March madness

There were no shockers in the first round of the Greensboro Region but a couple of quality Round of 32 have been set up.

The Round of 64 in Greensboro Region featured a variety of styles of play, resulting in three of the four favorites coming out on top. (3) Xavier survived (14) Kennesaw State, 72-67. (11) Pitt made a statement over (6) Iowa State, 59-41. (6) Kentucky pulled away from (11) Providence, 61-53. (3) Kansas State cruised past (14) Montana State, 77-65.

Takeaway #1: Xavier is certainly missing the presence of Zach Freemantle, but their defense bared down

It was a tale of two halves for the Musketeers. After trailing 43-36 going into the locker room, Xavier held Kennesaw State to just 24 points in the second frame, including a six-minute scoreless stretch for the Owls.

Sean Miller’s squad has always been predicated on scoring, entering the game ranked 9th in Torvik’s offensive efficiency and 85th defensively. Zach Freemantle, who is sidelined with an injury for the tournament, was a major catalyst for this trend. While his post play will certainly be missed, Jerome Hunter did not pass up an opportunity to shine. The 6-9 senior scored 24 points, hitting big shot after big shot, and complementing it with tough play on the defensive end.

As the Musketeers advance into the Round of 32, keep an eye out for their lack of depth, playing just a six-man rotation, and scoring a mere one point off the bench.

(3) Xavier plays (11) Pitt at 12:10 p.m. ET on Sunday in the round of 32.

Takeaway #2: Pitt continues to do what they have been doing all year — prove the doubters wrong

Considering the Panthers were picked 14th in the preseason ACC media poll, very few expected them to be here to begin with. ACC Coach of the Year Jeff Capel has turned this energy into fuel and it has now resulted in two tournament wins. After taking down Mississippi State in the First Four, Pitt made a statement against Iowa State on Friday afternoon.

The Cyclones started extremely cold on the offensive end, giving the Panthers a 22-2 lead before finally hitting their first field goal. Maybe, that could have been attributed to Iowa State’s warm-ups being disrupted by an unleveled rim.

But well into the second half, it was clear that the Pitt was simply the more prepared team. Iowa State was the only squad to be held under 50 in the Round of 64.

(11) Pitt plays (3) Xavier at 12:10 p.m. ET on Sunday in the round of 32.

Takeaway #3: Kentucky has put their program’s uncertainty in the rear view mirror

In early January, Kentucky fell to just 1-3 in conference play and 10-6 overall. Considering the Wildcats suffered an embarrassing loss to 15-seeded Saint Peter’s the previous season, and had underwhelming March results in the previous seasons, many started to doubt John Calipari and his long-term future in Lexington.

Even after suffering yet another embarrassing loss in the SEC tournament, this time to Vanderbilt, Kentucky rose to the occasion and fought past a tough Providence team. And they did it with their true identity: offensive rebounding and shooting. Oscar Tsiebwe grabbed 11 boards on his own end, and Antonio Reeves sunk 5 triples in the Wildcats’ win.

(6) Kentucky plays (3) Kansas State at 2:40 p.m. ET on Sunday in the round of 32.

Takeaway #4: Productive games from both Keyontae Johnson and Markquis Nowell is critical for Kansas State

This was not a particularly stressful game for Wildcats’ fans. According to Torvik, their win probability never descended under 75% and Montana State was leading for all of two minutes.

The bigger takeaway is that both of the Kansas State’s star guards showed up in the same night. While Johnson and Nowell each had their occasional inefficient games down the stretch, they combined for 12-21 from the field and a total of 35 points. Nowell even added a (tied) season-high 14 assists.

It was also encouraging to see role players David N’Guessan and Nae’Qwan Tomlin each in double figures.

(3) Kansas State plays (6) Kentucky at 2:40 p.m. ET on Sunday in the round of 32.