The first round of the NCAA Tournament started a bit slow on Thursday, as there was nothing particularly dramatic in the first window of action. But that all changed when No. 12 seed Richmond beat No. 5 seed Iowa in the afternoon. It turned out that upset was just the beginning of a wild day that only got crazier as it went along.
March Madness devolved into utter mayhem in the evening with an earth-shattering upset as No. 15 seed Saint Peter's took down No. 2 seed Kentucky in an 85-79 overtime thriller for the ages. It marked just the 10th instance of a No. 15 seed beating a No. 2 seed, and the fact that it was one of the sport's giants on the losing end made it all the more memorable.
It was the first NCAA Tournament victory for Saint Peter's, a private school of roughly 3,500 students in Jersey City, New Jersey. For Kentucky, the heartbreaking defeat means the program will likely go at least four calendar years between wins in the Big Dance. The Wildcats missed the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and there was no NCAA Tournament in 2020, leaving a 2019 Elite Eight run as the program's last significant postseason success.
The Saint Peter's special stole the show on Thursday, but it was just one game in a day full of good ones. While Kentucky went down, other big brands such as North Carolina, Michigan and Baylor enjoyed big days to open the Big Dance.
Here are the winners and losers from the opening day of first round action.
Winner: Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert
Saint Peter's got a combined 47 points from guards Daryl Banks III and Doug Edert, marking a career high for Banks and the fourth 20-point game of Edert's career. The juniors picked legendary moments to turn in a couple of their greatest games. When they arrived at the school, the Peacocks were coming off a 10-22 season, which was Shaheen Holloway's first as coach. Now, they have put the Peacocks on college basketball's map. While those two stood out on Thursday, Saint Peter's boasts a veteran roster full of player who have helped engineer the program's renaissance. After beating Kentucky, they'll all be immortalized — but none more so than Banks and Edert.
Loser: Basketball in Kentucky
The Wildcats will have a lot of shade thrown their way, and rightfully so, after what easily marks the program's worst loss in the NCAA Tournament in terms of an opponent's seeding. But what about the status of basketball in the Bluegrass State as a whole? With Louisville failing to reach the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years and Kentucky getting bounced in this year's first round after missing the dance altogether last season, what is going on? Murray State is the state's most stable program. It may be time for Gov. Andy Beshear to form a commission to address this.
Winner: Murray State-San Francisco viewers
Thankfully for the dignity of the Bluegrass State, Murray State came through. Anyone who stayed up to watch the No. 7 seed Racers squeak out a 92-87 overtime victory against San Francisco got a treat. The game featured a mere 18 lead changes as the mid-major darlings swapped baskets all throughout the end of regulation and overtime. It's a shame one of them had to lose, but all who got to watch enjoyed the perfect nightcap to a nutty day of NCAA Tournament action. Murray State would have played Kentucky in the second round in the first-ever meeting between the programs. But, of course, Kentucky didn't win.
Winner: New Mexico State's Teddy Allen
Believe it or not, 37 points was not a career-high for New Mexico State's Teddy Allen, who led the No. 12 seed Aggies to a 70-63 upset over No. 5 seed UConn. But there's no doubt that Allen has never had a better performance on a bigger stage. The ex-West Virginia and Nebraska forward scored 23 points in the second half alone while helping his program end some prolonged NCAA Tournament history. NMSU had lost 12 straight games in the Big Dance before Thursday, a streak that included some heartbreakers such as a 78-77 loss against No. 1 seed Auburn in 2019.
Winner: Michigan's size matters
Colorado State center Dischon Thomas did everything he could to offset Michigan's size advantage with 7-footer Hunter Dickinson by drawing Dickinson away from the basket with five made 3-pointers. But in the end, Dickinson and the Wolverines dominated inside during a 75-63 win over Colorado State. Behind 21 points from Dickinson, Michigan finished with a 34-16 edge in paint points.
Loser: Cinderella candidate South Dakota State
In every NCAA Tournament but two since 2010, the field's top 3-point shooting team has advanced at least one round. That made No. 13 seed South Dakota State – the top 3-point shooting team in the country – a trendy pick to take down No. 4 seed Providence. But in a cruel twist of fate, the Jackrabbits were outgunned from distance by the Friars, hitting only 7 of their 23 3-point attempts in a 66-57 loss. The Friars, meanwhile, made one more 3-pointer and took one fewer attempt as it pulled away late. The Big East regular-season champion has a viable path to the second weekend, where it has not appeared since 1997.
Winner: Baylor's smooth sailing
Baylor was the first No. 1 seed in action during this year's tournament, and the Bears seemed like they could be at least somewhat vulnerable to ending up in a close game against Norfolk State. But the reigning national champions put that idea to rest quite emphatically in an 85-49 victory over the Spartans. The best part for the Bears is that only one player, James Akinjo, logged more than 30 minutes. The injury-depleted Bears needed to conserve as much energy as possible with another game on Saturday.
Loser: Mountain West flops hard
For most of San Diego State's game with Creighton, it appeared like the No. 8 seed Aztecs would help the Mountain West save some face after the conference got off to an 0-2 start with Colorado State and Boise State going down. In fact, SDSU was up 14 in the first half and led by eight with under three minutes remaining. But in the end, Creighton rallied for a 72-69 overtime victory, despite losing Ryan Kalkbrenner to injury late in the game. The Bluejays were already using a tight rotation following a season-ending injury to point guard Ryan Nembhard, and it will likely be even tighter in a likely second round matchup with No. 1 seed Kansas.
As for the Mountain West, all four of its teams were bounced before the end of the first day of the first round. Beyond the three that lost Thursday, No. 12 seed Wyoming also lost in a First Four game against Indiana on Tuesday.
Loser: Indiana falls flat
Speaking of Indiana, that trip from Dayton, Ohio, to Portland must have done a number on the Hoosiers, which were demolished 82-53 by No. 5 seed St. Mary's. The Gaels held the Hoosiers to just 34% shooting while shooting 51.7% themselves. While the Mountain West flopped, at least St. Mary's showed that some of the little guys out west know how to perform on the big stage.
Winner: Heroic Indiana cheerleader
The team's performance was forgettable, but this Indiana cheerleader had a March Madness experience to remember. This is what delivering under pressure looks like.
Winner: Memphis keeps dancing
It's hard to believe that a program with the history and support of Memphis is in its first NCAA Tournament since 2014. The Tigers made sure their stay in the dance will last another round by smacking Boise State 64-53 after jumping out to a 38-19 halftime lead. The Tigers have been among the nation's hottest teams in the season's second half and have enough talent to challenge No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga on Saturday. That one will be an NBA scout's dream as potential lottery picks Jalen Duren and Chet Holmgren square off in the front court.
Winner: Georgia State can be proud
Sure, the Panthers folded down the stretch and wound up falling far short of becoming the second No. 16 seed to ever defeat a No. 1 seed. But Georgia State gave itself something to be proud of with the way it battled No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga for the game's first 30 minutes before losing 93-72. GSU shot just 28.6% in the first half but trailed only 35-33 at halftime because of an 11-1 edge in second-chance points. Third-year coach Rob Lanier got his squad to smack the tournament's top overall seed in the face before fading – as most Gonzaga foes do – in the final frame.
Loser: Gonzaga bettors
The No. 1 overall seed trailed in the second half after entering its game against No. 16 seed Georgia State as a 22.5-point favorite. If you laid the points with the Bulldogs, you probably were sick. But you were probably really sick after they pulled away late, only to have two meaningless free throws from Georgia State in the final 30 seconds ruin the 22.5-point cover with a 21-point win. We see you, Zags bettors, we feel you, and we share in your pain. Ouch!
Loser: Iowa falls again
The Hawkeyes have not been to a Sweet 16 since 1999 and they won't be going this season after falling 67-63 against Richmond in the first upset of the day. This is an Iowa team that 88.55% of brackets in the CBS Men's Bracket Games had advancing, and 10% had the Hawkeyes going all the way to the Final Four. Instead, this Big Dance will go down as just another Big Disappointment after Iowa was bounced in last year's second round as a No. 2 seed. To be clear: the season as a whole is no disappointment for Iowa. The program won its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2006 after starting out 4-6 in league play. That's quite an accomplishment. But that high, experienced just four days ago, likely makes Thursday's low feel like all the more of a gut punch.
Winner: Tennessee stays hot
While Iowa stumbled Thursday after its Big Ten Tournament title, Tennessee flourished in its first game since winning the SEC Tournament on Sunday. The Volunteers found themselves in a battle with No. 14 seed Longwood early before pulling away for a convincing 88-56 victory and advancing to play No. 11 seed Michigan. Volunteers' fans were rightfully upset that their team did not receive a No. 2 seed, but this path to the Sweet 16 isn't so bad. Unlike Colorado State, Tennessee has multiple defenders capable of matching up with Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson, and the Tennessee guards have been far better than Michigan's guards over the season.
Loser: Round 2 battles for Baylor, Zags
Sure, yes, Gonzaga and Baylor both won on Thursday, and some may assume because of their No. 1 seeds that the participants in last season's national title game are just waltzing back to the Final Four. But they are losers here because of how good their second-round opponents looked. Memphis crushed Boise State, as covered above, and North Carolina absolutely thrashed Marquette.
The No. 8 seed Tar Heels played some of their best basketball late in the season, and they appear to be a tough matchup for the Bears. Armando Bacot is one of the country's best big men, and with Baylor missing Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua due to injury, the Bears may be vulnerable on the interior. UNC scored 94 points in a win at Duke on March 5, and although this team lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals, it put the improvement it has made this season on full display against the Golden Eagles. A 95-63 North Carolina victory over Marquette should be the entire bracket on notice -- not just Baylor.
Winner: UCLA and Arkansas survive
There's something to be said for surviving and advancing even without your best stuff this time of year, which is what UCLA and Arkansas did as No. 4 seeds playing in Thursday's late-night window. The Bruins beat Akron 57-53 without their A-game and maybe not even their B-game. But they outscored the Zips 18-6 over the final six minutes to advance to play No. 5 seed St. Mary's on Saturday in the second round. Point guard Tyger Campbell hit two particularly clutch 3-pointers in the final three minutes. With Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang combining to shoot just 6 of 21, Campbell's contributions were welcome.
Arkansas got pushed to the brink by Vermont and was sloppy down the stretch. But the Razorbacks won 75-71 and will get No. 12 seed New Mexico State in the second round on Saturday. Similarly to UCLA, the Razorbacks survived without a great night from its usual stars. JD Notae and Jaylin Williams combined to go 9 of 26 from the floor and just 2 of 11 from 3-point range. But Stanley Umude stepped up with 21 points. Don't sleep on the Bruins or Hogs just because their first games were ugly.
Winner: Kansas rolls
No. 1 seed Kansas took care of business by opening up a 34-point lead against Texas Southern before cruising to an 83-56 win. The path is clearing for the Jayhawks to make a run, and they appear primed to do it. With a hobbled Creighton team awaiting in the second round and No. 5 seed Iowa — a potential Sweet 16 opponent — eliminated, KU's path to an Elite Eight appears manageable.