March Madness Day 1 roundup: Brandon Miller’s scoreless day not as bad as Virginia’s, Arizona’s

Some NCAA tournaments start with a loud bang marked with chalk brackets and staggering scores.

It’s not one of those NCAA tournaments. Thursday started with #4 seed Virginia losing by stoppage, thanks in part to one of the strangest decisions in tournament history. No. 2 Arizona made Virginia better in a stunning loss to Princeton that erased the brackets and officially marked the trend.

No. 1 seeded Alabama, meanwhile, went through as expected, but without a single point from All-American Brandon Miller. Fellow No. 1 seed Houston didn’t look like a contender for the national championship. And what about the talk about Duke being underseeded? As long as it sounds right.

Here’s what’s special about the first day of the NCAA Tournament.

Princeton expands 15-seed trend: how far will it go?

Winning No. 15 in the NCAA Tournament was something special.

Through 2021, eight No. 15 seeds have made it through the first round in the 35 seasons since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. As of Thursday, this has happened three years in a row.

[Free $25K best bracket contest for women’s tourney | Printable bracket]

Welcome to the club, Princeton. The Ivy League champions held the balance all game against runners-up Arizona on Thursday and then took a 56-55 lead with 2:03 left. They never stretched again. The Tigers held on to a 59–55 win as they repeatedly thwarted Arizona’s latest goal scoring attempts to deal with the disappointment of the tournament—at least for now. In doing so, they followed in the footsteps of 2021 Oral Roberts and 2022 Saint Peter.

Thursday was a bad day for the Arizona Wildcats.  (Kelly L. Cox/Reuters)
Thursday was a bad day for the Arizona Wildcats. (Kelly L. Cox/Reuters)

Oral Roberts beat No. 2 Ohio State in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The win prompted a Sweet 16 trip for the Golden Eagles after a second round win over Florida. A two-point loss to Arkansas ended their gap to the Elite Eight.

St. Peter edged out the Golden Eagles last year after a stunning first-round victory over No. 2 Kentucky. From there, the Peacocks beat Murray State and Purdue en route to an Elite Eight loss to eventual national finalist North Carolina.

How far can Princeton extend its Cinderella? Missouri’s seventh seed is due Saturday.

Meanwhile, Arizona is left to regroup. So did ex-Wildcat Rob Gronkowski.

Is Virginia’s style detrimental to NCAA tournament play?

In 2019, Virginia won its first ever NCAA championship. Apart from this remarkable achievement, Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers have had some tough years in tournament play.

Thursday brought even more pain to Charlottesville when No. 13 Fuhrman flipped No. 4 Virginia stunningly upside down. Fifth-year Kihei Clark’s misguided pass sent Fuhrman’s JP Pegues to sink the Cavs with a three-point dagger in the closing seconds of the game.

The Peges throw ensured a 68-67 victory for the Paladins and marked Virginia’s third first-round exit in the last four tournaments. All three tournament exits resulted in massive failures in the NCAA Tournament.

Losing in 2018 as the #1 seed against UMBC’s #16 seed remains the biggest seed upset in NCAA history. Thursday’s loss to Furman rivaled the 2021 loss to Ohio in another 13–4 first-round matchup.

Bennett’s teams play and win, bringing on a seething defense alongside a hard-fought offense that goes deep into the shooting clock. It is a style designed to frustrate and confuse opponents. It also leaves the Cavaliers open to upsets in games where neither team comes off.

Brandon Miller’s Bad Day

Alabama looked great after beating Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Thursday.

Brandon Miller didn’t. The Alabama All-American, who entered the NCAA game amid a spate of controversy, scored no points in Crimson Tide’s 96–75 win. Miller went into the break with five rebounds, two assists and zero points. After getting his second and third fouls early in the second half, his day was over.

Miller ended the day with zero points, five rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes, shooting 0-for-5 from the field and 0-for-3 from three-point range. On Thursday, he averaged 19.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He scored in double figures in all but one of Alabama’s previous 34 games. He is the best player overall in the tournament No. 1 and is predicted to be selected in the top three in the NBA draft.

Alabama head coach Nate Oates told reporters after the game that Miller was recovering from a groin injury sustained the previous week and that they were “trying to play a limited number of minutes with him.”

That Alabama beat the No. 16 seed by 20-odd points is irrelevant. This is what seed #1 should do. Miller’s performance and potential injury issue.

Alabama forward Brandon Miller (24) fouled Texas A&M-Corpus Christi defenseman Simeon Fryer (22) in the second half of the first round of the NCAA men's college basketball game in Birmingham, Alabama Thursday.  On March 16, 2023, Alabama won, 96–75.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Alabama has cruised, but Brandon Miller’s wrestling is worrying. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Police say Miller delivered a gun to the scene of a fatal January shooting that resulted in a death charge against now-fired teammate Darius Miles. Miller has not been charged. But his alleged involvement in the incident has cast a shadow over Alabama as it aims for its first national championship.

The impact on the basketball program is noticeable. On Wednesday, Miller entered Birmingham’s Heritage Arena accompanied by an armed bodyguard.

Oates told reporters security was at the scene following threats against Miller after the January shooting. Trial catches up with Miller on the court with a boosted basketball spotlight? How Miller performs in Saturday’s second round game against Maryland will show a lot.

Houston injured, vulnerable

No. 1 seed Houston survived Thursday but did not inspire confidence in a victory over the 16th seed in Northern Kentucky. The Cougars went into the break with a 30–27 lead and then went out without a break. All American Markus Sasser.

Before the break, the young defender aggravated a groin injury and did not return in the second half. It wasn’t because Houston didn’t need him. Northern Kentucky tied the game at 36–36 as Houston flipped the ball repeatedly. An 11-2 streak topped off by a pair of Emanuel Sharp 3-pointers ended up giving Houston a break at 47-38. The Cougars fled with a 63-52 win.

Coach Kelvin Sampson revealed after the game that defender Jamal Shed was playing because of an overextended knee. Shed scored 13 points and six assists. Although he did not have specific information about Sasser’s injury, Sampson said he was “very concerned”.

According to Sampson, the decision to play at all was entirely up to Sasser.

“He wanted to try because he thought he had a high enough percentage to leave,” Sampson said. via USA Today Nancy Armor.

It wasn’t what the team’s fans expected when Houston became the betting favorite to win the national championship. The Cougars flipped the ball 17 times, allowing Northern Kentucky to grab 18 offensive rebounds. 5 of 34 (14.7%) 3-point range shots saved the Cougars from disaster.

Houston looks very vulnerable. It will be Saturday against Auburn if Sasser can’t play.

March 16, 2023;  Orlando, Florida, USA;  Duke Blue Devils center Derek Lively II (1) enters the court before a game against the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles at the Amway Center.  Mandatory Credit: Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports
Duke was fully prepared to defeat ORU in the first round. (Matt Pendleton/Reuters)

The Duke flexes in the heels of a strong ACC finish

After a strong conference finish, including an ACC tournament championship, Duke finished 5th in the East Region. Some thought it was too low. Judging by the game against Oral Roberts on Thursday, that may have been the case.

Matches 12-5 in the first round make popular draw picks. The Blue Devils put to bed any thoughts of upset in a 74–51 thrashing of the Golden Eagles.

This team of Oral Roberts was not a trifle. He won 30 games in the regular season and featured two-time Major League Player of the Year Max Abmas. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because Abmas led the Golden Eagles to Sweet 16 in 2021 from a 15 seed line.

But in 2023, Abmas will have no chance for Cinderella. Duke’s rising defense limited Abmas (22.4 points per game) to 12 points on 4 of 15 shots from the field. He was ORU’s top scorer as the Golden Eagles shot 30.2% from the field as a team. Duke’s defense, backed by ACC All-Defensive Team center Derek Lively, is real.

Duke’s offense, meanwhile, did the job, despite a subpar All-ACC rookie Kyle Filipowski, who finished the season with six points and nine rebounds well below his average. Instead, junior guard Jeremy Roach led the way with 23 points on 9 of 17 shots. Freshman Darik Whitehead added 13 points on 5 of 7 shots off the bench.

Duke has a lot of young talent, including four freshmen who settled in at just the right time. One game into it looks like a real threat to the NCAA tournament.


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