Highs and Lows of March Madness return to Buffalo
By: Aidan Joly, Editor-in-Chief
For a lot of sports fans, it’s the best day on the sports calendar.
For college basketball die-hards (like myself), it means more than just about any other day on the calendar, period.
64 teams come into the main bracket with a dream. By the time this weekend is out, 48 of these dreams will have been squashed. Only one of these dreams will be realized. It’s heartbreaking; it’s romantic; it’s March Madness.
The madness began in Buffalo on Thursday afternoon, as eight teams were sent to KeyBank Center to play their first-round games. The dream ended for four of those teams on Thursday, two of them coming in the afternoon session with South Dakota State falling to Providence 66–57 and Iowa falling victim to an upset, losing to Richmond 67–63.
Providence, a team who has had a reputation as having been lucky all year, needed some more of it on St. Patrick’s Day. South Dakota State, the team who led the country in three-point percentage, went just 7–23 from three-point land and missed some important shots at the end of the game.
Providence did what it has done best on offense all year long, using depth to score and not relying on one guy. Noah Horchler and Al Durham had 13 points each, Jared Bynum had 12 and Justin Minaya had nine.
An ode to South Dakota State is well deserved, after it went 30–5 overall, including Thursday. It was also one of two teams in the country to finish conference play undefeated.
These marks made the Jackrabbits a popular upset pick in bracket pools, but it didn’t come to fruition. However, they never went away, only down one possession in the final minute, but never got closer than three. The Friars’ dream lives to see another day.
“At the end of the day, every chance we get to play in the NCAA tournament, don’t ever take it for granted. Don’t ever take it for granted, because you never know,” South Dakota State head coach Eric Henderson said. “You just want to continue to embrace every moment and if we continue to work, I have great hope that we’ll be back here.”
Of course, teams keep the dream going for longer than expected. The Richmond Spiders came into the Atlantic 10 tournament last week needing to win it to make the NCAA tournament. The odds were against them. They did it.
Then, it took down an Iowa team that came in as one of the hottest teams in the country, the biggest upset of the day to that point. Such is March. We see these upsets. Jacob Gilyard, a guard who is well under six feet tall, played like he was 10 feet tall, ending the day with 24 points, six rebounds, six assists and made four three-pointers.
It’s been a long road for the Richmond program. In the 2018-19 season, the Spiders went 6–12 in Atlantic 10 play and people were calling for head coach Chris Mooney to be fired. The next year, it went 14–4, but had the dream cut short by COVID-19. Two years later, it wins its first NCAA tournament game since 2011.
“It’s so hard to make this tournament. For our guys to have done everything they did. Starting with coming to Richmond, next was returning to Richmond,” Mooney said. “For everything they did, to be in the hotel ballroom in Brooklyn two years ago and everything being canceled when we had a great season, to just have the perseverance and the togetherness and the camaraderie to want to be at Richmond, that’s what’s special to me.”
The two ends of March.