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March Madness Day 1 recap: Beware the mid-majors

Teams outside the so-called “power” conferences had their day on Friday.

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Syndication: The Daily Times Lauren Roberts/Salisbury Daily Times / USA TODAY NETWORK

Day 1 of the 2022 NCAA Tournament is in the books. Let’s relive a wild Friday that immediately lived up to the newly-acquired March Madness moniker.

It was a banner day for the mid-majors

Four of the first six contests resulted in wins for the lower-seeded teams, though we’re loath to label all of them upsets; in each matchup, a mid-major team took out an opponent from a Power Five conference, as the ACC, Pac-12, SEC, and Big Ten all fell as favorites.

No. 10 South Dakota put on an offensive clinic in Waco

If you’re unfamiliar with fifth-year senior Chloe Lamb, the Coyote guard — and Summit League player of the year — has been one of the most efficient scorers in Division I throughout her college career. She combined that with elite playmaking and ball control as a senior — her 1.88 assist-to-turnover ratio placed her in the 96th percentile of players, per Her Hoop Stats — and that command of the offense was clear in the first round of the tournament, a 75-61 win against No. 7 Ole Miss.

Lamb and fellow super senior Hannah Sjerven combined for 40 points, Sjerven getting her 20 on perfect 7-of-7 shooting. The two were in sync throughout, and they scored or assisted on all of South Dakota’s first 11 points as the Coyotes raced out to an 11-2 lead. When the Rebels got back to within one possession at 19-16, Lamb and Sjerven quickly reeled off another six points to keep Ole Miss at bay.

This is the first NCAA Tournament win for South Dakota in the program’s history, and the Coyotes were able to lean on the experience of their super seniors, both of whom have experienced multiple first-round losses, to get the job done.

No. 10 Creighton used pseudo-homecourt advantage to edge No. 7 Colorado

Back in the fall, the Bluejays came to Carter-Hawkeye Arena and played a closed scrimmage against Iowa. The results weren’t made public, but the rumor was that sophomore guard Morgan Maly was quite comfortable in the building. Whether that myth is true or not, Maly certainly had her jumper going the second time around in Iowa City.

Maly led Creighton in scoring with 20 points off the bench as the Bluejays eked past the Buffaloes in a game that was closer than the 84-74 final score would suggest. Creighton benefited from 41 points off the bench compared to 20 for Colorado, using that extra depth to outlast a dynamic outing from Jaylyn Sherrod, whose 27 points led all scorers. Sherrod’s five assists were also a game-high, but her individual brilliance couldn’t counteract a collective effort from the Bluejays. The Buffaloes were even when Sherrod played and outscored by 10 in the 13 minutes that she sat.

NO. 12 FGCU sent a message to the selection committee

How does a ranked team end up as a No. 12 seed? That’s a question that felt unanswerable after the Eagles survived against a talented Virginia Tech team that deserved better than a first-round matchup against the 23rd-ranked team in the final AP poll.

The Hokies, led by Elizabeth Kitley’s 42 points, gave FGCU everything they had. Ultimately, the Eagles used the math advantage, outscoring Virginia Tech by 27 points from beyond the arc — including a Karli Seay three-pointer with 27 seconds (fitting) to play — to win 84-81 and advance to the second round.

No. 9 Gonzaga set the pace against No. 8 Nebraska

The Zags and the Cornhuskers represented two ends of the spectrum entering their first-round matchup. Gonzaga had the 12th-best defensive rating in the country, per Her Hoop Stats, and likes to work the clock, averaging 66.3 possessions per game. Nebraska, on the other hand, had the 10th-best offensive rating in the country and plays up and down to the tune of 72.9 possessions per game. The team able to dictate its pace would likely emerge victorious.

The total number of possessions in the first round matchup ended up at 126, or 63 per team, and unsurprisingly, the Zags were able to use that to their advantage, comfortably earning a 68-55 win. The Cornhuskers fell 23 points below their season average, unable to score even one point in transition, as Gonzaga successfully mucked up the game and Nebraska’s chances of winning along with it. Now, the Zags will test out that formula against No. 1 Louisville on Sunday.

The top seeds left no doubt of their dominance

Madness arrived in the women’s bracket, but not on the top two lines. The no. 1 and no. 2 seeds that took the court Friday — South Carolina, Iowa, Stanford, Texas, Louisville, and Baylor — were possessed, determined to validate their seeding and set a strong tone for what each team hopes is at least a trip to Minneapolis.

South Carolina opened the game 20-0, won each of its first two quarters 22-2, and held Howard to 21 points total. That set records for the the fewest points allowed in a half and in a game in women’s NCAA Tournament history.

Not to be outdone, Stanford also started its game off 20-0, blanking No. 16 Montana State for the first 10:43 until a Taylor Janssen jumper. Oh, and Fran Belibi did this.

Fellow No. 1 seed Louisville won its game by 32 points with four starters finishing in double figures, capping a day when head coach Jeff Walz signed a contract extension through 2028-29. No. 2 Texas was up 39-18 at the half before letting its foot off the gas, while Baylor did no such thing against Hawai’i, crushing the No. 15 seed 89-49 thanks to a 34-8 third quarter. Iowa had the same margin of victory with a little more sauce against No. 15 Illinois State, winning 98-58 as Caitlin Clark, Monika Czinano, and Gabbie Marshall combined for 58 points of their own.

Each of these six teams had a reasonable hope of a national title coming into the tournament, and nothing has changed.

Five standout players from Day 1

Kierstan Bell, FGCU: It’s not just the 22 points and eight rebounds while dealing with foul trouble, or even the assist to Karli Seay for the three that sealed the game. For Bell to have the guts to take this three from the wing when her team was trailing by two, nail it, and then not have Florida Gulf Coast trail the rest of the way? She’s a star.

Aliyah Boston, South Carolina: The presumptive national player of the year extended her consecutive double-doubles streak to 25 in only 18 minutes. Good luck against a well-rested Gamecocks squad, Miami.

Ashley Joens, Iowa State: Ok, maybe she uses a lot of elbow, but when you play all 40 minutes and tally 36 points and 15 rebounds, some aggressive play is forgiven. And Iowa State needing everything Joens gave in a surprisingly nervy 78-71 win over UT Arlington.

Kennady McQueen, Utah: 20 points on only nine shot attempts along with six rebounds and four assists as the Utes methodically ripped apart No. 10 Arkansas, 92-69.

The Maryland starting lineup: A bit of a cheat, but hard to pick a favorite when every starter scored double digits. Ashley Owusu had 24 points, Katie Benzan made five threes, Angel Reese had nine rebounds, and the Terps looked terrifying in a 102-71 win over No. 13 Delaware.

Three more standouts in losing efforts

Jasmine Dickey, Delaware: A one-woman band against five strong from the Terrapins wasn’t going to end well, but Dickey was at least up to the challenge, putting up 31 points and 10 rebounds. She can get her shot from just about anywhere.

Starr Jacobs, UT Arlington: Jacobs and the Mavericks put a real scare into the heart of the Cyclones with their relentless pressure on the basket. Jacobs found her way to the hoop time and time again, earning 11 free-throw attempts in the process. A few more makes and UT Arlington would have completed one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech: 42 points — more than the total scores of two No. 16 seeds Friday — as the ACC player of the year did her best to carry the Hokies to the second round. We might not see another scoring performance like this one for the rest of March.

Three moments we won’t forget from Day 1

Karli Seay’s three-pointer to hold off Virginia Tech in what was indisputably the game of the day.

Emily Ryan’s threes late for Iowa State, and Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault’s increasing disbelief that the Lady Mavericks kept going under on Ryan in violation of the scouting report.

Fran Belibi’s block and dunk, and the reaction from the Stanford bench. You do you, Kiki Iriafen.

The Tara VanDerveer three-point watch

Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer declared that she will donate $10 for every three-pointer made during the NCAA Tournament to a Ukrainian humanitarian fund, and challenged other coaches and fans to do something similar.

Over the first three days of the tournament — Round 1 and the First Four — teams have made 257 three-pointers, resulting in a donation of $2,570 from the winningest women’s coach of all-time.