Friday's March Madness came from women's side

The first round of the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament concluded Friday night without further casualties among contenders. After a Thursday of upsets, top-three seeds survived the second day of the first round without even a scare.

Arizona, Duke, Auburn and Villanova coasted to victories.

Texas Tech, with a 97-62 bludgeoning of Montana State, proved that it belongs in that same top tier.

But no team was more dominant on Friday than the best title bet of all: the South Carolina women.

They led 16th-seeded Howard 20-0, then 42-2, and later 63-8. Midway through the third quarter, only one Howard player had scored. The Gamecocks broke a record for fewest points allowed in an NCAA tournament first half (4). They shot just 8-for-38 from long range ... and still waltzed to a 79-21 victory.

Their challengers cruised too. Louisville won by 32, and No. 2 seeds Iowa and Baylor by 40 apiece. Stanford, the defending champs, held Montana State scoreless in the first quarter, and eased to a final margin of 41.

But this South Carolina team is unparalleled. It beat six top-10 opponents, and 11 top-25 foes throughout the regular season. It knocked off No. 2 twice. On Friday, it snared 30 offensive rebounds, and showed no signs of slowing down in March.

Is eye-popping pre-eminence was the story of a day on which March Madness didn't quite live up to its name.

Near-misses make for a day without drama

Day 2 of the men's tournament didn't necessarily lack drama. But the Madness that so often punctuates tight tournament games was, instead, a collection of near-misses.

In Greenville, South Carolina, USC's Drew Peterson let fly from half court as a final buzzer sounded. Miami held its breath — and then exhaled when Peterson's would-be game-winner bounded off the backboard, off the rim, and out.

In Pittsburgh, 13th-seeded Chattanooga led Big Ten regular-season champ Illinois for more than 39 minutes. But the Mocs went ice cold down the stretch. They failed to make a single field goal over the game's final four minutes and 30 seconds. They coughed up the lead they'd held all game in the final minute. And when Malachi Smith had a chance to undo all that slow-burn agony, his jumper at the buzzer rimmed out.

In Milwaukee, 14th-seeded Colgate and its misfit band of sharpshooters gave No. 3 Wisconsin a run, but faded late. The Badgers survived, 67-60, and advance to meet 11th-seeded Iowa State. The day fizzled out without a major men's surprise.

Friday's biggest upset

With Chattanooga and Colgate falling, the day's biggest upset belonged to Florida Gulf Coast. It was one of those predictable upsets, where the No. 12 seed has no business being a No. 12 seed. But it was an upset nonetheless.

The Eagles were 29-2. They have a WNBA prospect and NCAA tournament experience. So it was wholly unsurprising when that prospect, Kierstan Bell, who has already declared for the draft, led FGCU to an 84-81 win over fifth-seeded Virginia Tech.

In fact, four of the first six games of the women's tournament were won by lower-seeded teams — as many upsets as there were all day on the men's side.

First Four magic resumes

In all but one year since the NCAA created the First Four in 2011, a play-in winner has gone on to win a true first round game. Notre Dame continued that trend on Friday.

The Fighting Irish staved off Rutgers in double overtime late Wednesday night. Some 40 hours later in San Diego, they made light work of sixth-seeded Alabama. And the Crimson Tide radio announcers were NOT happy.

America's best conference has been the NCAA tournament's best conference

Ken Pomeroy has been tracking the relative strength of men's college basketball conferences for two decades, and not since the 2003-04 ACC — a league propelled by Chris Paul and J.J. Redick — has a conference been as far ahead of the pack as the 2021-22 Big 12.

Alas, the Big 12 has had other strong regular seasons. It spent six consecutive years atop Pomeroy's rankings. They yielded just three Final Four appearances, zero national titles and plenty of early round flops, leading to suspicions that the on-paper strength was flimsy.

But in 2022, so far, so good — perfect, actually, in both the men's tournament and the women's.

Big 12 teams have played 10 games so far through two days of Madness. They've won all 10, by a combined margin of 222 points. They received expected contributions from Baylor, but also blowouts like TCU's 69-42 beatdown Seton Hall on the men's side that showcased the depth of the league.

There will be stiffer tests to come, but the Baylor, Kansas and Texas Tech men, and the Baylor and Texas women all look like Final Four contenders.

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