March Madness is Even More Exciting in Person
The SAP Center in San Jose, Ca hosted round 1 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament in San Jose, Ca. The March Madness round of 64 was without a doubt some of the most exciting showcases we have seen in a while. It was a joy to watch from nearly the front row.
Walking in on the arena floor and staring up into the seats it was easy to feel the buzz in the air. To misquote the great Jim Nance, The NCAA Tournament is a tradition like no other. Parents, friends, families, alumni, and fans all gather from various places and descend to take part in March Madness.
To pull back the curtain of separation between fan and sportswriter just a bit, I have covered many different events in my short time as a sportswriter but nothing quite like this. I have covered chalk talks, football games, conference championship games, and nothing gave me the jitters and feelings of sentiment quite like this.
The Tournament is a special thing yet continued to be a generational bridge in love of sports. Everyone appreciates the pageantry of March Madness. The passion of college athletics and fandoms alike as 64 teams are all equal in search of achieving the same common goal, cutting down the nets in US Bank Stadium.
UC Irvine vs Kansas State
The UC Irvine Anteaters took on the Kansas State Wildcats in the opening game of the day. In what was a back and forth contest all the way up until the last 1:25 seconds of the game we were treated to run and counter run. Junior guards Max Hazzard #2 and Evan Leonard both scored 19 points in the contest and were the last scorers in the first and second halves.
The Anteaters achieved their first ever NCAA tournament win and a classic #13 seed over #4 seed upset 70-64. It took a complete team effort every man on the bench was of vital importance as they wore down the Wildcats with their open court attack.
Nothing is better in the NCAA tourney than an upset. It brings out the best in fans and underdogs whom nobody gave a chance. The Anteaters had very little belief outside of their players and fanbase but it was clear they belonged from the start.
Winning in the tournament meant the world to their fanbase who made the trek down to support their team. The Anteaters haven’t lot since January, however they find themselves with a difficult round two matchup in the University of Oregon. The Anteaters expected this outcome because they know how much work they have put in to get here. Victory is the ultimate reward for focus dedication and execution.
Oregon Ducks vs Wisconsin Badgers
The Oregon Ducks did battle with the Wisconsin Badgers in the second matchup of the afternoon. Early on it was a chess match, as the two teams felt each other out. Back and forth it would go in a bit of a defensive struggle, at the half the teams would find themselves tied at 25.
And then Oregon head coach Dana Altman would go into the locker room and whatever he said, whatever he drew
RS Sr. Paul White opened up the half on absolute fire. He scored in the paint he scored from behind the three-point line, and he scored from the free throw line. Within 9 minutes of the second half, White went 4-4 from the field, 2-2 from deep, and 2-2 at the line. Providing the Ducks the spark they needed to take flight.
Kenny Wooten Jr. was sensational and a major reason why the Ducks were able to go on a run and nearly double up the Badgers in the second half. Wooten was the defensive enforcer and no shot or layup was safe when he was in proximity. Wooten possesses the unique ability of being able to damn near jump out of the gym.
His bounce was magnificent and he soared up and over all of the Badgers futile shot attempts. Wooten slapped layups off the backboard, he got clean stuffs, and this one time at March Madness he swatted a shot off the court from just outside the paint.
Winners of four straight and the Pac-12 Championship the Ducks are thrilled to have this moment yet remain focused on the larger picture, winning a championship.
Liberty Eagles vs Mississippi State Bulldogs
#12 seed Liberty University Eagles and #5 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs was a true underdog story. The Bulldogs led for 29:34 seconds of the game. They held the lead up until about the final 2:30 seconds of the game. The Eagles dug deep and when they needed stops and timely shooting they got them.
Redshirt Jr. Caleb Homesley drop a region-leading 30 points on the Bulldogs, going 10-16 from the field, 5-11 from deep, and 5-6 at the charity stripe. Myo Baxter-Bell was a beast down low and out of his 13 points the last four free-throws actually sealed the game for the Eagles by continuing to extend the score in the closing moments of regulation.
The Bulldogs played a great game for 36 minutes but the lone 10 point run they gave up was the difference in the game. Guards Lamar Peters #2 and Quinndary Weatherspoon #11 scored 21 and 27 points respectively and kept their team moving along in the led. Unfortunately down the stretch when they couldn’t score nobody else stepped up for the Bulldogs.
Saint Louis Billikens vs Virginia Tech Hokies
The final game of the evening pit the #15 seed Saint Louis University Billikins against the #4 seed Virginia Tech Hokies. After an upsetting evening to the favorites the Hokies restored the natural selection balance. SLU was outclassed across the board, the court and the sideline and it showed.
Lacking a low post scoring presence allowed the Hokies to run a defense which looked like a combination of a 3-2 zone and a half court trap and it completely baffled the Billikin’s offense.
It took the SLU offense nearly 15 minutes to acquire double digits in points. Up close it appeared they only were allowed to score because the coach of the Hokies chose not to employ his trap strategy on every possession.
Meanwhile there was nothing the SLU defense could throw at the Hokies that they weren’t ready for. The Hokies went to the rack at will, had no problems locating and converting shots, and to further assert dominance went coast to coast on inbounds numerous times.
SLU trailed by 15-20 points for the majority of the game until they began making a push halfway through the 2nd half to cut the lead to ten. The Hokies responded by going back to the trap defense and it re-stymied the Billikin offense all over again. 66-52 would be the final score and conclude an excellent opening round of basketball.