As the second day of the NCAA tournament progressed, it felt like it was going to be a day full of near upsets.
Xavier and Baylor, both No. 3 seeds, and UConn, had halftime deficits in their games with No. 14 seeds. So did UConn, a No. 4 seed, in a 4 vs. 13 matchup. There was also No. 2 seed Marquette that found itself up by just five points in the second half vs. No. 15 seed Vermont.
There were also No. 5 seeds like Saint Mary’s and Miami, as well as No. 6 Creighton, that were on the verge of going home early.
But all of those teams managed to avoid the dreaded first-round upset. For Purdue, the No. 1 seed in the East, it was a different story.
In one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, Purdue was shocked by No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson. FDU, the literal last team on the selection committee’s 68-team seed list, was a 23.5-point underdog to the mighty Boilermakers but somehow managed to emerge with a stunning 63-58 win.
FDU became just the second No. 16 seed to ever defeat a No. 1 seed, joining UMBC. UMBC famously blasted Virginia by 20 points back in 2018. Now the Terriers have company in the record books.
For Purdue, it was an absolute disaster after winning both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. The Boilermakers have now lost to a double-digit seed in three consecutive NCAA tournaments. They lost to No. 13 North Texas in the first round in 2021, to No. 15 St. Peter’s in the Sweet 16 in 2022 and then to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round on Friday.
That’s a brutal stretch in tournament play for a program that continues to come up short in March Madness.
Here's what stood out on another epic day of NCAA tournament play.
Top seeds narrowly avoid upsets
Though they would not have had the magnitude of Fairleigh Dickinson’s win over Purdue, Friday really was on the verge of having a slew of upsets.
The closest came in the Midwest region. Kennesaw State, the No. 14 seed, led by as many as 13 points in the second half over No. 3 Xavier. But the Musketeers embarked on an epic comeback that included a 15-0 scoring run that flipped a 61-48 deficit into a 63-61 lead.
The game still came down to the wire but Xavier big man Jack Nunge saved the day as Kennesaw State’s Terrell Burden stumbled through the lane for the potential go-ahead lay-up in the final seconds. Nunge’s clutch defensive play allowed Xavier to pull out the victory and move on.
Xavier wasn’t the only No. 3 seed to come back from an early deficit on Friday. Baylor actually trailed UC Santa Barbara at halftime before dominating the second half in a 74-56 win. Elsewhere, Gonzaga found itself on the ropes early vs. Grand Canyon until Julian Strawther and Drew Timme took over in an 82-70 win.
FAU’s first NCAA tourney win comes in dramatic fashion
For Memphis, a golden opportunity to get back to the Sweet 16 slipped away in dramatic — and controversial — fashion.
Memphis was in a 40-minute battle with Florida Atlantic and it came down to the wire. The Tigers had a 65-64 lead and the ball with under 20 seconds to play when a wild sequence occurred. Memphis turned the ball over with an inadvertent pass but looked like it would avoid disaster when FAU turned it over only seconds later.
A Memphis player pounced on the loose ball with five seconds to go and it looked like Memphis was able to call timeout. Instead, the officials ruled a held ball. The possession arrow favored FAU, setting up Nicholas Boyd for the game-winning lay-in.
FAU pulled out the first NCAA tournament victory in program history. Now 32-3 on the year, the Owls will face No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson with a chance to go to the Sweet 16 while Penny Hardaway and the Tigers will head back to Memphis.
UConn looks like Final Four threat with second-half surge
UConn, the No. 4 seed in the West, found itself in a dogfight with No. 13 Iona. The Gaels, coached by Hall of Famer Rick Pitino, were making things difficult for UConn’s guards and jumped out to a 39-37 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Huskies flipped the script and dominated on the interior en route to an impressive 87-63 win. Iona was a popular upset pick in this year’s tournament, but UConn big man Adama Sanogo was unstoppable in the second half. He scored 22 of his 28 points in the final 20 minutes. Sanogo and 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan destroyed the undersized Gaels, opening things up for UConn’s guards on the outside.
The Huskies ended up out-scoring Iona 50-24 in the second half and looked like a team capable of making a deep run into March in the process. Pitino certainly thought so.
Oh, and speaking of Pitino, Fox Sports is reporting that the 70-year-old is on the verge of accepting the St. John’s job. Pitino said after the game that nothing had been decided while noting he hadn’t been on the SJU campus since he was Providence’s head coach in 1987.
Pitino watch continues.
Caitlin Clark, Alissa Pili light up the scoreboards
Two of the nation’s top players turned in epic performances on the first full day of the NCAA women’s tournament.
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark filled up the stat sheet in a 95-43 win over Southeast Louisiana. Clark led all scorers with 26 points while also adding 12 assists and seven rebounds. In the process, she shot a sizzling 9-of-14 from the field including 3-of-6 from 3.
Utah’s Alissa Pili was even better. In a high-scoring game with Gardner Webb, Pili was the best player on the court. She put up a career high 33 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists in a 103-77 victory.
Calipari, Kentucky gets much-needed victory
Speaking of upsets, Kentucky was the victim of a huge one in last year’s tournament when it lost to No. 15 seed St. Peter’s. After UK missed out in the tournament altogether in 2021, Wildcats fans were not pleased with the performance of John Calipari’s program after such a humiliating defeat.
Those sentiments may have changed somewhat on Friday as Calipari’s Wildcats got a much-needed tournament victory over Providence. It wasn’t the prettiest performance. Kentucky, the No. 6 seed in the East, shot just 36.5% from the field but completely controlled the glass in a 61-53 victory.
A big reason for that was Oscar Tshiebwe, who had a whopping 25 rebounds. That’s the most in an NCAA tournament game since 1977. For some perspective, Providence had 31 rebounds as a team. That’s how dominant Tshiebwe was on the boards.
UK will now move on to face No. 3 seed Kansas State in the Round of 32.
Upsets galore in women’s tournament
There were a few tremendous finishes in the women’s tournament.
No. 9 Marquette led No. 8 USF for the first 38 minutes of regulation but it was the Bulls who rallied to take a late lead and eventually prevail with a 67-65 victory in overtime. Elena Tsineke had the go-ahead bucket for USF in overtime and the Bulls got the stop they needed in the final seconds when Mackenzie Hare’s 3-pointer rattled out.
In a 7 vs. 10 matchup, it was the No. 10 seed Princeton that edged out No. 7 NC State in comeback fashion. A day after the Tigers shocked Arizona in the men’s tournament, the women’s team overcame a late eight-point deficit to storm back and hit the winning shot with 4.7 seconds left in regulation. It was Grace Stone responsible for the game-winning triple.
Another upset came courtesy of South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits knocked off No. 7 seed USC 62-57 in overtime by rallying to win over a 3-pointer from the Trojans late in regulation forced extra time. SDSU notched its 22nd consecutive win despite shooting just 35.2% from the field.
Additionally, there were two lower-seeded SEC teams that were able to pull off upsets. Mississippi State, an 11-seed, blew out No. 6 seed Creighton 81-66 while No. 10 seed Georgia advanced with a 66-54 win over No. 7 seed Florida State.
Kam Jones carries Marquette, Ryan Kalkbrenner dominates for Creighton
Two of the best performances of the day came from Big East stars.
Marquette found itself in a battle with No. 15 seed Vermont, but Kam Jones would not let his team follow in Arizona’s footsteps. Jones had just one point in the first half before exploding for 18 consecutive points during a second-half stretch that propelled the Golden Eagles to a 78-61 win over the Catamounts.
Jones’ epic run included a trio of 3-pointers and a few smooth drives to the rim.
Over in the South region, Creighton big man Ryan Kalkbrenner was the engine that propelled his team into the Round of 32.
The Blue Jays could not make a shot from the outside, going a brutal 3-of-20 from long distance. The team’s main source of offense was Kalkbrenner in the paint. It worked. The 7-foot-1 junior dominated with 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting, including hitting one of his team’s only 3-pointers.
Kalkbrenner was the Big East’s defensive player of the year. On Friday he showed he’s got some offense in his game as well.
Stanford star Cameron Brink out with illness
The star of a No. 1 seed in the women’s tournament did not play on Friday. Stanford’s Cameron Brink was not with the team due to an illness. The Cardinal cruised past Sacred Heart 92-49 without her, but Brink’s status is a big deal ahead of the second round.
Brink characterized the illness as a “stomach bug” and said she will “be back asap.” Brink averages 14.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, so she’s a crucial player for Stanford.
Stanford edged out Iowa for the final spot on the 1-seed line and will square off with No. 8 seed Ole Miss in the second round. Whether Brink will be back in the lineup remains to be seen.
Iowa State’s horrific shooting day
It took more than 10 minutes of game time for No. 6 seed Iowa State to make its first field goal on Friday vs. Pitt. By the time the Cyclones got a shot to fall, they trailed 22-4 at the 9:54 mark of the first half.
That deficit was too large to overcome, especially for a team that just could not find a way to put the ball in the basket. Pitt ended up winning 59-41 to go from the First Four to the Round of 32.
Iowa State’s final shooting statistics were horrific. ISU went 14-of-60 from the field overall, including 2-of-21 from beyond the arc. That’s 23.3% from the field and 9.5% from 3.
Surprisingly, there have been quite a few worse shooting performances in the modern era. The worst was Butler going 12-of-64 from the field (18.8%) in its national title loss to UConn back in 2011. That’s not a list you want to be on.