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We now, for all of a few hours, have the bracket in its most pristine, appreciated, natural form.
It’s perfect. Cherish it.
On Wednesday night, the First Four wrapped up in Dayton. First, UC Davis held off North Carolina Central (67-63) in a solid game from start to finish. And then USC-Providence went wacky. USC trailed Providence by as many as 17 points. It gained back some ground, then went on a 17-5 run late in the second half to take the lead.
And the Trojans, with a 75-71 victory, got their first win in the Dance since 2009. For Bennie Boatwright, USC’s vital big man, a 24-point, seven-rebound, performance that helped lift his team.
It was a solid First Four. To wit:
The 2017 #FirstFour concludes with the lowest total scoring margin in its 7-year history. The 4 games were decided by a total of 16 points.— David Worlock (@DavidWorlock) March 16, 2017
Can’t ask for too much better from four games, really. I will forever prefer the tournament to go back to 64, and give us three days of hunger before getting to the games, but I’m more accepting of the First Four now than I was even three years ago.
Here’s what you need to know about what went down on Wednesday.
1. USC got some revenge
Remember, Providence barely earned a victory last year in the Round of 64, beating USC 70-69 thanks to a delightful baseline out of bounds play that lifted PC. For these teams to play again ... well, it was an interesting call by the committee. Why not put K-State against one of these two, and have Wake Forest play the other? Moving on. Now that USC has won, it will face SMU ... which it played in November.
USC won that game 78-73. In reality, it’s the game that got USC into the tournament. That was a home victory for the Trojans. Now SMU gets to play the role of vengeance seeker.
2. An emotional locker room moment
The USC win came on a particularly important and emotional day for Martin Bahar. Bahar is the team’s director of scouting. He has successfully raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in the name of his late sister, Maddie, who died from leukemia in early 2009 at just 25 years old.
Maddie would have turned 34 on Wednesday.
Bahar has been on a crusade in the years since to raise money in her memory and to rid the world of cancer. In the locker room after the game, USC junior point guard Jordan McLaughlin dedicated the game to Maddie. Bahar told CBS Sports that “everyone in locker room started crying and hugging.”
McLaughlin had 18 points,10 rebounds and four assists.
“Marty is a high-class guy and we are glad we added him to the program,” McLaughlin told CBS Sports. “He sent us a text earlier in the day saying it was his sister’s birthday, and he didn’t want us to win it for her, but because we deserved it and worked hard for it. But it was something the team wanted to do because we know how special that is for not only us but Marty. It was a special moment.”
3. This was one of the biggest comebacks in tourney history
The Trojans went Jekyll and Hyde on Wednesday night, the good side showing up in the second half. USC gets to play against SMU because the Trojans are most comfortable when they’re behind. USC has won 12 of its games this season after trailing by at least 10 points. They don’t play with fire, they live with it. This was one of the 10 biggest comeback wins in tournament history.
And a quick note on Providence: Ed Cooley just completed a first by taking PC to the NCAAs four consecutive seasons. Never been done at that school before. And this was supposed to be a down year. Friars fans will take it, especially after tying for third in the league standings. That program is in solid shape with Cooley running it.
4. The Aggies are a good early story
The Aggies made it a memorable 2017, as the first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history will have a win on the books. Their tip will be at 6:50 on Friday night against Kansas on TNT. I don’t expect UC Davis to keep it close, but after hearing the way Jim Les and his players spoke on Wednesday night, they’re absolutely confident. We’ll see how Kansas comes out of the gate after falling in the Big 12 quarterfinals to TCU.
The NCAA Tournament’s Round of 64 will kick off at 12:15 p.m. ET on Thursday (on CBS!) with No. 5 Notre Dame playing No. 12 Princeton.