The first full day of action began with the luck of the Irish winning out, as Notre Dame came within a last-second shot of losing in a well-played game against Princeton. Which, I think, was the general prediction, given the pace and the talent.
Meanwhile, Virginia was down as many as 15 points before their coach gave up on what’s become the Virginia style; Tony Bennett whipped out a smaller, faster lineup, sped UNC-Wilmington up a bit and started making shots. It was a hard fight but it was a win.
But you know what team made me think of St. John’s? The University of Vermont. Not because I see UVM while covering the America East (a side gig!) but because UVM is closer to what the Johnnies want to do - space. Shoot. Have slim big men who also stretch the floor.
And for much of the game, Vermont brought a smart game plan to the table. Big man Caleb Swanigan was good, but was also goaded into three turnovers, as was forward Vincent Edwards. A 6’6” freshman was one of the best players on the court for the Vermont Catamounts. They gave themselves chances by not turning the ball over.
But Purdue was too big and overwhelming.
Still - St. John’s, if and when things come together, could look like that, a team with four or five outside shooting threats at a time, with guards quick enough to get into the paint.
Outside of those games:
Villanova struggled with a poor shooting, short Mount St. Mary’s team for a half. It’s important to note that last year’s Wildcats team won the NCAA Tournament by shooting even better than they had in the regular season - and not having an off day in the Tourney. They’re not deep. they’re not big inside, and they are going to have their hands full with Wisconsin. (I have Wisconsin beating the Wildcats in my bracket, if that means anything to you.)
Xavier turned on the Trevon Bluiett machine in the second half and pulled away from Maryland, a team with one established guard who tried to do too much in Melo Trimble and freshman who played decently on offense (Kevin Huerter, represent upstate NY!) but were iffy defensively. Also: Sean O’Mara, the Xavier center, really emerged. Great performance.
Butler came to play. Or didn’t come to play around? It was a clinical demolition of the Winthrop Eagles, with Avery Woodson dropping 6/10 from outside the arc, with Tyler Lewis dropping eight assists, with Butler showing that size matters and with the Bulldogs grabbing 93% of their opponent misses. Winthrop had two offensive rebounds. That’s amazing.
What games did you enjoy on the full Day 1? The slate for today’s games and the open thread is coming shortly.