NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend Recap



COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA – MARCH 24: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates with his teammates after defeating the UCF Knights in the second round game of the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Colonial Life Arena on March 24, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/TNS) *FOR USE WITH THIS STORY ONLY*

Daniel Pachino

With the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in the books, it is time to look back on what has happened so far, as well as look ahead at what is to come in the final two weekends of NCAA basketball in 2019. In all honesty, the first weekend, while fun and entertaining, was largely uneventful, as the bracket went almost entirely chalk. Heading into the Sweet 16 there are only two non-one through four seeds remaining — No. 5 Auburn and No. 12 Oregon. There were a few upsets here and there in the opening round, such as No. 12 Murray State over No. 5 Marquette, No. 13 UC Irvine over No. 4 Kansas State and No. 11 Ohio State over No. 6 Iowa State, but aside from that, the bracket has gone as expected. With nearly all of the top teams still alive, though, that means this upcoming weekend should be very exciting. That being said, let’s take a look a number of last weekend’s most exciting games and some of the intriguing games in the weekend to come.

In the first half of its opening game on Friday, Virginia looked primed to repeat its disaster of a performance from a year ago when they became the first No.1-seed in NCAA history to fall to a No.16-seed. They came out very flat on Friday and trailed No. 16 Gardner-Webb 36-30 at the half. They came alive in the second half, however, and stymied the Bulldogs’ offense, holding them to just 20 second-half points, going on to win 71-56. Their second-round matchup with Oklahoma was hardly ever close, and the Cavaliers won by 63-51 after being in control all afternoon.

Top-seeded Duke’s second-round matchup with No. 9 UCF was incredibly close and probably the game of the tournament up to this point. There were plenty of storylines heading into this matchup, none bigger than former Duke star and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins being UCF’s coach and one of the Knights’ best players being his son, Aubrey Dawkins. The younger Dawkins grew up around the Duke program while his father coached at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski, yet Coach K never recruited him, and he instead followed his father to UCF. Another big story leading into the game was the potential matchup between Duke star Zion Williamson and UCF’s giant in the paint, the 7’6” Tacko Fall. Many hoped to see Williamson go after Fall and try to put him on one of his famous “poster” dunks, and the game’s biggest moment involved the two.

UCF put up a tremendous fight all game. They led most of the first half, yet went into the locker room trailing the Blue Devils by eight. With about seven minutes remaining, Duke led by seven and had the ball. After forcing ill-advised shots and turnovers, UCF was able to claw its way back into the game and led Duke by four with two minutes left. In a year when Duke has dominated the headlines all season, they were on the brink of an early round exit no one anticipated. After a failed alley-oop by UCF that would have put them up six, however, the Devils turned it into instant offense with a quick Cam Reddish 3-pointer that cut the lead to one. Trailing by three with 30 second remaining, Duke went to its star, Williamson, who drove and got a massive and-one bucket on a lay in over Fall, which fouled Fall out of the game. Williamson missed the potentially game-tying free throw, but R.J. Barrett got the offensive rebound — largely because Fall was out of the game — and laid it back in to take the lead 77-76 lead with 11 seconds left. On the final possession, UCF guard B.J. Taylor drove and missed a contested floater, but Dawkins got the rebound and somehow missed the put-back after his shot bounced on the rim four times and time expired. Duke fans were able to exhale after escaping what appeared to be certain defeat and will move on to face Virginia Tech this weekend.

After this mostly uneventful opening weekend, the matchups this coming weekend should be excellent, with almost exclusively top seeds remaining. The most intriguing matchups in the weekend ahead include Duke’s contest with ACC foe Virginia Tech, Gonzaga against a red-hot Florida State, Virginia against a potential-Cinderella team in Oregon and North Carolina against Auburn.