March Madness Thursday roundup: A Chicago high school powerhouse won Day 1 NCAA Tournament

March 17, 2018

It began with Stanford Robinson flying through the air, with bated breath all around him, and with time standing still. Just for a split second, but for what must have seemed like an eternity to Oklahoma and Rhode Island. A basketball hung on a Pittsburgh rim. A shot at Duke hung in the balance. And the Madness, at long last, was underway.

It began with that ball rolling off that Pittsburgh rim; with a near-miss, and with overtime. And for 10 hours thereafter, it never really ceased.

It ended, astonishingly, out in Boise, Idaho, with the second-heaviest defeat of a top-four seed by a 13-16 seed in NCAA tournament history. Arizona’s 21-point loss to Buffalo is the story that will lead highlight shows and recaps throughout the night and into Friday morning.

But the first Thursday of the 2018 NCAA tournament was crammed with drama. Whereas the opening day of the 2017 tournament never truly came to life, the first 12 hours in 2018 were relentlessly entertaining. They had the buzzer-beaters, not just the near-misses. They had the upsets, not just the close calls.

The drama touched all four game sites, all major conferences, and every corner of the country. But, incredibly, two of the day’s biggest moments can be traced back to the same high school. It’s there, on the South Side of Chicago, that we’ll begin our first of four NCAA tournament opening weekend roundups.


1. The high school that produced the game-winners
First it was Zach Norvell Jr. for Gonzaga. On the right wing, the game tied at 64, less than 25 seconds to go, UNC Greensboro threatening to knock off last year’s runner-up. Norvell, a redshirt freshman, jab-stepped, and elevated:

Later, it was Donte Ingram, determined to upstage him. With less than 10 seconds to go, Loyola Chicago’s Ben Richardson grabbed a missed Miami free throw. Ingram, knocked to the floor fighting for the board, hauled himself up, raced down the floor, and spotted up at the mid-court logo. He, like Norvell, let fly. And like Norvell … splash.

What do those two have in common? They were teammates at Simeon Academy, the high school basketball powerhouse in Chicago that has also produced the likes of Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker. It was quite a day for the Zags and Ramblers. It was also quite a day for former Simeon Wolverines.

2. Player of the day
Ingram and Norvell weren’t the only game-winners. And neither was the player of the day. That honor goes to a junior college transfer with a man bun.
Houston’s Rob Gray went off for 39 points on Thursday, and beat 11-seed San Diego State with this magical layup with under one second to play:

3. Kentucky’s escape
There’s nothing wrong with winning a game without making a 3-pointer. It’s actually quite impressive. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything wrong with Kentucky’s performance in a 78-73 win over Davidson.

The contrast in styles between the two teams was actually quite alarming. Almost every Final Four team is able to hurt an opponent in multiple ways, inside and out. If Kentucky can’t, its season isn’t going to last much longer. Outside shooting has never been and will never be a strength of this Wildcats team, but it can’t be non-existent.

Because when it was non-existent on Thursday, only an off night from the other Wildcats, the Davidson Wildcats, spared Kentucky. Peyton Aldridge and Kellan Grady, hailed as the two players who could propel Davidson to a classic 5-12 upset, shot 2-of-14 from beyond the arc. Had they shot at their normal percentages, we’d be staring at a Buffalo-Davidson second-round bout.

4. Penn gave us our short-lived fun
Every year, a 16-seed hangs with a 1-seed for five or 10 minutes, conjuring up dreams of a historic upset. This year, the honor fell to Penn.

But this year, the dreams were slightly more realistic than most others. The Quakers, the strongest 16-seed in at least six years, had been the subject of some speculative chatter throughout the week. Could they perhaps be the team to finally do it? So when they went up 10 in the first half against top-seeded Kansas, 21-11, excitement grew.

But alas, the Jayhawks had too much. They stormed back before halftime, and stormed away from the overmatched Ivy Leaguers after the break to a 76-60 win. Penn gave us our annual 10 minutes of fun. But it couldn’t give us anything more.

5. Postmortems for Arizona and the Pac-12
In the end, as mentioned above, the story of the day was Arizona. And not just Arizona, but the conference whose flag it was carrying. The Pac-12 is now out of the tournament altogether.


(1) Villanova 81, (16) Radord 61
(2) Duke 89, (15) Iona 67
(3) Michigan 61, (14) Montana 47
(3) Tennessee 73, (14) Wright State 47
(3) Texas Tech 70, (14) Stephen F Austin 60
(5) Ohio State 81, (12) South Dakota State 73
(6) Florida 77, (11) St. Bonaventure 62
(7) Rhode Island 83, (10) Oklahoma 78
(8) Seton Hall 94, (9) NC State 83
(9) Alabama 86, (8) Virginia Tech 83

Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith threw down what will surely stand as the dunk of the tournament: