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Biggest surprises from Thursday’s first round of NCAA tournament

For the first time in three calendar years, on Thursday we had March Madness as we have always known it. And it was as delicious as ever.

In 2020, the NCAA naturally canceled the tournament. Last year Indianapolis had a “bubble” version with limited fans and a first-round game that was canceled due to COVID-19. In 2021, we enjoyed the distraction, but the whole thing felt predictably bad.

What was missing were the ridiculous atmospheres that somehow develop in the initially often sterile, neutral locations. Part of what made St. Peter’s notable excitement from Kentucky so funny Thursday was that the Peacocks happened to do it in front of a partisan Big Blue Nation crowd in Indianapolis. Welcome back devastated bulk shots.

Here are my five biggest surprises from a totally wild day.

No. 15 seed St. Peter beats No. 2 seed Kentucky

First thing you need to know is that I picked Kentucky in my group until the championship game. I liked the combination of the Wildcats, having a dominant big man in Oscar Tshiebwe and a collection of veteran transfers around him – a very different composition of the roster than John Calipari is known. I knew the Wildcats were vulnerable to a bad shooting night but thought their intangibles could overcome it.

St. Peter—my friend seriously wondered if the school would get jet lagged from the trip from Vatican City—set it all on fire like a character in a Dan Brown novel.

One might have assumed that the Bluebloods with the Final Four expectations would be the team that would take control of overtime. Uh, shows what I know.

Richmond's Nathan Cayo dives ahead of Iowa's Patrick McCaffery and Filip Rebraca.

Richmond’s Nathan Cayo (4) dives ahead of Iowa’s Patrick McCaffery (22) and Filip Rebraca (0) in the second half during the first round of Thursday’s NCAA tournament in Buffalo, NY

(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

No. 12 seed Richmond knocks off No. 5 seed Iowa

The second thing you need to know is that I picked Iowa in my group through to the Final Four. The high-scoring Hawkeyes had four straight wins in the Big Ten tournament and had won 12 of their last 14 games. Keegan Murray’s outstanding performance built confidence in everyone around him and I saw no reason why he shouldn’t continue, even against No. 1 Kansas in the Sweet 16.

From today’s perspective, Thursday’s result should not surprise us. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has never led a team to the Sweet 16. The Hawkeyes don’t play very good defense, which wasn’t going to change suddenly in this tournament.

Richmond is on his own two feet after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament and earning his props. But that result was about Iowa’s mentality changing when suddenly it was a favorite and expecting to make the second weekend. The Hawkeyes looked super tight, and that, my friends, is a recipe for March heartbreak.

St. Mary's forward Matthias Tass shoots against Indiana.

St. Mary’s forward Matthias Tass shoots against Indiana in the second half of a first round NCAA tournament game Thursday in Portland, Ore. St Mary’s won 82-53.

(Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press)

St. Mary’s crushing Indiana

St. Mary’s 82, Indiana 53.

And I’m not sure if it was that close.

The Hoosiers had won three out of four games — beating tournament teams Michigan, Illinois and Wyoming — to get here. But now it looks like the Big Ten and Mountain West were overrated by the selection committee.

Rutgers, Indiana and Iowa are all gone from the Big Ten. Only Michigan punched its ticket to the Round of 32. The Mountain West lost all four of its teams in three days of this tournament.

The Gaels have proven they are good – but not that good. Whoa, Hoosiers.

New Mexico State forward Will McNair Jr. celebrates with guard Teddy Allen after Allen scored.

New Mexico State forward Will McNair Jr. (13) celebrates with guard Teddy Allen, right, after Allen scored late in the second half of a game against Connecticut during the first round of Thursday’s NCAA tournament in Buffalo, NY had scored

(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

No. 12 Saat New Mexico State Edges No. 5 Connecticut

As a proud former transplant recipient from Buffalo, NY – where I graduated from high school – I can tell you the town loves an outsider. It just felt right for Richmond to defeat Iowa and later New Mexico State to defeat the Huskies amid the Rust Belt recovery.

Ultimately, I didn’t have a good feeling about these teams, so I’m not too thrilled that the Aggies, who have won 25 games in four seasons out of five, have done it.

Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins breaks to the basket while San Diego State guard Chad Baker-Mazara defends.

Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins breaks into the basket while San Diego State guard Chad Baker-Mazara defends Thursday in the first half of a first-round game of the NCAA tournament in Fort Worth.

(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Creighton’s furious comeback surpasses San Diego State

Creighton, No. 9, was just minutes behind No. 8 San Diego State, 62-53. The Aztecs had controlled this game and it felt over. The Bluejays quickly chipped away and put the game into overtime thanks to a missed front end of a one-and-one from Matt Bradley with seven seconds left. From then on, it was Creighton’s game.

San Diego State appeared to be climbing the tournament hill with likable head coach Brian Dutcher. Instead, Creighton (probably) gets a date with No. 1 Kansas on Saturday.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2022-03-17/ncaa-tournament-surprises-st-peters-over-kentucky-and-more-madness Biggest surprises from Thursday’s first round of NCAA tournament

Andrew Schnitker

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