-round upset as a No. 2 seed in the last four years, so the conference escaped potential catastrophe.
The Spartans and Gophers will meet on Saturday in the second round, so at least one of the conference’s remaining teams will not make the Sweet 16, but the Big Ten could have as many as six teams in the Sweet 16, which would be another incredible achievement.
Three of the Big Ten’s remaining teams are the lower-seeded team in their second round matchup.
The Big Ten sent just four teams to the NCAA Tournament last season and while those teams earned some favorable seeds – No. 2 Purdue, No. 3 Michigan, No. 3 Michigan State and No. 5 Ohio State – the Spartans and Buckeyes lost in the second round and the Boilermakers were knocked out in the Sweet 16.
No. 9 seeds
The 8/9 games in the first round are supposed to be toss-ups, right? Asking for a friend.
Because the four No. 9 seeds swept the four No. 8 seeds this year for just the fifth time in tournament history (1989, 1994, 1999 and 2001). UCF, Oklahoma, Washington and Baylor beat their lower-seeded first-round opponents.
No. 10 seeds
For the fifth time since 1985, at least three seeds advanced to the second round as No. 10 seeds Minnesota, Florida and Iowa knocked off Louisville, Nevada and Cincinnati, respectively. In 1999, the No. 10 seeds swept the No. 7 seeds and 2019 joins 1998, 2009 and 2010 as a year in which three of the four No. 10 seeds won.
No. 12 seeds
Three No. 12 seeds beat a No. 5 seed in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for just the fifth time ever, joining 2002, 2009, 2013 and 2014. Murray State, Liberty and Oregon knocked off Marquette, Mississippi State and Wisconsin, respectively.
Murray State’s electric point guard wasn’t some under-the-radar prospect – he was a projected top-five, if not top-three, pick for the 2019 NBA Draft before the NCAA Tournament – but he did give college basketball fans and America at large a memorable afternoon, recording the first triple-double in the tournament since Draymond Green in 2012.
With 17 points, 16 assists and 11 rebounds, Morant scored or assisted on 55 of Murray State’s 83 points in a 19-point win over No. 5 seed Marquette. Next up is No. 4 seed Florida State, a deep, long and athletic team that can throw multiple defenders at Morant and a Murray State win would allow the Racers’ point guard to be a national storyline for another week.
No. 1, No. 2 seeds
Last year, it was No. 1 seed Virginia that made history with its loss to No. 16 seed UMBC. In 2016, No. 2 seed Michigan State was upset by No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee. It’s expected that No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will win their first-round games but it’s certainly not guaranteed.
Some of this year’s top seeds flirted with – but ultimately averted – disaster.
No. 1 seed Virginia trailed No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb by six points at halftime and No. 1 seed North Carolina faced a five-point deficit to Iona at half. No. 1 seed Duke trailed No. 16 seed North Dakota State 12-5 through five minutes and the Blue Devils only led by four at halftime.
The Cavaliers and Tar Heels won by 15, while the Blue Devils won by 23. There aren’t style points in the NCAA Tournament, so while those schools took the scenic route to victory, a win’s a win.
No. 15 seed Colgate led No. 2 seed Tennessee 52-50 with less than 12 minutes to play and No. 15 seed Bradley led No. 2 seed Michigan State by one at halftime and against with seven minutes left.
It wasn’t always pretty for the top seeds in this year’s tournament but all eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds advanced to the weekend.
Yes, that Pac-12. The power conference that ranked seventh nationally this season, according to kenpom.com’s conference rankings, one spot ahead of the West Coast Conference. The Pac-12 sent three teams to the NCAA Tournament after being in danger of being a one-bid league this season and it’s 3-1 in the tournament through Friday night with Washington and Oregon advancing to the second round.
No. 12 seed Oregon will play No. 13 seed UC Irvine for a chance to go to the Sweet 16, while No. 9 seed Washington will play No. 1 seed North Carolina. This was still a poor season for the conference and it may not have any teams left in the tournament after Sunday, but through the first round, this has been a productive tournament for the Pac-12.
The Big East
The conference only sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament, including St. John’s, which was the last team to make the field of 68. Three of them were eliminated by the end of the first round, leaving just Villanova after Friday night.
The Red Storm lost in the First Four to Arizona State, Big East runner-up and No. 5 seed Marquette was run off the floor by No. 12 seed Murray State, and No. 7 Wofford shot its way past No. 10 seed Seton Hall on Thursday night.
This was clearly a down season for the Big East and the conference’s NCAA Tournament showing only supported that notion. Villanova will face No. 3 seed Purdue in the second round so based on seeding, that’s a game the Boilermakers are projected to win and if they do, the Big East won’t have a single team left standing in the second weekend.
The bottom of the top-16 seed reveal
On February 9, the selection committee revealed its top 16 teams through that point in the season. Marquette, Iowa State, Nevada, Louisville and Wisconsin were ranked No. 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, respectively. None of them ended up earning a top-four seed and each lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament – all to a double-digit seed.
The Mountain West
The conference had co-regular season champions in Nevada and Utah State, and both schools lost in the first round. The Wolf Pack were a preseason top-10 team that earned a No. 7 seed and the Aggies were the conference tournament champs that earned a No. 8 seed. First-round games between a No. 7/10 seed and No. 8/9 seed are typically the most even matchups but it hurts for a two-bid conference to see both of its teams in the tournament suffer first-round exits to teams that were higher-seeded.
Fans of buzzer beaters
America was spoiled in 2016, when there were four buzzer beaters in the first round. This year there were none. Sure, there was a great look by New Mexico State’s Trevelin Queen to potentially beat Auburn and a long heave at the buzzer by Belmont’s Dylan Windler to upset Maryland, but neither shot went down or was even particularly close to going in the basket.
The NCAA Tournament is, shall we say, bust-proof. With 68 teams – a healthy combination of ones that are household names and others that are introduced to the country when the bracket is released – there’s no shortage of storylines, enticing matchups and players who have the potential to become March legends overnight.
But by and large, the first round felt like it was missing a little bit of oomph this year. Maybe we’ve been spoiled in recent years with buzzer beaters, UMBC becoming the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 seed last year, and overtime games, but it feels like the best of the 2019 NCAA Tournament is still to come.
Let’s hope that comes true.