The NCAA tournament has its first full day of action on March 20. Yet first, the First Four had to be wrapped up in Dayton on March 19. The last two first round winners in the NCAA tournament were decided, as 14-19 Cal Poly got to win a March Madness game over Texas Southern, while the Tennessee Volunteers took five extra minutes -- albeit easy minutes -- to get by the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The undefeated Wichita State Shockers will get no more easy opponents in the NCAA tournament, as per the killer Midwest regional bracket's design. But the very last cupcake opponent for the Shockers will now be the sub .500 Mustangs, who knocked off the Tigers by 81-69.
Texas Southern got a 38-point performance by Aaric Murray, yet the rest of the Tigers only had 31 points to show for themselves. The Mustangs were more balanced, shooting 57 percent as a team and leading for much of the night. Of course, anything close to that against the Shockers would be one of the biggest surprises of the tournament.
Things were more down to the wire, for the most part, in the last game of the First Four. The Volunteers and Hawkeyes fought hard, although Tennessee didn't get its first lead until there were three minutes left in regulation. Nevertheless, Iowa needed a late jumper by Roy Devyn Marble -- who was 3-of-15 for the night -- to force overtime.
Yet that would be the Hawkeyes' last field goal, as the Volunteers outscored them by 14-1 in overtime. The 78-65 final score was misleading, and perhaps so was the victor. Nevertheless, given how Iowa limped into the NCAA tournament, flaming out like this was perhaps inevitable.
It is the Volunteers who go forward into the round of 64, to face the Midwest's sixth seeded Massachusetts Minutemen on March 21. A second victory may well put Tennessee on course to face the Duke Blue Devils after that. In a Midwest region with big names like Wichita State, Duke, Michigan and Louisville, can a First Four team like Tennessee make noise?
The NCAA tournament will now get extra noisy over the next four days, as the 64 teams left get whittled down to 16. Time will tell if any of those last 16 programs will have three wins, not two, under their belt in March Madness by weekend's end.